Born for Hell (1976)

What an unusual movie.

In this Italian-German-French Canadian-English-Russian-Mexican-Brazilian-French-Belgian-Swedish-Regular Canadian-Honduran-French Polynesian-Zimbabwean-Pakistani-Sri Lankan-Vietnamese-and Aleutian co-production, a veteran of the Vietnam War finds himself in war torn Belfast where he begins to torture a household of nurses.

The first hour or so is not what you would expect from something in the “horror” genre (as Tubi categorizes it). In fact, it feels more like a commentary on the situation in Belfast. Furthermore, the perpetrator of all the crimes comes across halfway sympathetic. Not only does the villain get plenty of character development, but so do the nurses who are portrayed as more than faceless victims. That being said, there are a few indications that something is ‘off’ in the first half. Any good horror film should prepare its audience for what’s about to happen: after a bombing at a church, the main character couldn’t have given less of a shit; there’s a strange interaction with a child in a park; and a middle-aged prostitute dances topless under threat. Nevertheless, the first half of Born for Hell feels like a gritty documentary-style drama, in the same vein as The French Connection or The Battle of Algiers.

Even the torture scenes are a bit unusual. Sure there are the usual rapes, stabbings, and strangulations. There’s nothing especially creative about the deaths in that regard, which might come as a disappointment to some. But the villain isn’t typically maniacal about it. In fact, Sometimes he’s quite polite (“follow me, if you don’t mind”). It’s the performances of Mathieu Carriere and all the nurses, from Carole Laure onwards, that really carry the day.

Perhaps I shouldn’t read too much into this movie. In all likelihood, it was a tax write off for a bunch of international businessmen. But conceptually, this was an interesting idea. Sure, this story was inspired by a real event that took place in Chicago. Yet I like to think the filmmakers were reaching for something higher here.

Much like how The Deer Hunter tried to capture the madness of war through suspenseful scenes of Russian Roulette, I’ll suggest that the torture scenes at nurse’s house serves a similar function: senseless killing pushes men to the brink of insanity and they take out that frustration on innocent women.

I don’t know.

But when viewed in this light, Born for Hell fits in nicely with the 70s Cinema canon.

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