A Bell from Hell
THESIS. 1996
Director: Alejandro Amenabar

Director: Marc B. Ray

aka, BORN FOR HELL. 1976
Director: Denis Heroux

aka, THE BELL OF HELL. 1973
Directors: Claudio Guerin Hill
& Juan Antonio Bardem

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Four Mainly Crappy Psycho Movies

ThesisMy butt got tired because Thesis (1996) seemed overlong. But the cast is very appealing & talented. In Spanish with English subtitles, the story is humdrum about serial killer or killers making snuff films.

The twists & uncertainty of which character is the psycho is clever at first but at some point gets a little bit silly, especially toward the end when for about fifteen minutes "who's the psycho" is played out like musical chairs.

As with a lot of films that rely on brutality most especially toward women for most of the impact, the best bits occur early in the film & by the climax there's nothing left to do. So it devolves into a meandering & only so-so conclusion.

A happy ending is tacked on a little clumsily when all the action's over, but I suppose that's better than the jack-in-the-box endings tacked on to way too many post-Carrie films.

Scream Bloody MurderA psychotic child kills his father with a tractor in the opening scene of Scream Bloody Murder (aka Matthew; aka. Claw of Terror; aka, The Captive Female, 1973). The child then hops off the still-moving tractor & gets his arm mangled.

Next time we see him, he's a one-hand teenager (Fred Holbert) returning home from a Catholic psychiatric center of some kind. But apparently no one ever caught on that his father getting maximumly squished like in a cartoon wasn't an accident.

Within hours of returning home the teen realizes his mother (Suzette Hamilton), remarried just that day, is not going to be able to focus all over love & devotion entirely on her son. So he takes an axe to his step-dad (Robert Knox), reassures his mother he did it for her, & when she isn't pleased, he strangles her.

If I were staging such crappy scenarios, I'd've given the one-handed psycho a niftier hook & not bothered with the axe. But you can't fault Scream Bloody Murder for lack of body count. By the time the young man's mum becomes the third victimm we're only eight minutes into the film.

The young psycho sets out on the road for further mayhem, believing he is killing his step-dad & mother over & over again. The only thing unique about the psycho is his youth; he's such a fresh-faced innocent seeming guy until the moments he loses it, then he gets really nutty, & Holbert is damnably convincing as a dangerously screwed up loony.

Scream Bloody MurderIf there is a story imbedded in this mayhem, it is the tale of meeting a prostitute & trying to "save" her from herself.

He tells her he's the son of a rich man & can give her everything she needs. Therefore she'll never again have to turn tricks to make a living. She rather likes her life as it is, plus she knows he's telling whoppers since he's not a very good liar.

So he finds the richest family in town, slaughters them, tosses them in a closet, then invites the prostitute to "his" mansion as proof that he really is a rich kid who can give her everything. She's still not won over so he ties her up & treats her like a collared dog & screams at her but also brings her gifts & seems really not to know what a whinging screwed up bastard he is. He brags that he steals money for her & art supplies & kills people for her sake, but she's just never satisfied.

Trying to judge the film on its own dubious intentions, it would still be inferior because it makes so little use of the "claw," though the claw does come in handy at the very end. I'm even so surprised how hard the actors tried to deliver credible performances. They don't often succeed, but they're trying, & they deserve at least a small nod of respect.

The film's not worth much but in 1973 the gore FX would've been quite dramatic, & the cliche squence of bondage, discipline, & sadomasichism might not have been familiar outside of X rated adult films. The film is also void of the usual jokiness of "axe through the head" shtick & is thus more disturbing than are joky gore films.

Which is not to say it lacks humor. Some of the dialogue's pretty hysterical & seems to be so on purpose. Yet it remains in-character, managing to capture the mental state of a young sexual psychopath.

It strives to be more than merely misogynist by dividing its victims fairly equlaly between male & female, though the captive prostitute is the only lingering sorry fate, so there's definitely a preference for torturing women before killing them, whereas males are killed outright. In the worldview of this kind of mondo trasho cinema, killing is only fun in lingering slow methods only for the demise of women. It's guys who make these films after all.

As a trivial bonus, there's a small appeareance by Angus Scrimm later to become well known as The Tall Man in the Phantasm series.

Naked MassacreNaked Massacre; aka, Born for Hell (1976) is a slowly placed film with no plot to speak of. A Viet Nam vet jumps ship in Ireland & drifts around Belfast in a time when IRA terrorists are their most active.

In this violent setting, our sexual psychopath breaks into a bordinghouse where eight nurses live, & begins to torment then kill them one by one, not knowing a ninth nurse remained hidden under a bed & was able to give police a good discription of a unique tattoo. He fails at a suicide attempt & the story's over, so there's just not much to it.

Very loosely based on the Richard Speck murders, moving the event to Ireland pretty much divorces the character from the origin & reduces him to the standard cliche character, "psycho Vietnam vet." Films of this nature not only deeply disrespect victims & their surviving family members of actual killers, but also demeans veterans.

As a Canadian-French-German-Italian production, it is intriguing that the idea of psycho Vietnam vets appears to be international. If the film had been done more seriously & closer to the facts it might've justified itself on the basis of historical reality, but this one's scarsely more than an excuse for soft core snuff.

Naked MassacrePsycho movie afficianoados will also notice the influence of Halloween is utterly lacking, the reason being that Halloween came out two years later & pretty much changed the fundamental assumptions of psycho killer flicks. The new idea (by now itself old hat) is that one woman will be pure enough & strong enough to successfully turn on her attacker. This element is not to be found with the earlier, purer snuff mentality.

Looking for anything praiseworthy in this predictable film, some truly precious dialogue will appeal to whoever enjoys laughing at the talentlessness of so-called screenwriters. Plus, Mathieu Carriere manages to look & act his role convincingly enough, despite the awful script he slaughters within. There's also one of his eight victims who kills herself, with a strange attitude of glee; as ultra-cheezy naked-slaughtered-women cinema goes, that moment was weirdly played.

By making the disruptive Belfast shoot-outs & bombings the backdrop, the director may have felt he was making a social commentary comparing snuff film mentality to terrorist mentality. Also, by tinkering with film continuity with a confusing editing style, the director or editor may even have convinced himself he was being arty. But it all comes off as nothing more than a geeky misogynist fantasy, playing the same scenario repeatedly because of too narrow a landscape of said geek's masturbatory fantasies.

The bewildering script for A Bell from Hell (La Campana del infiernoo, 1973) might've been decipherable if the distorted sound hadn't rendered so much of the dialogue incomprehensible. There seems even to be some experimental use of sound vs silence, but it fails because the sound recording is so desparately bad.

The film although a Spanish-French production has an English speaking cast, but was filmed silent & dialogue very badly looped in later. There have been at least three releases of this film & the UK VHS release of some years ago was the most complete. A recent "special edition" DVD in the US is still chopped shorter & I haven't checked to see if the sound is any improvement over the previous DVD release.

A Bell from HellConceivably the director who finished the film, Juan Antonio Bardem, was not sufficiently invested in it to make sure the original director's vision was achieved.

The primary director, Claudio Guerin, fell from the belltower to his death on the last day of filming in 1971, & was unable to guide the dubbing & editing as might otherwise have occurred.

A lad under psychiatric care (Renaud Verley) may or may not be insane; he's not sure himself. He certainly is driven to do a few mad things. His aging wheelchair-bound aunt (Viveca Lindfors) is executor of his mother's estate, & has been making large payments to the psychiatrist separate from large payments to the nuthouse.

Have doctors been overpaid to take good care of him, or to certify him mad when he's not? The latter seems most likely, as aunty controls the kid's fortune if he reaches his majority as a madman, & she can use that wealth for herself & her three pretty daughters. She always was jealous of her sister so it's a fine vengeance upon the dead. Then again, it's possible the whole family is psycho; they do behave badly.

A Bell from HellThe plotline could've been extremely brutal but it implies more than it shows. The maybe-psycho youth tries to kill his aunt by stranding her in her wheelchair among bees, then kidnaps & possibly rapes her three daughters before arranging them in a nice sadomasochistic dungeon scenario in the dim dingy slaughterhouse.

At this point of the film (& it certainly took long enough) it almost looks like it's going to get good, not because it's suddenly overtly s/m but because the imagery is quite shocking, & is all the more disturbing for being kind of pretty.

Nothing is done within the disturbing tableau, however, because the young man is unable to torture his enemies as he had planned. Apparently he's not as insane as he worries he is.

The girls escape largely unscathed. The evil aunty was not killed by the bees. But the lad is tragically captured & walled into the belltower of the church by aunty's decrepit boyfriend. The man who helped it all happen is sufficiently guilt-ridden to imagine himself haunted, but for most of the characters, things end in their favor, on notes of injustice.

The film kind of peters out without a climax, & it probably should've all ended closer to the point where the young man is walled up. It is ultimately not much of a film; it might nevertheless be regarded by some few as arty Eurohorror, which it could legitimately have been if only the sound had been any good. Now & then there seems to be a poetic bit of dialog if it could be made out.

The American edit is a good ten minutes shorter than the European cut & the original European edit might even have been as much as 14 minutes longer, according to popular rumor within fandom. It seems very probable that the European cut would be less confusing & more interesting.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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