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Somewhere in Japan, a man (Shoichi Matsuda) has started watching a website called “DeathTube,” which allegedly broadcasts murders in real time. He watches as a person trapped in a room is killed, and wonders if it’s real or faked. The next day, he wakes up in one of those rooms. Now he’s the one on DeathTube. He and seven others in similar rooms must play a series of games, manipulated by the site’s cartoonish logo. If they don’t play, they die.
The phrase “torture porn” gets thrown around a lot by movie fans these days, describing the latest trend in horror flicks. It’s often not an appropriate descriptor, but in the cast of DeathTube: Broadcast Murder Show, the label fits. Almost the entire movie is the mysterious killer/abductor messing with the main characters in increasingly bizarre and cruel ways. Despite our heroes’ best efforts to stay alive and outsmart the baddie, the screams, tears, and bloodletting commence.
The Saw franchise is obviously a template for this movie. They both have similar villains who play cruel games with their victims, they both take place inside gritty, grimy settings, and they both have a similar downbeat and nihilistic tone. I’ve seen the Saw movies and didn’t care for them (OK, you got me; the third one was pretty good), but they do a lot of things right that DeathTube gets wrong. Most importantly, the Saw villain has a method to his madness. As evil as he is, he’s trying to teach his victims a lesson of sorts. The villain of DeathTube has no rhyme or reason as to why he’s doing what he’s doing. The whole movie is cruelty and awfulness for the sake of cruelty and awfulness.
The actors throw themselves into this thing with enthusiasm. Some of the characters are thinkers, constantly trying to come up with ways to fight back, while others are panicky, on the verge of hysterics throughout the proceedings. The deadly games keep you guessing as to what sick twist each one will inevitably have, but the film’s final moments go overboard with one surprise twist too many. The image of the killer, once we finally get a look, is nice and bizarre, a fairly memorable movie monster—visually, at least.
The video on the disc is fine, making the most of the dreary brown color scheme. The audio, in Japanese with English subtitles, is adequate. The villain’s voice is a cool effect, booming around the room as it does, but the occasional and—oddly misplaced—classical music selection doesn’t play as well. A trailer is it for extras.
The movie held my interest, but after watching it, I sat back and thought, “Well, that was pointless.” DeathTube: Broadcast Murder Show sacrifices plot and character in favor of torture and suffering. Violence should serve the story, not the other way around.