Originally released in 2003, In Hell receives a brand new DVD release courtesy of First Look Studios. Directed by Hong Kong great Ringo Lam, In Hell didn’t exactly blow audiences away with its brilliant story or acting, but it did retain some of the directors signature action direction, which made it a worthy viewing for fans of Lam as well as its star Jean-Claude Van Damm. With the film celebrating a fifth anniversary, what better time than now to commemorate it with a new DVD release, complete with steelbook packaging.
Inside the most corrupt prison in Europe’s Eastern Block, the warden pits prisoner against each other in fights to the death for profit. The newest contender is Kyle LeBlanc (Jean-Claude Van Damme), serving a life sentence for killing his wife’s murderer. His savage rage may be what saves his life. Co-starring Lawrence Taylor, Marnie Alton, Malakai Davidson, and Billy Rieck.
Ah…hell, what did I really expect going into this film? It’s a rather rank affair, with the only redeemable factors stemming from Van Damme’s rather scary brutality that manifests halfway into the film. While I can imagine that this film may in fact have been re-released for its fifth anniversary, nothing on this set says anything like that and I have to wonder if it’s just rereleased to bank on the upcoming Death Race release, which has a similar “prisoners fighting for their lives as others make money off of their brutality” plot going on. Not that Death Race is the best film to want to cash in on, since it didn’t do any cashing in of its own, but I digress.
The plot to In Hell is a bit weak, although those who read the description on the rear cover may be even more confused. While I included it above in the second paragraph, I cleaned it up so it actually made a bit of sense. Actually printed on the back cover is “serving a life sentence for killing his wife’s murder.” So that makes no sense at all and I swear this is the fourth or fifth grammatical error I’ve seen on the back of a First Look Studio’s release—clearly they need a better proof reader. Anyway, in regards to the plot itself, LeBlance is sentenced for killing the man who raped his wife and as a result he turns into a real bad ass inside the jail. Once he’s released from solitary he joins the fights in the prison and ends up unleashing a world of pain on the inmates, only to turn the tables in the end on those whose pockets he was lining.
As I said before, it’s not the greatest story, nor is it very interesting. In fact if anyone watches this film and actually gets caught up in the story, I’d be genuinely surprised. Instead the real joy from this film comes from the brutality of the fights and the gore that accompanies them. It’s a very graphic and visually stunning film in regards to the violence, so that alone may be worth checking out if you enjoy the usual Van Damme torrent of violence.
Other than that? Nothing. There’s nothing here you’ll care to see again (or even a first time, depending on your taste in films) and not even the fancy steelbook packaging can make you love this film any more. It’s certainly not the worst action film ever made and fans of the star or director may genuinely enjoy it, but for the most part you can just Skip this release.
As previously mentioned, the set arrives in a Steelbook package, which appears to be the only change from the original Columbia/Tri-Star release in 2003. I don’t have the original so I can’t compare the video transfer directly, but the interlaced transfer that First Look gives doesn’t look too bad, a bit grainy on one hand, but other than that it’s standard DVD quality. The English 5.1 mix also is of adequate quality, as it does fill the surrounds in the room quite well, especially during the prison fight sequences. Also included are English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Another issue I have with First Look is how they list the audio and subtitles as special features, and then list them again in the disc specifications table below. They also left an empty field in the table for some reason, not sure what that’s about. In any case, the extras here aren’t of any real quality, with a single Making Of (15:39) featurette being the only real film-focused extra there is (the rest are trailers and “scene selections”, if you find those to be real extras). It’s a standard cast and crew interview piece, with Van Damme declaring the film one of his best. That may be true actually, I can’t say I’ve seen too many of the man’s films. In addition, the extra appears to be a converted VHS recording, that’s how bad the quality is. This film is only five years old, how did it manage to have such an ugly looking EPK piece?
Overall In Hell is a lackluster film wrapped up in one of the industry’s most lustrous packaging styles. Seriously, they wasted steelbook on this? Skip It.
In Hell arrives on DVD on December 9th.