Mondo Macabro has done it again with another killer pair of Blu-ray releases for films you didn't even know you couldn't live without. This time around the company tackles a duo of sexy horror films from opposite ends of the globe. First up is director Go Yeong-nam's Suddenly in the Dark, a Korean horror film about a nanny who is up to no good. Second is one of Jess Franco's least seen films, 1984's Night Has a Thousand Desires. These two films are well worth your hard-earned money, but take a look below the break to find more details.
Prior to the late '90s boom, South Korea wasn't exactly a hot spot for international cinema exports. The odd picture might leak out, almost by accident, but there was no kind of recognizable steady stream of cinema coming out of the war torn country like we saw from its neighbors in Japan and China. As a result, many people's knowledge of Korean cinema – including my own – is limited to the post-boom era of filmmakers like Park Chan-wook, Kim Ji-woon, and Kim Ki-duk. However, leave it to cult taste-makers Mondo Macabro to pry open the mystery box of pre-'90s Korean cinema and fish out a gem like 1981's Suddenly in the Dark .
A college professor and his wife and child live an quiet life on their own when one day the professor brings home a stranger to live in as a nanny for his daughter. The girl, Mi-ok, is a country bumpkin with no family who has no real possessions apart from a wooden shaman doll that always seems to pop up at the most inopportune times. While the professor is away gathering butterflies or lecturing his classes, Mi-ok and the professor's wife, Seon-hee begin a mysteriously adversarial relationship that ultimately leads to the wife suspecting her husband of having an affair with his nubile young employee. What follows is a psychedelic nightmare of sexual depravity and jealousy as Seon-hee and Mi-ok have it out, all while supernatural forces torment Seon-hee and her family.
Mondo Macabro is one of my go to labels when it comes to curation and uncovering forgotten gems. They have an almost perfect record of releasing films that I've never heard that then quickly become personal favorites and Suddenly in the Dark might be one of their finest discoveries yet. The film is completely insane, over the top in a way that might be best described as east asian giallo, but borrows just as much from a film like Fulci's A Lizard in a Woman's Skin as it does from Argento's Inferno. It takes the madness and mental anguish from Lizard and pumps it through the supernatural filter of Inferno and delivers an exceptional experience that is very difficult to forget.
These days we've grown accustomed to Korean films and filmmakers pushing the envelope in terms of the amounts of sex and violence we can see on the big screen, but Suddenly in the Dark shows that they were pushing boundaries back in 1981. While in the US we were busy wading through a glut of mediocre to poor slasher films, all with very similar cookie cutter plots, Suddenly in the Dark shows that Korea had other things on its mind, even if the film was largely accepted to be a mere potboiler horror film at the time. The political climate and easing of social mores in the early '80s made Suddenly in the Dark a hit, even as it dug deep into the Korean psyche to expose its uglier, more fearful and violent side.
One of the most fascinating elements in the film is the exploration of the divide between rural and urban Korea and the kind of attitude toward country folks, like Mi-ok, of the wealthier upper classes, represented here by the professor and his wife. Mi-ok comes from rural Korea where her mother participated in witchcraft and shamanistic rituals, the kind of thing that a modern Korean would find superstitious and silly. As the story unfolds, we discover that it is those rituals that ultimately led to Mi-ok's placement in the house, and even though Seon-hee dismisses it as hokum, it comes back to bite her in a big way.
Suddenly in the Dark is an exceptional horror film. Smart, sexy, violent, and prescient, the movie is never boring, and through all of the madness and terror still manages to enlighten the viewer about a society that spent a very long time in the dark.
As we've come to expect from Mondo Macabro, Suddenly in the Dark is a beautiful disc. The HD transfer from the original negative shines on the disc, with fine detail, contrast, and especially the explosive color palette all impressing greatly. The mono audio track is also quite good, with the film's dialogue sharing the single track with FX and other ambient sound very nicely. Altogether a very solid disc.
While the film itself is more than enough to impress, Mondo Macabro did not skimp on the bonus materials for this release and they have included a pair of fascinating interviews on the disc that are not to be missed. First up is a discussion of Suddenly in the Dark and its director Go Yeong-nam by Korean critic and scholar Kim Bong-seok. Kim talks about the film's place not only in Korean cinema as one of the biggest hits of its time, but also its place in the long career of the director, who made over one hundred other films. It's a very interesting look at a part of Korean film history that still hasn't been talked about much outside of the region. The other interview is with producer David Suh who describes the production, the director, and the climate in which the film was released, eventually giving up the tidbit that he has a remake of the film in the works, an idea that I don't entirely hate. Last up on the disc is a gallery of '80s Korean horror VHS tape artwork that is as brutal and frequently tacky as anything out of Japan or the US. Not much context to add to it, but solid fun to watch.
Lastly, I was able to take a look at the now out of print limited edition version of the Blu-ray which had an identical disc, but added a red case – for those who like that kind of thing – and a booklet with essays from Christopher William Koenig and our friend Grady Hendrix. Normally I wouldn't spend a lot of time on content that is no longer available, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention these wonderful and engaging essays. Hendrix talks about the psycho sexual anxiety of the Korean nation during the time frame that the film was made and the ways in which the director was able to pick at that open wound. Koenig, on the other hand, talks more about Go as a director and the history of Korean horror leading up to the late '90s watershed moment of Whispering Corridors. Both are wonderful, and well worth reading.
If you missed the limited edition, you aren't alone, they sold out very quickly. I wouldn't worry too much, the Blu-ray for Suddenly in the Dark has a ton of great content to check out and you will not be disappointed. However, next time around, definitely get in early, because every single limited edition I've seen has been worth the couple of extra bucks.
Suddenly in the Dark is now available on Blu-ray through most major retailers.