The story of Death Bell is a mix of various movies, with Saw being the more prominent for me, just without all the excess gore and lengthy torture. The film is set at Chang Ahn High School, where a special class of the top twenty students has been put together for the coming exams. A disembodied voice announces a student will die for every test question the class gets wrong — and the first will be the girl in the tank (seen below). Anyone trying to leave the premises will also die a horrible death. Yes, the movie takes a Saw-ish turn as we witness one student after the other somehow get kidnapped and put in front of a camera with some new death-device. Aside from the identity crises, the movie was fairly decent.
After a fairly conventional half-hour setup, the pic keeps the tension high with tight cutting and a no-flab script that ups the student body count in some especially inventive ways. Thankfully, the film is packed with shocks, and whilst most of them are fairly familiar, there are a few genuine surprises and some imaginative scenes with some good use of special effects. The film starts off as a ghost flick, which turns into a semi-torture feature and ends up as a standard who-done-it slasher.
But it’s a horror film. Build some decent atmosphere, give me some good acting, and I’ll go home happy. One death in particular had me yearning for the keyboard right away. A student is wedged in what seems to be a mattress wire frame. Above him are burning candles. I thought maybe the candles were holding up spikes and that their diminishing height would bring his impalement. Nope, just wax. Wax that covered his mouth, suffocating him. Pretty cool stuff. The identity of the killer and his reasons might be fairly predictable, but then again, this is a film that primarily relies on inventive shocks, outrageous gore and slick cinematography.
None of the students is equipped to handle the life-or-death tension created by this exam. The characters themselves are typical and they make the same boneheaded decisions that everyone does in horror flicks. As bloody bodies start dropping through ceilings, banging around in clothes dryers, and showing up with cryptic messages carved into them, the group members behave badly, suspecting each other and narrowing their perspectives. If watching someone die drowning in melted candle wax is your thing, this is a good asian horror movie to put on your radar.