What’s the best thing about having relatives stay with you for an extended amount of time? How about not getting viciously tormented by them?
That’s what my answer would be, and though your interpretation of “vicious torment” may be open to discussion, let’s settle on torment of the painfully physical kind shall we?
Definitions aside, A Living Hell is the first film from director Shugo Fujii who also wrote and stars in the film, and it’s one of the most inventive and thoroughly disgusting horror films to come along in a while.
On a dark and stormy night, and young woman murders a family dog and proceeds to eat its remains. On that same night, in the same house, a seemingly benevolent grandmother brutally murders a woman with hungry beetles placed over her eyes and awakens her husband with a blade to the face. Grandma gets sent to a mental institution and the young woman disappears into the night…
Meanwhile, Yasuto, Ken, and Mami bicker and tease each other like any other siblings in this day and age, though things have become a bit strained due to Yasuto’s depression at being confined to a wheel chair. They soon learn from Dad that a couple of relatives will be staying with them until they can settle into a home of their own. The kids aren’t too happy about the decision their father has made, but reluctantly abide his wishes and do their best to make the new guests feel welcome. This is a little difficult as Chiyo and her granddaughter Yuki are what some might call a little off, or spooky, or severely fucked up.
Obvious mental conditions aside, Chiyo is reportedly “senile” and Yuki is just “quiet”, Yasuto seems to be the only one who thinks anything is even wrong with them at all. His suspicions are confirmed when he’s left alone with them during the day while the rest of his family goes to work.
With a helpless Yasuto all to themselves, the girls’ true natures are revealed in horrific and unflinching glee. They abuse him in the most sadistic ways with each form of torture escalating to new heights of cruelty.
A Living Hell is just that for poor Yasuto, who whines to his family about the atrocities he endures during the day to no avail. Ken chalks it up to Yasuto’s degenerating mental capacities, blaming his handicap for his flaky accusations. Dad is away during the week for work, so he’s of no help (Mom has long since abandoned them), and Mami only caters to Yasuto as she would with a small child. But Yasuto may have a savior in a reporter played by director Shugo Fujii. He’s been researching Chiyo for some time and when he learns of her recent escape from the mental institution where she was imprisoned, he takes up his investigations with stronger conviction and truly horrific results.
Watching A Living Hell is like watching a cartoon made by a malicious Tex Avery on high grade PCP, transformed into film, and aided and abetted by Chainsaw and Dave. Yasuto’s paranoia and fear are infectious and you can’t help but root for the poor guy every time his brother and sister leave for the day. The faces of Chiyo and Yuki, every time they appear, are stony and unreadable except for their wicked intent, which is perfectly highlighted at times by jarring music cues and Yasuto’s painful and hilariously exaggerated facial expressions.
And the fun just doesn’t stop. The twists throughout the plot are over the top and nonsensical at times, but each time a new twist is revealed it just overpowers the one that came before it. Comparable to such black humor classics like Dead Alive, Cemetery Man and Evil Dead II, A Living Hell is destined to become an underground gore classic to poke your eye out for.
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