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Total Crap: 14.29%

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H6: Diary of a Serial Killer
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by Doug Bentin

"Serial murder -- the universal language"
4 stars

Superficially, “H6: Diario de un Asesino” (Diary of a Serial Killer) resembles Eli Roth’s “Hostel,” but look a little deeper and you’re likely to see “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” under the surface resemblance. Besides, the release of “H6” predated “Hostel” by eight months.

I suspect the similarities are coincidental. An abandoned “guest house,” or hotel, becomes the scene for torture and murder in “H6,” just as a youth hostel was the trap luring students to their doom in the Roth film, but the impersonal nature of hotel rooms make them practically perfect locations for the deaths of lonely people.

Fernando Acaso stars as Antonio Frau. We meet him first as a young man ripping into a frenzied argument with his girl friend. She wants to leave him because of his unrelenting jealousy. When threatening and pleading fail to change her mind, he strangles her.

Cut to a lawyer’s office 25 years later. Frau has been released from prison and is signing the papers that will let him take control of some property he’s inherited from an aunt he never knew. The property is an urban guest house—actually, the attorney tells him, a brothel. With a plain front facing onto a narrow street, the building appeals to Frau, who sees in it an opportunity to carry out his great work.

His first night there, he finds a vagrant in one of the rooms, a young man who claims that he just slipped in to spend the night before leaving town the next morning. Frau offers him something to eat and drink, and his guest winds up dead and dragged into a room the walls of which are decorated with paintings of over-sized skulls. The place may have been a brothel, but it appears to have entertained a clientele with peculiar tastes.

Frau marries a woman he’s known for two weeks. Francisca (Maria Jose Bausa) doesn’t love this 42-year old, odd but not-quite-too-odd man—how could she?—but she is 35 years old and wants to escape her smothering father. Her wedding day marks the first time she has been inside the guest house. Frau tells her that he doesn’t have keys to all the rooms, including H6, which seems to her to be just another strange but not suspicious element in her new life.

Yes, the locked room that is off limits to the new bride is a deliberate reference to the story of Bluebeard. Frau’s guide to murder is the real life French serial killer Henri Landru, known as Bluebeard for his habit of killing his wives. Landru kept a damning diary, a habit, among others, Frau emulates.

He suggests that Francisca keep her nursing job on the night shift of a hospital. She is willing as she has been having an affair with a married doctor there for years. Adultery is not murder, of course, but we quickly see that Francisca is not quite the desperate old maid in distress we thought she was.

So while maintaining a relatively normal relationship with his wife, Frau is inviting prostitutes into the guest house at night, temping them in with a smile, a genial manner, the promise of something to eat, and easy money for satisfying his desire for a kind of sex he doesn’t want to mention to his wife. He has a talent for sizing up the working girls and telling them just what they want to hear. Once in the building, they soon find themselves being taken to room H6. Yes, the walls and floor are covered with sheets of plastic, and the table in the center of the room has straps on all four corners, but hell, this guy admitted to being freaky. What’s the harm? A girl’s gotta make a living.

First time writer/director Martin Garrido Baron knows what few people working in this genre want to admit—that to a certain extent, the victims of monsters like Frau are complicit in their fates. Not that they know and welcome what’s in store for them, but that they allow their needs and desperation and experiences with pretenders to override the warning signals. Allowing a stranger to strap them down in what could easily be a torture chamber may be dismissed as being just part of a day’s work, but it’s also the first step towards a tragic inevitability. We watch what happens with the same grotesque voyeurism Roman audiences brought to a play by Seneca.

Like the original “Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” “H6” isn’t explicit about what Frau does when he cranks up the old 18 inch Craftsman—the story is told in screams and blood splatter—but we do learn from Frau’s diary entries that he likes to continue having sex with his victims even after he has amputated their legs—and that may tell you more than you want to know about this guy.

The film is dark and claustrophobic, physically and psychologically, but after the oppressive morbidity that permeates the action, the end delivers a black humored shock that you won’t see coming. The real surprise is that it drags human nature to a lower level even than that displayed in room H6.

The curious thing about most American horror films is that they contain an odd optimism that allows the audience to leave the horror in the theater. It’s that whew-I-survived reaction that students of the genre mention so often in interviews. But “H6” shows us again that films from other countries don’t necessarily play out that way. Think of “Audition” and “The Vanishing” and “Wolf Creek.”

As Frau tells Francisca, there are a lot of evil people out there. And they won’t kill you because they hate you. They don’t care about you. They just don’t care.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=14819&reviewer=405
originally posted: 01/18/07 03:12:55
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User Comments

1/18/07 del Comparing a movie to "Hostel" is like saying, "It's kinda like watching ANIMAL FECES!!!!!!" 1 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  21-Nov-2006
  DVD: 21-Nov-2006

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