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By KJ Doughton | November 22, 2005

When Sister Sledge wrote their upbeat hit “We Are Family,” chances are they weren’t talking about the insane kinfolk from Shugo Fujii’s “Living Hell.” Forget skeletons in the closet. These Nipponese relatives have eyeballs in the fridge, syringes in the medicine cabinet, and torture on their minds.

Director Fujii sharpens his grue-soaked chopping block of a movie with a crime. We watch as a husband and wife are slaughtered by a seemingly-decrepit old woman. As wrinkled and pale as the sledgehammer-holding Grandpa from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” this geriatric killer totes around a skinny, dead-eyed young waif to assist her in these brutal death-dealings.

In contrast, feeble Yasu’s family appears as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed bunch. Sister Mami is an energetic yuppie, Dad is a busy force who is seldom found at home, and Ken is a jovial, grinning brother. Yasu, however, is the family oddball – a sensitive, wheelchair-bound worry wart. When two mysterious relatives come to share the household, Yasu endures a night of Takashi Miike-calibre torment. “Living Hell” also tracks a tabloid writer searching for the film’s opening-scene killers, and throws in a sub-plot concerning ghastly Siamese twin experimentation.

The whole unsavory brew is stirred together during a freaky, intense denouement that can best be described as a Japanese variation on Tobe Hooper’s original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” “Audition” and “Psycho” also come to mind here, as stun guns and darts become agents of torture and shadowy shrinks unravel the film’s complicated psychological mystery. There’s plenty of gore to be had, but “Living Hell” is hardly the raw-meat spectacle it’s been notoriously branded as since its original release in 2000. Meanwhile, all of its blood-soaked loose ends hold up to scrutiny when they’re tied together, unlike more recent shockers such as “Haute Tension.”

Subversive Cinema has lavished several extras onto this special edition DVD version of “Living Hell.” In addition to a director’s commentary, several short films, deleted scenes, storyboards, and trailers are also included.

“Living Hell” exposes a family tree so warped and twisted it makes Charles Manson’s nest of cretins look like the Von Trapps. Think your family is dysfunctional? Endure this “Living Hell” and count your blessings.

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