A BLOODTHIRSTY KILLER (1965)
Director: Lee Yong-min
Run time: 1h 33m
Face-licking, cat-transforming weirdness, this B-movie-like horror is brimming with body count and genuine nightmarish tones
Knowing that a large quantity of this film’s cast are cats begins to chip away at understanding its peculiar and sometimes unsettling nature.
A Bloodthirsty Killer, often also called A Devilish Homicide or A Devilish Murder, is largely a greatest hits collection of 60s Korean horror tropes. It combines Korean folklore with social concerns of the times, most prominently the erosion of the traditional family unit.
There are also themes of vengeance and the most classic of Korean horror devices – the vengeful female ghost.
Where it departs from many of its 60s horror cohorts is it more modern horror approach of rapidly piling up the body count, utilising a wide range of differing death methods.
Successfully living up to its title, these murder methods vary from thrusting doctors into X-ray machines, launching heavy stones at someone’s head or simply lifting someone out of the window and off to their doom.
Lee Shi-mak (Lee Ye-chun) arrives at an art exhibition to find the building empty save for a portrait of his ex-wife, Ae-ja (Do Kum-bong), who he has not seen for a decade.
Shi-mak gets a taxi home, but the driver takes him hostage and he is taken to a countryside house. There he meets an artist who gives him the portrait of Ae-ja, pleading for him to take it and leave.
At midnight the artist become hysterical, hides Shi-mak under the bed, before the artist is stabbed in the back by a woman. After she leaves, Shi-mak flees with the painting but then finds the unconscious body of Ae-ja.
He takes Ae-ja to his friend Dr. Park, who is perplexed by her condition and doubts that she is alive. While Shi-mak is out of the room, Ae-ja awakes and kills the doctor before vanishing again.
Shi-mak returns home to his family, but the strange occurrences continue before Ae-ja turns up to wreak as much havoc as possible.
One of the film’s most interesting aspects is Lee’s direction, using a host of camera angles, murky settings and strange set designs to squeeze as much life as possible from the film’s premise. Lee also manages to build an eerie tone throughout, regularly punctuating this with murders and drama, evolving a ghost-driven horror into a higher tempo thriller.
Back to those cats. They star in various ways, sometimes just as mood builders and cutaways, but most disturbingly as human embodiments, resulting in a truly icky child face-licking scene.
It would be easy to chortle at some of the special effects, but for 60s Korean cinema they are impressive in their own right. There is a reverse cat transformation scene which is genuinely entertaining and its effects hold their own for the time.
Nightmarish from the outset and fast-paced in its gory-count, A Bloodthirsty Killer manages to establish itself as a fine example of 60s Korean horror.
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