Suddenly In The Dark

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Suddenly In The Dark (1981) is a soapy Korean exploitation film that barrows from a cross-section of semi-related genres to tell its tale of a housewife on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It all begins when Seon-hee’s (Kim Young-ae) husband Kang Yu-jin (Yoon Il-Bong) returns from a butterfly collecting expedition with an orphaned girl, Mi-ok (Lee Ki-seon), who is the daughter of a shaman witch. Over time Mi-ok begins to strain the marriage with her vey presence, as well as that of her shaman doll. After Mi-ok is killed by Seon-hee, Seon-hee must battle the evil spirits that inhabit Mi-ok’s doll.

On a superficial level director Ko Young-nam’s film appears to be another erotic thriller based around a love triangle between a man, his wife, and a younger woman. But Suddenly In The Dark has a queer subtext that is conveyed entirely within the visual realm of the film, thus juxtaposing Seon-hee’s dialogue that focuses exclusively on her jealousy of Mi-ok. Young-nam uses a lot of point of view shots, always grounded in Seon-hee’s perspective, that sexualize Mi-ok almost constantly. Seon-hee’s manic episodes that result in Mi-ok’s death are therefore the product of envy as well as lust. This is even reiterated during the highly metaphorical encounter with supernatural forces during the climax of the film. Young-nam stages the fatal stabbing of the doll/Mi-ok as if Mi-ok and Seon-hee were in the midst of lovemaking. Adding even more to the queer reading of the film is the fact that Seon-hee becomes the doll/shaman/Mi-ok herself in the film’s final shots, thusly transforming into the object of her latent desires.

One of the standout aspects of this production is Ko Young-nam’s use of practical effects, particularly with regards to the lens. This is particularly effective during the point of view shots from Seon-hee’s perspective during her manic fits where the entire image is made to transform into a visual manifestation of her emotional state. It’s at once a startlingly psychedelic and reflexive effect that seems to only increase its impact over the course of the film.

The copy of Suddenly In The Dark I saw was the Mondo Macabro Blu-Ray release. The print looked gorgeous aside from some damage that really only helped to reiterate the film’s genre roots. As is the case with many of the Mondo Macabro titles I have seen, Suddenly In The Dark isn’t necessarily a very good movie. What is great about Mondo Macabro is that they make obscure films, that for too long have eluded the public, available. In most cases, such as Suddenly In The Dark, these releases help to fill in some crucial blindspots in the historical narrative of world cinema.