Set sometime in the future when the bulk of the world, or at least Japan, lives underground and connects to the varying levels of civilization through a series of elevators, Hellevator – The Bottled Fools introduces us to high school girl named Luchino (played by Luchino Fujisaki). Though it's illegal to smoke in the underground world in which she lives, she's able to acquire some cigarettes on the way to school one day and she lights up as she walks to meet her friend at the elevator that they take, day in and day out, to get to class.
As they board the elevator, a few more passengers get on. A woman with a baby carriage, a business man with a suitcase, and a young man more interested in what music is playing over his headphones than anything else around him. When the lovely attendant stops the trip so that some government officials can board, the passengers become a little alarmed to find two chained maniacs (a rapist and a mad bomber) escorted into their carriage.
As the elevator resumes its trip, the convicts bust loose from their captors and wreak havoc on the myriad of citizens inside its walls. Luchino is eventually pushed to the point where she has to fight back but there's a lot more to it than just that and things get very complicated for her very quickly, especially once the convicts make short work of their armed guards – the same armed guards that are supposed to ensure that they make it to the penal level without causing any problems for the good people on board.
Hellevator doesn't start off with much of a bang as so many horror movies do. It's first ten minutes are actually rather dull and kind of boring. Once you get past that part though, things pick up quickly and once they do they don't let up until the end. Hiroki Yamaguchi does a very good job of building a claustrophobic tension between the main characters, all of whom are stuck in the elevator with no way out and all of whom change a bit as people because of the events that they go through on this little journey of theirs. Base human instinct comes into play and old memories from Luchino's past are brought to the forefront of her mind when the convicted rapist decides to have a little fun at her expense with predictably unsavory results.
The violence in the film is plentiful and not held back. It's a gory and nasty little movie that, despite it's obvious low budget (which is made most apparent with some of the really bad CGI effects used for the external elevator shots), still manages to be a little unnerving at times. Some of the camera work and cinematography is also pretty impressive, again, giving the impression that things are closing in on our subjects.
While some of the humor doesn't work so well and a lot of the story is quite predictable (I saw the ending coming from about half way through) Hellevator – The Bottled Fools still makes for an enjoyably grim film.
Hellevator was shot on DV and it shows. The anamorphic 1.85.1 transfer suffers from some ugly compression artifacts and the picture, especially during the darker scenes, look rather blotchy. While the colors are reasonably strong and robust, the overall image quality is compromised by the compression artifacts. Part of this is due to the source material, but the fact remains that the image could look better.
The Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 track sounds decent enough. The optional English subtitles are clean and clear and easy to read. There's some distinct moments of channel separation that enhance the mood of the film a little bit, and dialogue is pretty clear on a very consistent basis, even if it does fluctuate slightly in a couple of spots. Overall, this isn't home theater demo material but it does the trick.
Media Blaster has done a decent job with the supplements on this disc. Inside the slipcase cover the disc contains a making of featurette that shows how some of the film was made and which features some nice behind the scenes footage. There's also a solid on camera interview with the film's director, Hiroki Yamaguchi, in which he gives a quick and basic rundown of his experiences getting the movie made. Finally, there are some quick cast interviews with the main actors from the movie as well as the film's theatrical trailer.
Hellevator – The Bottled Fools is a claustrophobic and gory little sci-fi/horror hybrid that, while far from perfect, gets more right than it gets wrong. The characters are interesting and there are a few decent twists throughout. Asian splatter fans will probably really dig it despite the lackluster transfer, but those less accustomed to these types of things should probably rent it first.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.