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Down to Hell (Kitamura Ryuhei 1996)


Down to Hell

Genre: Extreme Zombie Action

review in one breath

Four violent delinquents have established for themselves a "simple" game of survival, which starts with a terrifying chase and kidnapping of an unsuspecting victim along isolated urban streets, and ends with an all-out, literal, man hunt wherein the four assailants methodically track down the victim as he desparately flees through dense, remote forest. When all hope for the victim's survival is lost, a strange. unseen power overtakes the corpse, turning it into the hellish means of ultimate retribution. As the delinquents are eliminated in gruesome ways one by one, the horror is only beginning, as each of the dead begin their hellish resurrection in order to pursue the remaining assailants.

The title comes from one of the three options the bewildered and terrified victim is given prior to his 10 minute head start into the game:

"There are three ways you can end this game:
    1. Escape the forest without being caught;
    2. Kill all of us (the assailants);
    3. Give up to death and escape down to Hell"

Down to Hell delivers quite a series of thrills, even after having seen it in light of Versus. It is very hard, perhaps near impossible to guess how the tale will end or how the fate of the characters will be resolved. Even when things seem to be in a state of plot resolution, Kitamura will introduce a new level of struggle which will make you rethink your bets. The basic tensions of the story are in fact quite terrifying as the matter-of-fact brutality of the gang unfolds. One can easily imagine the plausibility of this type of game being played by those with a pleasure for violence. And the sheer naivete and innocence of the victims, who wield no fighting skill nor are in any way adept at channeling their fear or anger, makes their plight all the more pitiful as they are quickly overwhelmed by the members of the gang.

Down to Hell is indeed a thriller/horror film in its own right, and is thoroughly entertaining and satisfying. Due to its relation to Versus, however, it is helpful to draw certain comparisons.

One of the Down to Hell DVD features is a pre-production trailer for the intended sequel, here named "Return to Down 2 Hell" starring none other than (nearly) the entire cast of Versus. Needless to say, "Return to Down 2 Hell" was in fact produced but was released under the title Versus.

Unlike the super-cool, super-tough protagonsist of Versus, Prisoner KSC2-303, we must cheer for someone randomly abducted and ill-prepared in Down to Hell. By the time this latter protagonsist is half-way through the story, we must switch our allegiances to an undead zombie meting out vengeance. This switch of allegiance does not occur in Versus, where for the most part, the good guys are defined by their living (literally) and the bad guys by their having been dead (but are so no longer!). This logic creates, in the case of Down to Hell the eventual vast out-numbering of the final bad guy by zombies, but in Versus with the vast out-numbering of the good guy by zombies. This difference, of course, significantly impacts how each tale will end and the mood you, the viewer, will walk away with.

Also of significant difference between these two are the styles. Down to Hell takes on styles of strong visual filters and effects, often emphasizing the style over the content. Versus on the other hand takes its cue from Heat After Dark with its very crisp cinematography and highly polished character definitions. The degree of difference between these two as regards character development is astounding, and marks one of Kitamura's true accomplishments in Versus. We are as much drawn into the Versus' characters' quirks and idiosyncrasies as we are into its non-stop action. This can not be said for most characters within Down to Hell whose demise brings nothing but relief to the audience.

I highly recommend Down to Hell as a fun and thrilling horror film. Given that this is the seed which will bloom into Versus provides another reason to recommend this.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Unparalleled insight into the development, style, and evolution of director Ryuhei Kitamura One finger breakage. Several stabbings. One rather brutal beating with a chain. One stomp on face. One knife through the back of the head, protruding out one's mouth. One strangulation with (one's own) large intenstine (!!) One unplanned appendix removal using only zombie finger skills. One tree-hugging gone sadly awry. No time for babes when you're in a battle to the death (and undeath)! Very cool horror tale involving very bad guys, demonic powers, and a full-throttle, kick-butt revenge motif!. woo hoo!

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