There have been many films that follow the sub-genre of Death Bell. Survival game horror is a genre that has been alive and well since the Saw franchise, Assassination Classroom, As the Gods Will. It seems every country has one or two survival game based films that have been pushed forward into the genre proudly.
Death Bell doesn't shy away from the genre, being more akin to films such as Saw than to As the Gods Will and it seems like it works. A bunch of high school students (in true Asian horror fashion) stuck in their locked up school playing Saw and praying someone finds them before time runs out?
But are these films reaching the point of being overdone? Is Death Bell able to bring something unique to the survival horror table, or do they fall flat and pale in comparisons to others?
Today, I'm going to look into the two-part film series in-depth and help you decide if the films are right up your alley or if they deserve a place on your Not Interested list.
Film Series Information
Films: Death Bell and Death Bell 2: Bloody Camp
Full series run time: 2 hours and 52 minutes
Genre: Horror, Psychological
Sub-genre: Gore, survival, slasher
Director(s): Chang & Yoo Seon Dong
Other Notable Media by Director(s): Canola & Fatal Countdown: Reset [Chang]; Shoot My Heart & Vampire Prosecutor 2 [Seon Dong]
BACKGROUND - Original Film
Death Bell is an original film of Chang's creation, written by Chang himself and Kim Eun Kyung. It was the only South Korean horror film released in the summer of 2008, and it premiered at the 12th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. Post-production of the film was rushed to have it ready for the festival. Death Bell was third in the box office upon its first week's release, grossing $2,370,785 with 575,231 admissions. In its second week, it ranked at second in the box office, and as of September 14th, 2008, it grossed $9,274,859 in total. It was suspected to be the second biggest horror South Korean horror film after A Tale of Two Sisters, but ranked fourth, with its admissions being lower than R-Point and Whispering Corridors after its cinematic run. Despite this, Death Bell still received double the number of cinema admissions that is needed for a film to be considered part of the Box Office.
Death Bell 2: Bloody Camp is unrelated to the first film of the franchise, so can be listed as an original film that was inspired by the first. Despite being part of the series, Yoo Seon Dong did not correlate them fully. Directed and written by Seon Dong and also written by Lee Jung Hwa and Lee Kong Joo, Bloody Camp received much less approval from critics and filmgoers alike. In fact, most critics deemed only one scene worthy of being shown (for those who have seen it: the motorcycle scene). Bloody Camp was also premiered a the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival in 2010 as the closing film of the festival, however, only garnered $5,191,289 at the Box Office - a loss of $4 million compared to its parent story.
DEATH BELL (2008)
Running Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Release Date: 7 August 2008
Rating: 15+ - Teens 15 or Older
Average Rating, at time of writing: 7.3/10 from 3,188 users
Plot: On the eve of the midterms, the top 24 students of the school awaken to find they've been locked in overnight. With no way to get out, a television monitor comes on and shows the school's top student, Hae Yeong, in an aquarium that is slowly filling with water. A voice informs them that if they don't complete the examination set up by them in the allotted time, then Hae Yeong - and everyone else in the school - will die.
Opinion: Death Bell is a film that is truly representative of survival slasher horror. It doesn't surprise me that this film has so much positive critique under its belt and has gained an almost cult following of fans. This is smart, it's tense, and it had me on the edge of my seat for most of the film. This is pretty innovative, and for a survival game film, of which most ideas have already been done, this sets a tone and precedent. If I were making a survival horror film, I would look up to Death Bell for inspiration.
DEATH BELL 2: BLOODY CAMP (2010)
Running Time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Release Date: 28th July 2010
Rating: 15+ - Teens 15 or older
Average Rating, at time of writing: 7.0/10 from 1,859 users
Plot: Several students attend an elite weekend study group at school in order to finesse their grades and to improve the school's overall grade as the end of year exams approach. On the first night, the swimming coach is found murdered in the school showers. As the students panic and try to escape, a voice comes on over the school's speaker system informing the students that if they don't figure out the murders, then the students will be picked off in quick succession.
Opinion: Bloody Camp falls a little lower in opinion for me. Whilst still a slasher survival and representative of a "gorefest", there's something lacking in this film. This one just seemed to kill the students for the sake of it, ignoring the puzzles which, although present, became an almost afterthought. As critics have stated, the motorbike scene was one of the best scenes, and I found myself quite bored with this one. The critical aspect of the intelligence behind the puzzles wasn't really there, and it was just a sequel that wasn't needed. A decent film enough to score an average rating for me, Bloody Camp just lacks the feeling of love from the director and doesn't hold enough of the intelligent feeling the first one did.
TO WATCH OR NOT TO WATCH?
Death Bell is a film that has done wonders for itself. With a rating of 7.3/10 on MDL (3,190 users), the Asian drama community have a higher level of respect for the film. However, with a rating of 5.7/10 on IMDb (2,145 users), 2.6/5 on Letterboxd (986 users) and 66% on themoviedatabase, outside of the Asian media community, it doesn't seem to hold its own.
Bloody Camp holds a 7.0/10 from 1,859 users on MDL, 2.5/5 by 275 users on Letterboxd, 5/10 on IMDb (557 users) and has 56% rating on themoviedatebase. The seconds also seems to hold its own, with the same relative scoring across the board - but notably with much fewer users giving those ratings. Again, within the Asian media community, it's well-loved, and outside, as with Death Bell, it takes an average across the board.
Overall, while I can see why Bloody Camp took a similar rating, for me, it was the lesser of the films. Whilst it holds the same tone as the first one, Death Bell feels smarter in its actions and the overall plot. Bloody Camp feels less intelligent, and it misses the initial mystery and tenseness of the first film. I'm prone to agree with the critics' opinions on this one; while Death Bell is a smart, curious, tense horror film making you hope for the students' survival, Bloody Camp feels more of a violent blood fest lacking anything more than a few impressive gory scenes.
So what do you think?