Guest Review by DAMON SWINDALL
There are certain movies that can change you. The subject matter and frankness used to convey their point is so spot on, disturbing and/or graphic that it becomes something you can never shake from your mind. Some such films are Paosolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom or the more recent depraved look into a seedy side of Eastern Europe with A Serbian Film. These two films, along with many others, are quite shocking and hard to watch but simultaneously great films with a lot to say. Another film to fall in this category is a 1987 horrific tale from Spanish director Agustí Villaronga called In a Glass Cage (Tras el cristal) recently released on Blu-Ray from Cult Epics. It gets quite rough but this is an amazing film with a stylish look and an important narrative.
An ex-Nazi doctor and pedophile named Klaus (Günter Meisner) survived his suicide attempt but was left paralyzed from the neck down. The condition was so sever that he is now left to live out his remaining years in an iron lung. A strange visitor comes by and forces Klaus to take him on as his nurse. Angelo (David Sust) knows all about the things Klaus has done and saw him torture, defile, and ultimately kill a boy. He is also in possession of the wicked man’s diary, which details his many nefarious exploits. Things start off creepy enough but soon we learn Angelo wants to follow in Klaus’ footsteps and recreate some of his past encounters.
This type of film is a bit conflicting. On one hand I love films that really invoke something deep inside, but being left a bit depressed after the credits roll isn’t very fun. Of course how could you have a film with the subject matter of this one without that residual empty feeling? Villaronga has made a psychological horror film that shows the real effects of abuse on children as well as the transference of power that can occur in such a volatile, crushing relationship. This is the most frightening type of horror, one that could very well be real. No ghosts or vampires just a very real human monster. Though Klaus was not a real man – Villaronga based him in part on Gilles de Rais, a friend to Joan of Arc and notorious child killer – this is a very real issue and something that can, and does, happen.
There is a lot of pain in this film and Sust does a wonderful job of portraying that to the audience. When he’s reading aloud to Klaus passages from his diary and there are tears streaming down his face it’s powerful. The tale would be bad enough as is, but Sust’s surge of emotion really punches you in the gut. Meisner is great in the mostly subdued role of the former tormenter-turned-captive, but even with limited movement and minimal dialog his expressions say it all. I will admit that it is a tad disconcerting to see a man I previously knew as Mr. Slugworth as such a vile character. I don’t think I’ll ever look at his creepy encounter with Charlie in the alley the same ever again. Shudder.
It’s not just the performances that give this film the heart wrenching power because there is a very stylish approach in both the camerawork and art direction that help to sell this dreary tale. Most of the colors are muted throughout giving you mostly the cold feeling of grays and blues with bits of color thrown in for accent. This drab world puts off a very eerie vibe and adds tons to the atmosphere. The great transfer on this Blu-Ray only enhances the beautiful look of this film. Of course, I have not ever seen this before on any other format but I can only imagine this is a great improvement. Many of the scenes look so good that I would never have guessed that this film is almost 25 years old.
Cult Epics not only give us a great presentation but also have a few wonderful extras to delve into for more after the film. There is an over 30-minute interview with Villaronga from earlier this year, as well as a shorter Q&A after a revival screening of this movie this past December in New York. Both give great insight into what he was thinking when making the film, his intentions, and the reaction it received upon release. Three of the director’s early short films are also included with a total runtime of around an hour. They do not have the best video quality to them as the only source they could find was VHS but it’s a treat to have Anta Mujer (1976), Laberint (1980), and Al Mayurca (1980) included at all.
I find it really hard to recommend this to people because it’s so harsh in subject matter and execution. In fact, on the cover there is a quote from the infamous director John Waters stating, “I’m too scared to show it to my friends.” If it’s something that Waters is conflicted about passing along and says that it’s “more intense than… Salò” then you know this film is powerful. That being said, In a Glass Cage is an amazing film with great performances, aesthetics, and a shocking message.
Damon Swindall watches a lot of junk. You can see more of his reviews at his blog http://iwatchthisjunk.blogspot.com/