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October 24, 2006

A Bell from Hell


La Campana del Infierno
Claudio Guerin Hill
Pathfinder Home Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Juan, or John in the English language version, has just been released from a mental institution. Whether he was rightly committed in the first place is uncertain, although his relatives stand to benefit by inheriting his mother's estate. Nothing stands in the way of a good practical joke as far as John is concerned. An example is his appearing to have gouged his own eyes out. A Bell from Hell has moments of extremely dark humor, as well has moments that are simply dark.

This is a French-Spanish horror film that I would not have known about had I not read Tohill and Tombs' book Immoral Tales. The only information was simply a still of Renaud Verley in the dark, illuminated by a flashlight below his head. While the plot may seem familar, what makes Guerin's film different is following the pranks that John creates, ranging from the childish to those with more serious, and deadly ends. Near the beginning of the film, John is told that the cards he was dealt at birth were "a bad hand". His response is to play with what he has. The film ends with a not totally surprise twist on getting the last laugh,

The caustic view of humanity is stressed in scenes in a meat slaughtering plant. In full color, the shots of cows butchered on screen could be a supplement to Georges Franju's Blood of the Beasts. John works briefly as a butcher before deciding that he has 'learned all he needs to know". While hardly in the league of Hamlet, John continually teeters between conscious and unconscious madness. This internal disunity is reflected in both the images of cows being cut up into parts and also the photographs in John's bedroom which include extreme close-ups of eyes and lips. The title refers to a very large church bell, paid for by the townspeople John is in conflict with, people whose hypocracies are pointed out by John. As it turned out, life had a way of playing a practical joke on Claudio Guerin Hill. A Bell from Hell turned out to be the final work of the filmmaker, who died falling from the bell tower on the final day of filming.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 24, 2006 11:47 AM