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Cult Epics presents
In A Glass Cage (Tras el cristal) (1986)

"I felt his loathing invade me, giving me pleasure."
- Klaus (Günter Meisner)

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: January 22, 2004

Stars: Günter Meisner, David Sust, Marisa Paredes
Other Stars: Gisela Echevarría, Imma Colomer
Director: Agustín Villaronga

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (disturbing scenes of torture, pedophilia, and sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:47m:04s
Release Date: September 02, 2003
UPC: 063390010196
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ B+C-B B-

DVD Review

A boy hangs naked, suspended by his wrists from the ceiling of a decrepit, decaying basement. He's apparently dead, his body covered with bruises and cuts. But when his male captor notices the boy stirring, he approaches, and tenderly brushes his lips over the boy's.

If reading that paragraph made you squirm, be ready for a lot more squirming if you watch In a Glass Cage. Filmed in 1986 by director Agustín Villaronga, it's the tale of former Nazi, Klaus (Günter Meisner), who performed blood analyses of boys during the war. But many of the boys were already suffering from the "contagion," and had to be put to death, by a rather grisly means. Klaus went further, his sexual desires for boys becoming intermingled with his role as doctor/executioner.

Now laid up in an iron lung after a fall caused him to become paralyzed, Klaus is entirely dependent on his wife, Griselda (Marisa Paredes, best known from Pedro Almodóvar's films), and daughter Rena. Their calm life in exile is interrupted when an intruder makes his way into Klaus' room. The harried Griselda has been pressuring Klaus to take on a nurse, but she's nonplussed when Klaus declares that the intruder is to fulfill that role. Angelo (David Sust) is a handsome, yet slightly odd young man, who quickly proves himself to be capable and caring. Griselda remains suspicious, and it's not long before the audience realizes that Angelo's arrival was no mere coincidence, and that the ties between him and Klaus are both deep and troubling.

By the mere virtue of mixing Nazism, torture, and pedophilia, In a Glass Cage is bound to be disturbing on some level, and some directors might be content to let these themes speak for themselves, without further elaboration. But Villaronga (who also wrote the script) goes beyond this simple mix, and explores themes of power, identity, and transference.

The relationship between Klaus and Angel is both complicated and disturbing. Early on, it becomes clear that Angel identifies himself with Klaus, and by extension Klaus' activities, and that in some ways he seeks to take his place. But Villaronga complicates this simple desire for emulation in a number of scenes that show Angel's sexual attraction to Klaus (or is it simply to his past activities?). Indeed, one scene rather graphically mingles not only Angel's sexual desires, but also his position of power over Klaus, who is already in a position of complete subjugation, trapped as he is in an iron lung.

This exploration of themes adds depth to a film that is already haunted by a pervasive sense of dread. During his Nazi days, Klaus kept a notebook full of pictures, drawings, and detailed accounts of how he picked up boys and subsequent tortured them, and this material is the primary source of this sense of unease that permeates the film. Angel not only reads from the book, but recounts some of the tales from memory, and when real-life events began to mirror these past events, a horrible expectation is created in the mind of the viewer. Angel's desire to become Klaus only further increases this tension, and Javier Navarrete's often drone-filled score provides a soundtrack equivalent to Villaronga's long, lateral tracking shots, effectively adding to the suspense.

But the skill with which visual and aural components complement plot elements in these sequences is unfortunately marred by the excesses of others. Too often, Villaronga seems content to draw on the genre clichés of the Italian giallo films, crime thrillers with unusually (for the time) gory death scenes. Not only in his directorial style, but also his use of music (a scene of Rena running is accompanied by a pumping synthesizer theme), does it seem that Villaronga is being derivative, and these factors considerably lessen the impact of the film.

In the end, the film is a mixed bag. It's a tribute to Villaronga's skill that this reviewer briefly covered his eyes in horror during one scene, probably for the first time in decades. But the giallo clichés, a seemingly interminable suspense sequence, and a ridiculous and baffling ending disappointingly dilute what could have otherwise been an excellent film.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: It's evident that not a lot of care was taken with this transfer. Although Villaronga deliberately used a reduced color palette, even those colors are washed out, and skin tones look pale and unhealthy. Compression artifacts abound, including "grain" that remains stationary as the rest of the image moves beneath it. There is no black level to speak of, but rather a gray level, and the frequent dark scenes turn into a sort of murk, to the extent that it is sometimes difficult to make out what's going on. And the transfer is nonanamorphic, so the subtitles are cut off when the image is properly scaled on a widescreen TV.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The two-channel sound is adequate. There's never a sense of depth or spaciousness to the sound, which is disappointing for a film that has a careful sound design (the insistent wheezing of the iron lung, for example).

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Interview with director Agustin Villaronga
  2. Printed insert with chapter listing and two pages of notes by Stephen Thrower
Extras Review: The printed notes are interesting and informative, if a bit fanciful. The interview with director Villaronga consists of three brief (totaling under 10 minutes) segments. He discusses the genesis of the story and its inspiration in the notorious deeds of Gilles de Rais, problems with filming on a $300,000 budget, the difficulty of working with children, and an interesting discovery in the garden of the house where the movie was filmed—hallucinogenic mushrooms!

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

In a Glass Cage depicts pedophilia and murder in an effective way, mixing interesting themes with visual and aural elements to create an overall sense of dread. But its excesses ultimately destroy much of the film's punch, and the mediocre transfer makes a difficult-to-watch film even more unpleasant.


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