NIGHTMARE - region 0, Hong Kong DVD
3 and a half stars   

directed by: Ahn Byeong-Gi
starring: Yu Ji-Tae, Ha Ji-Won, Kim Gyu-Ri, Yoo Jun-Sang, Jeong Jun

(back of video blurb):

"A Few Good Men is a group comprised of seven intimate friends who come to share one secret. Two years later, one of them dies suddenly with his eyes being pulled out. Just before his death. Just before his death, he desperately tries to call his friends to tell them something. But the other members think that it's just a coincidence, however, they get horrified when another one is mysteriously stabbed in her shower ... (sic)"

choice dialogue:

"If it gets out, it will be the end of us all!"

The group ponders the future.

slash with panache?

If you've ever wondered what a slasher movie crossed with the sublime Japanese ghost story, RING, would be like then wonder no longer ...

Kyung-ha on the slab ...

The film sets its supernatural cards on the table, as it were, from the off: a cavernous mortuary at night; an old watchman whiles away the time mending clothes, until he thinks he hears a noise coming from behind closed doors nearby. He goes to investigate, into a room full small doors with bodies lying on cold trays behind them. He hears a noise again as he passes one particular door, he opens it and pulls out the tray to reveal the dead body of a teenage girl, her eyes staring straight ahead with a murderous intensity. He moves his hand over her face in an effort to shut the lids, but they remain stubbornly open. Frustrated the old man gathers his sowing kit and sows the lids together with black thread before pushing her still body back into the darkness. Once again entombed, we see the face of the girl, her eyes begin moving behind the black thread, suddenly they open, snapping the thread and once again setting her cold stare free ...

Hye-jin and  Sun-ae are haunted by the past - and Hye-jin and  Eun-ji (Kyung-ha) in happier times ...

Two years later, a young woman, Hye-jin, is walking home on a Winter's night, the snow blowing this way and that around her. She stops at a rail crossing as a train speeds past, she looks up and for a split second sees a figure in black flickering in the myriad of flashing lights. Slightly spooked she speeds home to find a figure sat beside her front door; it turns out to be her old friend Sun-ae, who left without warning two years ago to go to America. They had previously been at University together and had both been part of a group of friends who went by the name of 'A Few Good Man' (sic), which had been torn apart by the events of one night when Sun-ae had disclosed at a meeting that a newcomer, a shy young woman by the name of Eun-ju (who she suspected of trying to muscle in on the boy that she fancied), was in-fact Kyung-ha, who had been a young girl vilified in the village where her and Hye-jin grew up, where they believed she was jinxed and was responsible for the deaths of many people (including Hye-jin's father, who drowned under ice many years before). Hye-jin, now Eun-ju's best friend, screamed at her that she never wanted to see her again and fled the meeting, only to see Eun-ju later standing atop a tall building before plummeting to her death, seemingly in a suicide bid.

Secrets and lies ...

Hye-jin offers Suna-ae a place to stay as long as she needs it, but Suna-ae, exhausted and falling into bed says, "She'll find me in no time". When Hye-jin asks what she means she says that she is always been chased by the seemingly dead Kyung-ha, and had last seen her at an artist friend of theirs (who had also been a part of their group of friends - who have rarely seen each other since that night). Hye-jin is confused and doesn't know whether to believe Sun-ae, especially when it emerges that she had been in the US for psychiatric help, so she starts to get in contact with the group. She, however, does start to believe something is going on when she sees an apparition of Kyung-ha as a child, all dressed in black and clutching a doll, at the University. Later she is attacked by the same apparition in the library, when a pencil is violently stabbed into her hand and is then pursued through the deserted corridors. The apparition turns into the adult Kyung-ha, ghostly looking and dressed like the little girl, who suddenly vanishes. Hye-jin looks at her hand, which had been covered in blood moments before but was now unmarked. However, the apparitions get more deadly as the group, forced to reconvene in an effort to survive, find themselves stalked and dispatched, one-by-one, by something from beyond the grave ...

Kyung-ha is back ...

NIGHTMARE was one of three Korean slashers from the last few years, the others being BLOODY BEACH and THE RECORD; it differs from those two by attempting to mix in supernatural elements into the well-trodden slasher movie formula, and by-and-large is pretty successful. The Japanese film RING has been a massive hit all across Asia (even resulting in a Korean remake), and has had a successful cinema run in Europe (America going without its icy charms due to the fact that the rights have been bought for a remake); its success has bought many imitators and with NIGHTMARE the makers have borrowed its key asset: Sadako, the ghastly ghostly figure of a young girl whose face is obscured by a mass of lank black hair. Now, whilst this film is not as unnerving as that quiet ghost story (with its few stand out scares heightened by its otherwise funereal pace), it does manage to generate a fair few chills. Kyung-ha, as both adult and child, is a memorable boogey(wo)man, as she appears at night at the bottom of her intended victims bed, creeping silently over their covers towards their necks; or pursuing them down corridors, seemingly twenty feet away, only for the unlucky character to turn and, in a heartbeat, to have Kyung-ha's icy stare only inches away from their own faces (similar to that stand out moment in that other sublime ghost story, the TV adaptation of THE WOMAN IN BLACK). Having such an omnipresent threat means that no one is safe and the killer could (and does) appear at any time; in one striking moment she appears at the bottom of a swimming pool, grabbing at the feet of her intended victim. In another standout scene one of the group is sitting in a car, to amuse himself he videos his face with the camera he takes everywhere; when he plays it back seconds later he sees Kyung-ha appear slowly from under the dashboard, and reach out from the screen to pluck one of his eyes out! Seemingly escaping her clutches he runs to a phone box to call for help, but he is by no means safe as she appears directly behind him, fixing him with her deathly stare.

... to wreak her bloody revenge.

Of course, the downside of having a killer that can be everywhere is that there is the danger that a lot of the suspense can be dissipated if you know that a locked door is no defense. Luckily, the film manages to avoid such problems most of the time. But one of the problems I did have with the it (although I'm happy to admit it might just of been me!) was that it was confusingly plotted at times, with the narrative slipping in and out of the present and the events leading up to Kyung-ha's death without warning. However, many of the seemingly discordant storyline threads come together at the end like a well crafted jigsaw puzzle should, and it all (almost) makes sense. Top this off with an entertaining twist (which I should have seen coming but didn't), some creepily effective imagery (a flashback to Kyung-ha as a little girl, the only survivor of a bus crash where everyone else dies, walks out of the wreckage, her face covered in blood, with her eyes fixed on the gathering villagers; her ghostly visage briefly appearing in the blackness of the rear window of a car pulling away driven by one of her future victims; the way the reflection of her face appears in the dead eyes of her victims in crime scene photos) and a chillingly bittersweet ending, makes this slasher movie hybrid that is well worth tracking down.


BODYCOUNT 8   bodycount!   female:4 / male:4

       1) Female chokes to death (flashback)
       2) Male drowns under ice (flashback)
       3) Female falls to her death
       4) Male has eye plucked out and then decapitated with glass (off screen)
       5) Male beaten to death with baseball bat
       6) Female razored to death in bath
       7) Male impaled on TV aerial
       8) Female has throat cut

       [ note: some deaths have been left off where the exact bodycount was not clear.]


The other NIGHTMARE ...

... the other NIGHTMARE!Whilst shopping in China town in New York City, back in April 2001, I found a VCD with the English title NIGHTMARE. At first I thought this was the same film as the one under review but, although the packaging promised English subtitles, there were none; it turned out not to be the Korean film, but another (low budget) Asian slasher flick. The story - what I could make out - was about a group of teens going to a remote forest for a trip and one of them being possessed by a cursed knife and turning it on his friends (bare in mind that may be wrong as I only skimmed through it).

I was just wondering if anyone had any info on this film (alternative titles etc). If so, then drop me a line. Thanks!