A Bell from Hell (1973)

A young man named John is released from a mental hospital, his doctor ordering him to report back every week or so for a check up. John burns his documents first chance he gets and heads home, where his vaguely sinister aunt Marta and three beautiful cousins are waiting. Apparently Aunt Marta had John committed to the mental hospital and it is up in the air whether or not he was actually crazy enough to merit this treatment, especially considering the fact that by doing so Aunt Marta has taken control of the family fortune that John was meant to inherit. Complicating things further, John has had some kind of intimate relationship with at least two of the cousins, and there is still some kind of lingering tension between them.

This is an amazing movie. First of all, although the title does not act as a concise plot summary ("John vs. his Aunt and Cousins" would have been a pretty cool title I think), it does show up on the screen with an image of said bell, and that is always worth bonus points in my book. If Halloween 4 opened with a shot of four calenders, all with October 31st circled in red... well, I'm not saying that would have made the movie any good, but it certainly wouldn't have hurt.

Second, this is an amazingly paced thriller that doesn't insult you by explaining everything and takes its time in developing the story it wants to tell. Roughly an hour goes by before you really even realize anything is going on, but the characters and atmosphere are all so captivating you won't care. You reach a certain point where you start to piece together what is going on and from that point on you are glued to the screen.

There is no black-and-white morality presented here. The script is very vague about whether or not John is really crazy. It is also vague regarding whether or not Aunt Marta was acting in John's best interests in having him committed. So basically it is up to you to figure out who to believe, and depending upon which side you choose this movie will turn into either a "crazy guy menacing a houseful of women" story or a "wronged guy getting his revenge" movie.

A Bell from Hell is really indicative of the very best that European horror from the 1970s had to offer. The atmosphere is phenomenal, the direction skilled, and the script clever and intelligent. Finding treasures like this is what watching horror movies is all about.

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