A Bell from Hell (1973)
By: Liam Ronan on November 24, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Pathfinder Home Entertainment (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0, French DD 2.0, Spanish DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 92 minutes
The Movie
Director:Claudio Guerín
Starring: Santiago Moncada
Screenplay:Renaud Verley, Viveca Lindfors, Alfredo Mayo, Maribel Martín
Music: Adolfo Waitzman
Country: Spain/France
AKA: La Campana Del Infierno
On his release from an insane asylum, John gets a job at a slaughterhouse where he is shown how to butcher animals and string up their carcasses. He quits after just one day. When asked why, he chillingly answers: "I've learned enough."

So begins A Bell From Hell, a superior slice of Euro art-horror that still packs a hefty punch more than 30 years after it first made a name for itself.

It seems that John was consigned to the asylum by his aunt and her three daughters following the death of his mother. The question is, was he really insane, or did they just want to get their hands on his fortune? A macabre revenge plot is set in motion as the deceivingly affable John prepares to punish those who have hurt him most.

I don't want to deny anyone who hasn't already seen the film the pleasure of discovering this perverse little gem of a movie, so I won't reveal much more. But it's fair to say that John has something really nasty in mind for his relations.

Watching as he carefully and meticulously sets them all up is part of the film's appeal. John is a morally void anti-hero who loves to play twisted practical jokes - he tricks one man into helping him use the toilet by pretending that his hands are broken, and after a female friend faints, he removes her panties and lets her think that she was raped while unconscious. On the flip side, he also saves a mute girl from gang-rape, so go figure.

The gallows humour of the ending is reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe, the brief gore is suitably sticky and the horror angle is mixed with a thick slice of social commentary about disaffected youth, class hypocrisy and Spanish politics - surprising when you consider that the film was made during the bad old days of General Franco.

A Bell from Hell also presents some extremely difficult footage, mostly of animals being slaughtered and braying pathetically as their life blood gushes out. It was apparently this footage that was cut from most prints of the film. While it is present here, it's possible that this DVD release is still missing footage as one Spanish version clocks in at almost 14 minutes longer than the disc's 92 minute running time. But if there is any missing footage, it certainly doesn't harm the film when you watch this disc.

The film is also notorious for the untimely demise of its director, Claudio Guerin, who fell or was pushed to his death from the bell tower featured in the movie on the last day of filming. Judging by what he achieved with A Bell From Hell, his death was a great loss to genre cinema and we can only wonder about what could have been.

Useless trivia: John's aunt is played by Viveca Lindfors, a Swedish actress who also brandished a big set of bone cutters as the demonically possessed Nurse X in The Exorcist III.
Apart from a drop in quality during the credit sequence, the print is amazingly good for a 30 year old film - vibrant, well-defined colours are present throughout and the characters all boast fresh-looking skin tones. There's a fair amount of grain, but you can't argue with the decent transfer. However, the anamorphic 1:85:1 transfer chops the opening credits off at the sides - the IMDB states that the original aspect ratio is 2.35:1.
This Spanish/French co-production was shot in English, then dubbed into Spanish and French. The English version here is dubbed, and uneven lip-synching abounds throughout the film. There are no English subtitles and the sound is 2.0 mono. It also comes with alternate Spanish and French soundtracks.
Extra Features
Chris D of American Cinematheque provides an informative and well-researched commentary. An alternate scene offers a glimpse of the sanitized 'Franco' version (no nudity, basically) and there are alternate opening and closing credit sequences in Spanish. A couple of biographies and a collection of stills round the extras off.
The Verdict
A Bell From Hell is without a doubt a classic of the genre that demands to be seen. The special edition offered here is pretty good for a budget release, but I just wish that a company like Criterion could give it the treatment it really deserves.
Movie Score
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