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A Bell From Hell (1973) **1/2 and Drive (2011) ***

A Bell From Hell (1973) **1/2 First Viewing


I’ve seen three movies that start out with the protagonist’s head fully covered with plaster of Paris, creating a featureless melting man effect. Straws jut from the invisible nose holes, a body with a lump candle wax head. It’s a strange way to start a film and it jumps you right into WTH territory. Nice.

Handsome Juan has just been I released from the nut house. He’s probably still crazy and his constant tricks on others don’t make a case for his sanity. The tricks are of the ‘horror special effects artist’ variety. I mean, how funny is pretending rip your own eyes out (See above) to impress a girl? Okay, it’s kinda funny if only for the commitment to the bit.

There’s some cousins, an aunt who holds his inheritance, the eponymous bell–a church bell, although probably not exactly FROM Hell, just Hell adjacent– and what I think is a forest hobo that only Juan knows. Also, there’s a general feeling the movie could go rapey at any moment. That’s good, right?

For the first three-fourths of the film, I had little idea what was going on, who was who and why we were being shown what we were shown. I’m good with that in a horror film because the good ones operate on a level that should be a bit ahead of comprehension. The film does coalesce into coherent film in the last quarter and becomes a more traditional horror movie with an Edgar Allen Poe ironic justice ending. Cue Scooby Doo. Usually, horror movies start out strong and peter out, but ABFH ends pretty strong after a muddled beginning.

Honestly, it wasn’t until after I saw the movie that I learned what it was about, plot-wise and theme-wise. According to the internet, ABFH is alternately a reaction to fascism, a study on the nature of insanity and what is insanity, and that movie from Spain where the director dies on the last day of shooting.

Yea, the director fell off the bell tower on the last day of shooting. Instant credibility in the horror community. Another director finished the editing. This certainly gives the movie a fractured feeling. A lot of movies are called ‘dream-like,’ but I’d describe ABFH as an exercise in filmed memory. Dreams are fluid and operate of their own alien logic. ABFM is more jagged with jumps between scenes, dialog that doesn’t match the shots, gaping holes filled in through intuition, and an almost nil soundtrack.

A sidetrack. I like horror movies with minimal soundtracks. Too often, the horror soundtrack, especially in modern horror, is too overdriven telegraphing almost every scare. Ugh. I hate the loud, cheap music sting when some one comes into frame just behind the main character. Too easy. Also, the director will try and be clever about two-thirds into the movie by suddenly dropping the up-until-then constant throb of music to show contrast and ‘build suspense,’ only to go back to the pounding whenever Jason or whoever pops up again. Most horror soundtracks are forgettable and unnecessary to gauging the level of onscreen horror. It’s why we remember the good ones like Halloween and Suspiria, otherwise they’re mostly superfluous. (However, good sound design often makes or breaks most horror efforts.)

ABFH does have a bit of the ‘creepy children’s chorus,’ this time, the public domain Frere Jacque. The 1970’s love their creep children choruses. I tend to prefer 1970’s horror because the genre seemed to be about making a concerted effort to break and play the rules of horror and the ways you can tell the story. Once again, this old man is complaining about how cookie-cutter the movies have become. Blah, blah, blah.

My version of ABFM had some dark muddied video and about a third of the dialog was muffled adding to the hazy memory effect of the film. There wasn’t a ton of dialog (I bet five lines of dialog in the first 15 minutes), but just piecing together what the hell was going on kept me interested until the movie gelled at the end.

Things I Learned From ABFH:
—Bees will stop stinging you if it rains.
—You can be ‘On Probation’ from a mental institution.
—I know it’s been said before, but working on the kill floor of a slaughter house can be a good job for a serial killer.
—Ravens make good pets.
—If you want to get a stranger to touch your penis, build a fake upper body cast and visit a public restroom.
—Glass eyes are very affordable.

Bonus Mini Review: Drive (2011) *** From Memory

“And the award for best cinematography goes to…”

That’s about all I remember about Drive. It looked great with all those glassy, wet nighttime shots of LA. Chris asked me to review it, so okay, enough for me.

The plot, as I remember, was of the generic ‘One Last Job’ variety. Why must every single damned anti-hero ‘be pulled back in’ for one last big score. It never goes well. Super bland, er, I mean stoic, Ryan Gosling did nothing for me. I remember looking more at his stupid jacket (I bet the promotional production jackets for the movie and Ryan’s jacket were one and the same).

Also, no kick-ass chase scene at the end of the movie. Isn’t that what a movie called Drive should be driving towards? For the life of me, I can’t remember how the movie ended. Albert Brooks dies. Not even in a car chase. Oops, spoiler. Bryan Cranston was crotchety in it. Christina Hendricks was fully clothed and only in it for about two minutes.

Overall, underwhelming. Watch the first half of Drive for the cinematography, then go rent Steve McQueen’s Bullitt to see how it’s done.

92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes is ridiculous. If you have a movie you want me to review, let me know. But be warned, accuracy and thoroughness is not a strong suit.

Do It: Comedy Bang Bang on IFC. Hot Saucerman and company deliver a low-key talk show heir to Mr. Show. Get in on the ground floor and then go back and check out the podcast. If Reggie Watts isn’t proclaimed ‘America’s Teddy Bear,’ the world ain’t right.

Avoid It: Blythe Danner. Mom to the spokesperson for extreme nutty whiteness, the over exposed and under talented drug pusher Danner needs to ‘break a leg,’ indeed. She’s not royalty.

The Tweeter: Hey Sting, that book by Nabakov is called Lolita. It’s pretty famous, movies were made. Check it out. #dontstandsoclosetome

The Facing Book: Just a tip, the edible shells on the taco salads at Amigos cost extra. BS, bro.

True Facts: I heard F. Scott Fitzgerald has a big foot fetish. True Fact. Maybe Quentin Taratino should’ve directed that 3-D abomination The Great Gatsby.

Next Up: 200 Motels (1971), A Bucket of Blood (1959), 21 Days (1940), or #500. Aquemini by OUTKAST.