In Hell is not an easy film to watch but Jean-Claude Van Damme gives one of his best performances to date and there are enough fights and disturbing moments to guarantee you’ll never be bored. 88 Films Blu-ray gives some nice insight into the making of the film with candid interviews with those involved so if you have a region free payer (or live in the UK) then this deserves a spot in your collection.
Plot: Kyle Lord (Van Damme – Universal Soldier, Time Cop) is arrested and convicted for the vigilante killing of his wife’s murderer. Kyle must survive life in a maximum-security prison where inmates are made to battle to their death in a brutal, no holds barred fight called “The Shu” for the warden’s entertainment and profit. Kyle fights his oppressors and is quickly sent to “The Shu” where his unbridled rage catapults him to the victor’s circle. Kyle has become one of the monsters he despises and must now battle within himself to survive!
Review: Jean-Claude Van Damme has rarely been better than in this extremely hardcore and brutal prison movie. Directed by the late, great Ringo Lam (Maximum Risk, Replicant) In Hell pulls no punches in depicting the horrors of life in prison and loss of humanity.
I recently picked up the 88 Films Blu-ray of the film as I had only ever watched it when it was first released; In Hell is the sort of film that sticks with you for weeks after watching it and it may be a bit too harrowing for some tastes. Personally I think it’s one of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s best films which is well acted by the entire cast and directed with enough grimness to put anyone off committing a crime ever again.
Kyle is one of Van Damme’s most tortured characters (both physically and mentally) who ends up in a Russian prison after shooting the man who murdered his wife; we know he deserved it so that puts us on Kyle’s side immediately. When Kyle arrives in the prison it doesn’t take long for him to get into fights and end up in solitary confinement. With hope dwindling of him ever seeing the outside world again Kyle slowly begins to embrace his inner beast and forgets who he was; he takes part in fights organized by the prison and shows no mercy to his opponents.
We all talk about Chong Li or Tong Po as some of the best antagonists in JCVD’s films but I think Andrei (Raicho Vasilev) should be up there as he is one of the most hateful characters ever committed to film. He swaggers around the prison because of a deal with the corrupt guards and regularly rapes poor Billy (Chris Moir); thankfully we never see it but we hear his cries of anguish which is equally affecting. I think Billy deserved to escape as he shouldn’t have even gone to prison in the first place so his was the most tragic tale of all…
*Spoiler alert* Kyle eventually faces off against Andrei and it’s one of the most disturbing fight scenes in any Van Damme film as it climaxes with Kyle biting Andrei’s throat out. Is it wrong that I cheered at that point?
Make no mistake this isn’t easy viewing and it’s not a film I plan on watching too often as it’s so unrelentingly grim but it’s well made and the fight scenes are plentiful and bloody. There are no flashy martial arts here and it’s literally just men battling for survival.
Other notable performances are Lawrence Taylor as 451, who has a reputation for killing his cellmates but when Kyle is placed in the same cell as him things are not quite what they seem. Carlos Gómez is at his most despicable as sadistic guard Tolik but thankfully he also gets a satisfying comeuppance at the end.
The scenes where Kyle is visited by a moth which he sees as the ghost of his dead wife add a rare piece of beauty in this otherwise nightmarish scenario.
I also think this movie has one of JCVD’s best looks with the slicked back hair and goatee beard.
Check out the special features on the Blu-ray below:
[LIMITED NUMBERED SLIPCASE – 3000]
[Set of 4 Collector’s Post cards]
High Definition (1080p) Presentation in 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Optional English Subtitles
Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder and Arner Venema
Audio commentary by Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thomson
Interview with Camera Operator Ross Clarkson
Archive Making Of Featurette
The archival Making of In Hell gives an idea of the challenges in making this film; Chris Moir looks visibly scarred from working on this movie which isn’t a surprise considering what he had to go through. It sounds like it was an intense shoot too with Ringo Lam working quickly so it didn’t sound like fun but at least the end result was worth it. I had no idea there were so many special effects in this film; from the opening scene with the prosthetic head to the moth which is entirely CG proving that the best visual effects are the ones we don’t notice.
David Leitch (John Wick) did the stunt coordination on this film which is why the action looks so good and it sounded like even he found it challenging to work with Ringo Lam.
The interview with Ross Clarkson is fascinating and funny as he regales us with stories like JCVD being the best man at his wedding and working with Ringo Lam over many years. There’s also an enthusiastic audio commentary from Mike Leeder and Arner Venema and another one from Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thomson.
In Hell has never looked or sounded better nicely remastered for this Blu-ray and most importantly it has subtitles for the hard of hearing like me.
Overall, In Hell is one of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s best movies where he gives one of his most memorable performances; it’s harrowing stuff and not one I watch often but it’s definitely worth checking out. The 88 Films Blu-ray is a must-have for JCVD completists like myself with enough special features to be an essential addition for your physical media collection.