aka. A Devilish Homicide; Salinma
Director: Lee Yong-min
Screenplay: Lee Yong-min
Cast: Lee Ye-chun (as Lee Shi-mak); Do Kum-bong (as Ae-ja); Jeong Ae-ran; Lee Bin-hwa; Namgoong Won; Ju Seok-yang
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #2
Thanks of an immeasurable kind have to made to the Korean Film Archive who, in lieu to few older Korean films being available on DVD in the West, have restored the filmic heritage of South Korea and placed them for free, with bilingual subtitle options, on YouTube in their best quality. That the choice is both art driven but with an eye for genre is also applaudable in the diversity it shows up, A Bloodthirsty Killer a melodramatic ghost story in rich monochrome and rich in style in general. At first the film reminded me of a Japanese genre film of the period in artistic quality - the mood and eerie tone similar to many sixties Japanese cinema - but the film soon after is very much its own unique case when the plot gets under way.
Immediately it starts off without build-up towards the first eerie prescience, a middle aged business man entering a gallery only for the exhibit to be closed already and only a portrait of a woman to be left on the wall. The film from this first scene onwards immediately ditches any sense of doubt for the protagonist about a supernatural force being after him, and for the viewer immediately the world set up is beset by ghostly acts taking place in the background or directly in the character's eyesight. Soon the businessman witnesses the murderer of a painter, a woman of ghostly origin being the real killer, and his family being terrorised by this same figure, a woman out of revenge on those who murdered her. How this haunting is done is as unpredictable as you can get, from paintings melting in a person's hand to a doctor finding himself in the perplexing position of finding a woman's corpse that's been dead for a while on the coroner's slab but is completely spotless from rigor mortis or decay. As the businessman's family is haunted, the film goes into further directions as well as the oldest daughter is taken away in a supernatural void and the grandmother starts acting in strange ways, the family unit falling apart as the truth the ghost's death is revealed; as this happens the best thing about The Bloodthirsty Killer is that from an older generation of horror cinema there are no cheap jump scares but plenty of creepy and strange images witnessed allowed to be felt slowly, the techniques available at the time adding to the ghostliness of the sights even in their datedness.
The film feels like a stylish art movie from the decade in its sense of interior and exterior space, floral wallpaper rooms and woodlands all having a sense of depth to them because of the monochrome look. Rather than let constant exposition kill the mood created by this, the greater acceptance of spirituality and the supernatural within Asian countries, alongside a passion for dramatic storytelling shared between countries like South Korea and Japan, allows this mood to be greater. The music feels like it's from a fifties US sci-fi b-movie and when the ghost woman's revenge is justified it takes on a further air of a Douglas Sirk melodrama, a type of film style not seen today but for the better in context of this film's plot, refreshing in how ghoulish it is without losing its elegance.
The film also has moments which stick out for how creepy they still are in a film about a family becoming undermined by the guilt of the past, particularly when the grandmother possessed by the ghost woman's beloved cat starts acting sinisterly and licking the remaining children's' cheeks and necks as they sleep. The tone could've easily become silly but the heightened style of the movie in emotions and visual content makes sure this type of content works perfectly. What caused the vengeful ghost to exist is as bleak and damming of humanity as the kind of back stories found in a lot of modern horror films but significantly this never becomes pretentious or sluggish in presenting the story; instead, with a willingness to become exaggerated in the melodrama as with its aesthetic style, it feels as much a story that could be found in an old folktale as it is a modern story. Even with a happy ending the film feels timeless and could've easily been transposed to a medieval Korean setting without none of the jealously, betrayal and weird poisons feeling out of place.