Suddenly in the Dark
Color, 1981, 100m.
Directed by Go Yeong-nam
Starring Yun Il-bong, Kim Yeong-ae, Lee Ki-seon
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Wow, this one is wild! A colorful, psychedelic supernatural shocker from Korea, this stylish offering is a hugely enjoyable mind twister that assaults the viewer with a seemingly endless variety of creative visuals that turn its seemingly routine story into something totally fresh and unpredictable.
Financially comfortable professor Yu-jin (Il-bong) has a happy existence researching and teaching about butterflies and spending time with his family, wife Seon-hee (Yeong-ae) and their little daughter. One afternoon he brings home a new housemaid in the form of Mi-ok, whom he describes with a can't-miss pitch: "I found her wandering around. She's alone. Her parents are dead so I brought her here."
Things seem blissful at first, despite the fact that the new employee carries around a doll swaddled in a blue blanket. Even spookier, that same doll popped up earlier during a butterfly slides how and appeared inexplicably in the house's window. It also appears Mi-ok is the daughter of a village female shaman who died in a mysterious fire, and legend has it her grandmother was a sea god. Mi-ok is fiercely protective of her doll (with is holding a little toy meat cleaver for good measure), which she claims her mother used as a "spirit tablet." Seon-hee is already insecure thanks to the fact that her crummy best friend says that at 28 she's already over the hill, and soon she believes that the invading nymphet is trying to destroy her life and possibly kill her.
Prolific director Go Yeong-nam really pulls out all the stops here with super saturated colorful lighting, eye-popping kaleidoscope effects, and other visual tricks to constantly keep you guessing whether what you're seeing is really happening. This kind of reality tease can be annoying or tiresome in the wrong hands, but here it's utterly entertaining as it speeds to a crazed dark stormy night finale that caps off with an unoriginal but nicely executed twist ending. The three main cast members are all solid, but it's really Kim Yeong-ae who gets to shine here with a demanding role that pushes her from happiness through repression to utter hysteria. Also noteworthy is the amazing soundtrack is a wild patchwork of throbbing synthesizers and pilfered tracks, including one lifted from the 1980 Flash Gordon no less!
Mondo Macabro brings this little-known film to North America for the first time in any format on Blu-ray with a sterling transfer from a restoration by the Korean Film Archive. The film is in virtually immaculate shape with a rich color palette that makes this a fine showcase for those who like their HD horror on the visually sumptuous side. The DTS-HD MA Korean mono track sounds excellent, with optional English subtitles provided.
Extras include a 22-minute video interview with Interview with critic Kim Bong-seok, who covers the evolution of the horror genre in Korea and the influence of the legendary Korean thriller The Housemaid, and a 12-minute interview with producer David Suh, who chats about how he got involved in filmmaking in 1978 with this film's director and went through a string of four to five movies per year, citing his favorites among titles like Freezing Point and The Shower. A 4-minute Korean Cover Cavalcade spotlights an eye-popping roster of '80s VHS art for titles like The Body's Gate, Devil Woman, Evil under the Moon, Flying Dragon Attacks, The 4th Horror, Haunted Villa, and a bunch of other films that would be very welcome to have in English-friendly editions someday.
Reviewed on January 22, 2017.