In A Glass Cage (Tras el cristal) 1987
Dir. Augusti Villaronga
In A Glass Cage, or Tras el cristal in its native Spain, is a beautifully shot, ugly bastard of a film. It opens in a dimly lit basement where a young boy is strung up by his wrists, naked, beaten and unconscious. An older man observes him, snapping pictures, with a facial expression that suggests his thoughts are elsewhere. When the boys eyes open the man begins to caress him, rubbing his face against the boy’s. Barely alive, the boy doesn’t a make a sound as the man smashes a wooden board into the back of his head. The man makes his way onto the roof while someone off camera enters the basement, observes the scene and picks up a journal off the floor. The man stares across the land before taking a fall. This opening scene sets the tone for the entire film – bleak and uncomfortable, yet nearly impossible to take your eyes off.
The man is Klaus (played by Mr Slugworth himself, Gunter Meisner), a former nazi who was prone to molesting, torturing and killing young boys during the war. Well it seems he decided to keep his evil activities up as a hobby after the war was over, hence the naked boy in the basement. Klaus, in an iron lung after his “accident” on the roof, lives in exile in Spain with his wife and young daughter. Griselda, his wife, is becoming more and more depressed and desperate with their situation. She needs help taking care of her invalid husband, and wishes her daughter could be at school and live the life of a normal girl her age. She writes a letter to her mother in Germany, asking to send a nurse to help with her husband. Before she can even get the letter to the post a mysterious young man shows up, saying he heard about the man’s condition and was there to be his nurse. Griselda is rightfully suspicious, but Gunter insists that the young man stays as his nurse.
The young man, Angelo, is just what Klaus needs. He shaves his face, washes him, and entertains him by jerking off while reading from Klaus’ journal from the war. Griselda meanwhile becomes increasingly suspicious and tells Angelo he must leave. In turn Angelo goes batshit crazy, kills Griselda, starts wearing Klaus’ army coat, redecorates the house with wire fence and sets furniture on fire – inside the house. That is all just icing on the depraved cake, as Angelo takes up his patient’s old habit of luring in young boys to snuff out. Klaus, being face to face with his own sick and twisted past, tries to no avail to stop Angelo, but what’s he going to do? He’s in an iron fucking lung! In all seriousness though, watching Angelo taking on the role that Klaus once held is a very disturbing thing indeed. Themes of shame, guilt, repression, abuse and perversion all run throughout.
Beneath all of the ugliness and despair, however, is a beauty that sets In A Glass Cage apart from other shock exploitation films. It’s set design and cinematography are often gorgeous, even during the most shocking of scenes. It’s this balance that keeps the viewer willing to be along for the ride, waiting to see where Angelo’s disturbed actions takes us, and what makes the film an artsploitation experience that sticks with you long after viewing it. The new high-definition transfer on Cult Epics’ recently released DVD and Blu-ray captures the dismal grey and blue color scheme quite well, and comes complete with an endorsement from über perv and shock cinema legend John Waters himself. Accompanying the film are a pair of interviews with director Augusti Villlaronga, and three of his short films. I highly recommend seeking out a copy and experiencing the film for yourself.
In A Glass Cage rates 4 out of 5 Screaming Jamies