LIVING HELL SE
Reviewed by: JimmyO
What's it about
When some unexpected reletives show up, wheelchair bound Yasu is in for his own private hell. Grandma and her mute Granddaughter have a few games for him that he'll never forget.
Is it good movie?
When I was watching this flick, there was something that really irked me. The lead character of Yasu, played by Hirohito Honda bothered me. He didn’t give a bad performance but I found him irritating. He makes so many odd choices and doesn’t seem to want to save himself. But by the end, it made sense and he grew on me. His terror is conveyed well yet he comes across as pathetic and weak. But with a family like this… can you really blame him? Living Hell was dubbed “a Japanese Chainsaw Massacre” but without the chainsaws. This is a fairly accurate description, but there was another influence that was clear. There is a very obvious homage to Brian De Palma’s classic, Dressed to Kill. It is clear that director Shugo Fujii knows his horror and isn’t afraid to poke fun at it while still trying to get under your skin. The over the top music, the off-kilter “feel” of the camera and the mostly single setting make for a claustrophobic feel. And it works.
The story opens with a horrible murder of a couple and their dog. We witness the ones responsibly and when they turn up later as “family” to cause more trouble, we know what they are capable of. But as Yasu, who is bound to a wheelchair is terrorized by the mysterious “Grandmother” and “Granddaughter” we are not really sure of the extent and the reason. What really worked here was the way the torture he is put through builds. This poor dude just seems to be getting screwed and nobody seems to care or want to listen to him. And yes, there is a surprise to be had in the final moments, one I shall not share with you but I dug it. Although the “motive explanation” did go on just a tad too long, I dug the ride.
This is the kind of movie that is refreshing to see in light of the recent trend created by Ringu in Japanese horror. There is a scary girl, but it is handled much differently here. The evil characters seem almost zombie like yet in a moment move quickly to deliver more horror goodness. And there is gore-a-plenty here. It takes awhile to get there but the terror and general creepiness keep it moving. I really appreciated the slow burn affect of this flick. We are given time to get to know Yasu and his family and it works. Yes, the guys weak, but c’mon man… dart’s, dead birds and a VERY uncomfortable date with a stun gun make for a refreshingly morbid style. And this is stylish. Mr. Fujii knows how to keep it interesting by using classic horror and mixing it with some over the top cheese. Good stuff.
Video / Audio
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1. Not a bad transfer but not quite what it could be.
Audio: 2.0 Dolby Surround captures the sound of torture very well.
Subversive Cinema seem to know what makes a good DVD… and that would be some pretty sweet extras.
First off we get Director’s Commentary. Now I really like Shugo Fujii; the guy has some major talent. Although doing commentary is not one of them. On this mostly silent audio track he gives some interesting information but seems to forget that he should be talking. Sounds like a nice guy though.
Next we get four Short Films from Mr. Fujii. They include “Blackhole”, “Seesaw Game”, “Grief” and “Dead Money”. All four are very well done. The first three are all done in black and white and really well shot. I love his compositions and use of shadows.
Blackhole (14:26) is the tale of a woman who finds that her husband is secretly involved with a “mystery man”. The most impressive part of this film is the lighting. I really dig his use of shadows. One very cool moment involves the woman holding a knife in front of her face. Nice.
Seesaw Game (28:42) is the story of a man who will go to any means necessary to protect a woman he has only seen through a window. This particular short was again very well shot but it really drags a bit. This is my least favorite.
Grief (17:44) is by far the creepiest. This is about an obsessive woman who follows a man while he is with another woman. Nice little twist on this one. This also has a very cool moment where the black and white photography turns to red… good stuff.
Dead Money (19:41) is the only color short. This is the story of what happens when money turns someone into a monster. This is the sharpest and most professional looking of the shorts.
Then we have a few Deleted Scenes (5:59). Not the greatest feature especially since there are no subtitles and I don’t speak Japanese.
And of course we have Trailers and Previews including; Living Hell, Battlefield Baseball, The Witch Who Came From the Sea and Gemini.
And lastly we get to have a little fun with the remote controls “next” button for Storyboards and Director’s Biography. The storyboards are… well storyboards, not my thing. But the bio was a pretty interesting read (but still a read, how about an interview next time).
Living Hell knows how to mix it up. By taking a little Tobe Hooper and some Brian De Palma, Shugo Fujii takes us on a very brutal and entertainingly violent ride. Although using very little original thought, he uses clever camera angles, interesting performances and some wild and over the top music. He keeps you involved and for the most part, “in the dark” as to the story being told. Yes there are a few problems including an overlong explanation of the series of events that have taken place but still worth a look. “Hell” looks pretty good from where I’m sitting.