Living Hell (2000) - Original title Iki-jigoku, is a gory family drama with an unexpected twist. This film's packaging bills it as the "The Japanese Texas Chainsaw Massacre" which throws up a red flag right from the get go. It sets up all kinds of expectations about the kind of horror we are about to see. It may not be a fair thing to do to a film. The opening scene is standard horror fair. A noise in the house, was it the dog, wakes the wife while the husband sleeps soundly. She gets up and carries a baseball bat out into the hall to investigate. Why don't people ever turn on lights? It seems like the first thing you would do if you were investigating a noise in your house. No though on this dark and stormy night it is just a woman in the dark with a baseball bat. When she reaches the end of the hall we see her shocked expression as she stands behind a girl down on her knees who is... what?... Eating the dog? The woman with the bat is horrified who would eat a dog, raw? Too bad she was not paying attention in her fear because at this moment she is struck from behind. On the floor now the woman is turned face up and the killer places a stag beetle on her eye and it immediately borrows into her head. Where did that come from? Next we see the husband as he wakes to see a hammer heading into his skull.
This first scene although a couple of the elements are a bit bizarre is really a standard piece of work. In screenwriting you want the first couple scenes to really pull people into the film. To raise questions that will be answered as the film proceeds. It has to be compelling to capture the audience. This first scene okay but nothing special, it gets added to the next scene of the cops at the house investigating the deaths to set us up with who the killers are. We learn that the they think it is not an outside killer but a family member, the girl near the dog disappeared. They only find the 72 year old senile granny alive in the house and she is destined to be locked up as crazy.
So we set up the story proper for the film a group of adult live at home children and there often absent (working) father accept into their home some distant relatives, an old lady Chiyo (Yoshiko Shiraishi) and the Mute grandaughter Yuki (Naoka Mori). Ken (Kazuo Yashiro) is the oldest of the children, with adopted daughter Mami (Rumi) in the middle and both caring for the youngest wheelchair bound Yasu (Hirohito Honda) must accept the newcomers no matter how strange they are. The film takes some time in the early going to show us some nicely shot scare scenes where Yasu is frightened by the newcomers, but is he hallucinating. The point is made to have Ken and Mami talk about their little brother wondering if he is getting worse.
The movie at this point devolves into a long slow torture session for Yasu. Chiyo and Yuki at first creep him out, then outright scare him and then harm him repeatedly and without mercy. Yasu's life becomes the living hell in the title of the film. Along the way there are some excellent scare tactics for the viewing audience. Some is to make you think that Yasu is actually having hallucination, some to lead you into thinking that there is something supernatural in the story. Some just to gross you out. It is important to note though, that although there is some blood in the film it is by no means a gorefest. Most of the torture is not seen on scene while it is happening. Using cut away and them coming back for the after affects is useful in creating the illusion but by no means is this a gory movie. Well okay there are a couple things that should not be spoiled by writing about them.
A secondary storyline is a reporter Mitsu who is tracking the original murder story and continues to delve into the strange old lady and her silent granddaughter. It serves essentially to have there be the chance that the weirdos will be caught and that there is hope that Yasu will be saved. Unfortunately for Mitsu he happens to be working at the paper where Ken works and although this creates some tense scenes as Mitsu closes in on the home where the family lives it also gives away that Mitsu can not be successful. He is useful though in laying out everything there is to know about Chiyo and her children.
Through a Dr. Kurando, who meets with Mitsu we learn about Chiyo and her son became part of an experimental program. How she was part of an experiment to have and separate Siamese twins. The doctor describes the woman as a monster and her son as worse. All of this is already known by poor Yasu though and the final part of the film where he receives the revelations of all the information the audience has has to be seen to be believed. As an audience member you are probably thinking that this movie is more of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation and possibly feeling pretty disappointed with the plot of the film. Well a final twist will have you shaking your head and wondering why?
Overall the film does not live up to the hype. Wait was there really any hype? What is has though, which gets it a recommendation from Soresport Movies, is some very effective scare tactics. Some of the camera tricks in those scenes is excellent. The smaller amounts of practical gore effects are well done. Personally I enjoy when someone suddenly appears and runs right at you terrific low key jump scare. The story seemed convoluted and the twist really unnecessary at the end of the film, after everything else had played out and a bow could be tied on the film. Writer, Director and player of the part Mitsu has done an effective enough job to give this film a pass.
Rating (5.1) 5.0 and up are recommended