Heroes In Hell gives you an up close and personal look at the lives of a group of World War II POWs. It’s up close and personal not because you get to know the characters or you are treated to a day to day examination of what life in a German prison camp entails. It’s up close and personal because most of the freaking film is shot right in these guys’ faces! And it didn’t serve to build tension or give a sense of claustrophobic suspense so much as left the viewer straining to see around everyone’s big fat skull!
If the extreme abuse of extreme close ups was the only the issue with the film, you could probably write it off as an admirable attempt at some type of artsy take on the normally cruddy Italian war movie genre. Instead, the idiotic story, poor pacing, minimal amount of action, and the contribution of noted assistant director File Footage all add up to a normally cruddy Italian war movie with lots of extreme close ups!
The torture the German war machine inflicts not only on the prisoners, but those of us watching at home, begins as soon as the opening credits roll. It’s three minutes of black and white World War II footage and it’s punctuated by the announcement that there will be a special appearance in the film by some guy named Klaus Kinsky!
Since Klaus Kinski appeared in only the final fifteen minutes of the movie as a German general who babbled on about Renaissance art, he very well may have had it in his contract to use his secret identity of “Klaus Kinsky” instead of his real name so that his fans would not be disappointed with his minimal and silly participation in such a project.
Heck, even Joe D’Amato (Beyond the Darkness, Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals) himself went with his Michael Wotruba moniker for this film! (Which goes to show that the Italians are much more adept at pretending never to be within a country mile of such a steaming pile of rotted sauerkraut!)
Once File Footage finishes directing the opening credits, it’s D’Amato’s turn and he proves to be a trooper even through the weakest of material.
Despite a story that seemed improvised from the memories the writer had of other POW movies (how else to explain the painfully long roll call scenes?), D’Amato does manage to occasionally give the proceedings his own flavor. For instance, we get a nice loving look at a guy’s shrapnel wound the alcoholic camp doctor operates on. There is also a swollen tongue and some lesions for us to savor.
It is difficult though to chalk this one up to Joe doing as much as possible with the material he was given. You remember that writer who seemed to be scripting this movie based on his hazy recall of other movies? That was Joe, too!
Sure, he gave us guys rubbing poisonous plants on themselves to simulate the effect of the plague, but he also gave us an escape plot that hinged on the Germans not immediately shooting and burning guys who looked like they had the plague!
Once on the loose, our heroes immediately fall in with a group of grubby partisans. These resistance fighters are standard issue all the way down to the token hot chick they have with them!
In the great tradition of the plague escape plan, the partisans have a “plan so ridiculous and ill thought out that it can’t possibly fail in a movie as awful as Heroes in Hell.” They are going to kidnap the general played by Klaus Kinski right from his stronghold!
But how could they possibly pull it off? Because one of the escaped POWs speaks German! And they have some German uniforms! But does it work? Sure it does! Almost everyone gets shot and some stuff blows up!
Though the horrors of war are finally over for those who didn’t survive, the rest of us will have to carry the trauma of Heroes in Hell around with us like some sort of nasty plant blister.
Can we ever truly forget the genocidal use of stock battle footage during a nightmare one of the POWs had? Or the fact that that footage was actually better than the newly shot material showing the soldier making faces inside the cockpit of a plane during the same dream?
And how do you ever get past the half-witted rescue scene where our guys again fooled the Germans by rolling up in a truck dressed in German uniforms? By the end of this movie I was thinking that if our military commanders had a half a brain back in the 1940s they would’ve just dressed all our boys in German outfits and had them drive into German positions and that whole World War II business could have been wrapped up in about three days.
Heroes in Hell easily violates every article of the Geneva Convention and will leave the viewer in dire need of assistance from the Red Cross should he or she somehow survive it.
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