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In Hell (1976)

Review by: 
Release Date: 
One 7
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Nikos Papatakis
Olga Karlatos
Roland Bertin
Philippe Adrien
Bottom Line: 

From One 7, adistributer of imported, unrated sleaze from Europe comes IN HELL, a story of terrorism, political intrigue, and torture.  Nothing gives me greater shame as a reviewer than to admit that I didn’t comprehend the particular nuances of a film because the possibility always exists that the fault is all my own and I simply wasn’t intelligent enough to understand it.  Yet by the time the box synopsis and cover art of a given film has seemingly nothing to do whatsoever with the actual DVD that came enclosed inside it, I think I may not be alone in feeling a little disillusioned, confused, and cheated by this particular title. Let us spend 90 unforgiving minutes IN HELL and ask why it couldn’t have been longer? (More on this in a bit).

The story centers on Gaila, a pretty French woman who is the lover, protégé, and supporter of a radical filmmaker/terrorist/freedom fighter named Hamidas who made a controversial movie about terrorism in which she starred.  Yet because Hamidas is an enemy of the state during the great Algerian struggle for independence, Gaila does not dare interact with her infamous lover directly but listens to a series of cassette tapes Hamidas has made for her to listen to during his absence.  Far from being sentimental sweet nothings pressed to audiotape these recorded messages are a combination method acting course and an act of propaganda as Gaila is encouraged to burn her breasts with cigarettes (to get the most authentic possible scream). Another tape even encourages her to assemble explosives to clear her mind, if she ever finds the solitude to be too stifling in his absence. Of course the real crux of the story is the fact Gaila is in possession of the only copy of an unfinished film by Hamidas that will hopefully blow the lid off of the state-sponsored torture that is going on beyond the scenes, and it is up to her to protect it if not see that it is shown in a private film party, thrown by media company officials who may be interested in purchasing the rights to it, therefore letting the revolutionary message of Hamidas finally be heard by the masses.

If all of this sounds pretty straightforward and filled with three kinds of intrigue; let me assure you it is not.  Gaila is obviously mentally ill, an unreliable protagonist, and not just because she is selflessly devoted to the cause of political change.  In addition, every other character in the film seems to be aiding her, even as they are all secretly working together to expose the whereabouts of Hamidas all so he can be killed on sight.  At first, this makes the film seem like it takes place in an exciting, seedy revolutionary underworld where no one is who they seem, yet by the film’s end it just makes you feel sorry for Gaila and her sad, nudie torture film she herself starred in for a political statement.  If I said it once I will say it again; if you are going to make a movie based on the premise of how “nasty” a fake film within a real film is,  (8mm, THE RING, BLAIR WITCH) you had better bring something shocking, if not visually compelling to the table so the viewer can see what the “controversy” is about.  The short film that was supposed to change how the world looked at torture as well as felt about state sanctioned violence was actually very tame and involved an English corporal guzzling used condoms like they were Twinkies and the legal aged daughter of a brothel girl (Played by Gaila) being stripped naked by soldiers and having a bottle forcibly inserted exactly where you might assume it will be judging by the context of this sentence. This meant nothing to me, and the aristocrats who threw the party didn’t much care for it either; so little in fact that they started to beat Gaila.  I understood the symbolic message of this, but I honestly didn’t stop me from laughing during this scene, and I find that it’s only during a really dumb movie when I find myself rooting for the bad guys.

There were other problems throughout the story. Gaila carries on about her lost child fathered by Hamidas and yet at the end of the film, her beloved son’s ultimate fate is never revealed. The box synopsis not only ruins crucial film events, but also incorrectly describes them in past tense and perhaps most odious of all to me, this film was listed with a running time of 130 minutes on IMDB but the  version sent to me for review was a measly 99 minutes. Not only does the rockin’ cover art depict a S+M scene with Sapphic overtones that never actually happened, but the box synopsis is a spoiler and the damn thing has been secretly “EDITED FOR CONTENT” as well by thirty one minutes!  How can any critic who reviews these sorts of films be expected to respond to any of these technical issues except to say my trip IN HELL was surprisingly lukewarm.

Extras include a photo gallery.

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