'Born for Hell' is a low-budget Canadian / French / West German / Italian production co-written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Denis Héroux who got his start in maple syrup porn. It is a grim tale inspired by the infamous American mass murderer Richard Speck who on July 14th, 1966 systematically tortured, raped and murdered eight young female student nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital holding them hostage in a townhouse used as their dormitory. The grisly scenario of this true-life source material is depicted here in graphic detail and while these sights of the degradation and murders of attractive naked innocent young women is explicit and stomach churning stuff the film is more than just outright sleazy exploitation. With the changes of the time of setting to the ‘70s and of the backdrop to the paranoia of the Northern Ireland Conflict and these despicable crimes committed by a disturbed misogynist Vietnam War veteran it makes for an interesting juxtaposition and a nightmarish trip into the heart of human darkness in a riveting, gruesome and bleak character study.
Traumatised Vietnam vet drifter Cain Adamson (Mathieu Carrière) arrives on a ship from Saigon in Belfast on route to America. Marooned there he is on a waiting list for the next ship out. Without money and not knowing anyone, he begs for food at a boarding house for student nurses. When one of the girls Amy (the beautiful Carole Laure) takes pity on him and gives him some leftovers from a party they are having at the time she reminds him of his wife back home. Desperate he returns later that night with a switchblade to rob the place but has a psychotic break succumbing to his depraved desires. Tying them up and gagging their mouths, he holds all eight nurses captive in a bedroom upstairs taking down one or two at a time to the living room to terrorize, rape and murder them.
Carrière has an immensely creepy presence and is terrifyingly convincing in a low-key performance keeping a cool calm exterior as the woman hating personification of pure evil. He has left one war torn hellhole only to arrive in another and very early on we are shown his hatred towards woman and how cold and unfeeling he is. During the opening minutes, soon after he arrives Cain visits a church where a bomb goes off. Still sitting in a pew almost un-phased by the explosion it is not until the priest tells him to help that he calmly gets up. He crouches down by a badly injured woman lifting her head only to let it go suddenly and hit the floor when he turns his attention to a near dead man in the pew to his right and carries him out instead. The man dies as soon as he gets him out of the church. He chose to take the male who was knocking on death’s door rather than the female who had a possible chance of surviving.
We see on a TV the nurses are watching in their boarding house news footage of the conflict in Hanoi, North Vietnam that is immediately followed up with a report of the simultaneously happening conflict in this setting of Belfast, Northern Ireland. In a hostel, Cain meets a native Vietnamese man and he offers him his medal that he received for combat in Vietnam saying he gave it all up implying he is a deserter. This shows remorse for his country’s actions and a complicated and conflicted personality with his contradictive actions; not elaborated upon these subtle nuances are left up for interpretation. The Vietnamese man rejects him but they later bond over their mutual hatred for women. For a reason Cain does not understand he wanted to pass through this warzone between British troops and the IRA rather than through Sweden when he deserted the war he was fighting in and he seems right at home in this hostile environment desensitized to what is going on around him. Like the title that reads the same as his tattoo he reveals later to the girls, he is “Born for Hell”. This tattoo is actually a variation of Speck’s own tattoo of “Born to Raise Hell.”
A little while later, we see more of Cain’s contradictive personality traits and misogynist attitude with his sadistic side starting to surface. He stops a couple of men who are seemingly trying to mug an elderly overweight prostitute but as it turns out she stole from them claiming they wouldn’t pay her for her services. Cain gives one of them his wallet back and takes the old hooker’s cigarettes giving each of them one and taking one for himself. She offers Cain a freebie and takes him back to her apartment. She refuses to dance for him though when he asks because he has no money for the extra but he makes her dance topless for him at knife-point while playing his harmonica. When she tries to touch him, he kicks her to the ground and walks out.
The scenes of the poor unfortunate nurses being emotionally and physically abused and murdered is truly intense and shocking stuff. He takes down first Amy who reminds him of his wife and he explains to Amy about her revealing the reasons for his frightening hatred for women. One demeaning and vile sequence stands out as the hardest to watch. When Cain breaks into the house at night, he overhears in the living room one of the women telling the youngest of the group her feelings for her. Taking advantage of this he takes these two down next. He makes them take their clothes off, clearing a table holding his knife up to her he makes the older one sit down on it and lay back opening her legs and makes the other bend over and give her oral sex. He then takes off his belt and as she is still bent over he takes her underwear down and whips her bare arse violently with his belt. Then throwing the belt on the sofa he lifts it up to reveal to them Amy’s dead body. He then makes the younger girl stab the other with his knife. After a cut back to the girls in the upstairs bedroom he then takes the younger girl who is unconscious and covered in the blood of her dead friend to the sink in the kitchen to wash her. When she wakes up screaming he strangles her to death.
The female victims are no way objectified for the viewer with their characterisations written as real young people with everything to live for (one of them is even pregnant in a possible reference to Sharon Tate a victim of the Manson Family's massacre) and this makes it all the more tragic. The ruthlessness of Cain dehumanizes the women not the filmmakers who are not striving for violent pornography as their sole intention is to repel you. Whatever social commentary there was in the first half though gets lost in this unpleasant distressing sickness for the remainder of the runtime making it a film of two halves; one part historical document the other horrific acts of madness. In addition, the acting varies in quality, the dialogue at times is cringe making and the dubbing sometimes equally so and the editing in parts is sloppy.
While not perfect though, still powerful work this is a deeply unsettling experience that will haunt your mind for a good while. There is a complete lack of humour in this uncompromising affair of savagery and despair featuring an unflinching portrayal by Mathieu Carrière heading into the deepest darkest depths of human cruelty and the depressing setting of the Northern Ireland Conflict compensates this harsh tone with the proceedings consistently encapsulated in a forbidding atmosphere. If you like scuzzy rape and revenge movies such as ‘The Last House on the Left’ (1972), ‘Night Train Murders’ (1975), ‘The House on the Edge of the Park’ (1980) etc. then you are going to like this for the same reasons… except there is no revenge part.
Extremely disturbing stuff ‘Born for Hell’ is an obscure nasty well worth investigation. The film is in public domain but was released uncut on DVD in 2007 by Apprehensive Films. A terribly cut version that is missing 11-minutes is available on Mill Creek Entertainment’s Chilling Classics 50 Movie Pack 12-disc DVD under the title of ‘Naked Massacre’ but is best avoided.
*** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
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