I am a huge fan of Japanese horror. I try to get my hands on as many of these films as possible. One of the things I especially like about J-Horror are the originality of the ideas and the emphasis on truly scaring the viewer by taking the horror seriously instead of reverting to self-referentiality and comedy. "Living Hell" seemed to promise a different type of J-Horror; instead of subtlety and spookiness (with little blood) this one was advertised as a gory bloodbath, "the Japanese TCM" in other words. It also compared it to other modern horror chef d'oeuvres as "Evil Dead" and "Cabin Fever". Huh? Have I watched the same film? Frankly, "Living Hell" does not in any way approach the level of ferocious originality those films had and I fail to see the similarities.
2 brothers and their sister, all in their twenties, share the same house that is owned by their father, often away on business trips. One day they receive word that two distant relatives (a 70-year old grandmother and 22-year old granddaughter) whose family were murdered will be moving in with them. As they move in, we see right away that the two are mighty strange; the grandmother is senile and barely says anything, same with the granddaughter who is completely mute. Not only do they never talk but they are curiously devoid of any expression. Wheelchair-bound Yasu will soon discover there is something mighty wrong with these two and soon falls under the guise of their torture techniques.
The film started off okay, as we were presented to some very intriguing characters. You wouldn't think a 70-year old grandmother and her frail 22-year old granddaughter would look scary...but they are! The way they just stood there looking like ice statues totally devoid of expression, except for a trace of madness in their eyes definitely creeped me out. You just know something seriously bad is bound to happen. They are about as unlikely a pair of killers as you're going to get and that's part of the problem; I never believed for one bit that these two could be so dangerous. For one, none of their victims even try to defend themselves and these are two frail and physically weak women! The worst is Yasu, who is one of the wimpiest guys I've ever seen in a horror movie. I kept wanting to scream at my TV "Get a backbone for pete's sake!". I realize the poor guy is in a wheelchair but how about using your upper-body to ward them off...But no, he just spends the whole movie whining and wimpering while they torture him.
I don't speak Japanese so it's hard for me to truly gauge quality of acting but that didn't stop me from noticing how poor it all was, just by the intonations of voice, wooden expressions and awkward movements. To people fluent in Japanese, it must come across as a real turkey. As for the gore, yes this movie is gory but not in a splatter sense, most of the gore is related to torture and I must admit that several of these scenes were especially creative (Root canal, cockroach, etc.). Too bad the creative ideas of gore were not supplemented with creative storytelling. To top it off, the film takes a further nosedive due to a completely nonsensical ending. It tries to be clever and tie up the illogical aspects of the story but instead drives it ever deeper into its grave. If you love Japanese horror as much as I do, you might still want to give this a try as it is mildly entertaining at times and due to the gore. As for me, I would gladly take those 90 minutes back.