Foreign Bodies

HALLOWEEN BLITZ 2020

It’s always fascinating to look at what non-Anglo countries do with classic genres – the results being frequently revolutionary, often even brilliant.  These are all praises that can be dealt out to a cinematic pair of fantastic phantasmagoria, France’s BABY BLOOD (1990) and South Korea’s THIRST (2009), both now available in outstanding Blu-Ray editions from Kino-Lorber Studio Classics, in consort with Studio Canal and Focus Features/Universal Studios, respectively.

Typical international movie ballyhoo is the old chestnut, “You’ve never seen anything like it!”  In the case of Alain Robak’s 1990 offering, BABY BLOOD, that hyperbole is totally justified, if not understated!

Director/cowriter Robak was obviously determined to crack the U.S. splatter market, but needed a unique hook.  Boy, did he come up with one!

Evil, it turns out in the pic’s prologue, is an actual entity – surviving on Earth for billions of years, and keeping alive by occupying female hosts.  It seduces them with supportive language (or sounds, as jellyfish, tigers, birds, etc., too, are fair game – as long as they’re female) and nurturing care, impregnating them with a growing embryo – that must have a constant supply of blood to evolve.  Once the monstrous creation bursts out, the force searches for a new body.  And so it goes through time eternal, from the deepest oceans in the far east to Africa to Europe, and so on.  The newest body is Parisian Yanka.  Her invasion is chronicled in minute detail, as are her stalking nocturnal prowls, looking for the title elixir to keep her going…and growing.  The undeniable wow factor is the demon talking to her, often culminating in conversations between the perp and the vic.  It’s important to mention that Emmanuelle Escourrou, the remarkable actress portraying Yanka, is outstanding.  She truly interacts with the disembodied voice commanding her body.  Frighteningly conflicted, Yanka tries to fight the evil, but frequently succumbs to the pleasures of the kill.  An amazing moment is her having to smoke a cigarette to salve the tensions – to which Evil chides her to not give in to a filthy and unhealthy habit.  We have to think of the baby, don’t we?  The voice, too, is likewise charming and alarming, promising Yanka not to harm her after the birth, telling her that she’s his all-time favorite (all lies, ‘cause that’s what Evil does).

Horror movies don’t get much weirder or creepier than BABY BLOOD.  And it’s a genuine “pull out all the stops” production.  Aside from Escourrou, the excellent cast includes Jean-Francois Gallotte, Christian Sinniger, Roselyne Geslot, Alain Chabot, and Thierry Le Portier (with director Robak himself voicing the entity of Evil).  The atmospheric (mostly nighttime) widescreen photography is by Bernard Dechet and a foreboding score by Carlos Acciari completes the macabre package.

It should be mentioned that BABY BLOOD has been somewhat of a Holy Grail for fans to track down in its uncut form (this version is complete and unabridged).  The new High Def master is aces, and includes both the original French soundtrack (with English subtitles), and the English-dubbed grindhouse-friendly audio for Anglo audiences who saw the pic as The Evil Within.

Extras include commentary by film historians/critics Lee Gambin and Jarret Gahan, plus the theatrical trailer.

What could logically be subtitled Womb Raider, BABY BLOOD makes Rosemary’s sprout look like Pollyanna (and I don’t mean McIntosh!).

One of the most extraordinary horror movies in recent years (or any year!), 2009’s THIRST, an epic 135-minute Grand Guignol odyssey, is an experience that I suspect will resonate with non-genre fans, as well as the core buffs (who deservedly have already deemed it a modern masterpiece).

Cowritten (with Chung Seo-kyung) and coproduced by maverick director Park Chan-Wook, auteur of the 2003 international smash Old Boy, THIRST follows the story of a Sang-hyun, a beloved priest, who is, by his own choice, exposed to a lethal disease.  Volunteering to test a new vaccine for a deadly virus, the man of the cloth discovers that the drug has had an amazing and devastating effect.  He is simultaneously miraculously emboldened with apparent super strength while developing an insatiable taste for blood.  Chipping away a dormant portion of the human condition that keeps evil in check, Sang-hyun goes full-blown vampire.

His new life comes with all the perks and perils of the affliction:  balancing the aforementioned feeling of invincibility is a deserved fear of sunlight.  Sang-hyun’s shyness among women is also bolstered as he carnally and fatally pleasures and drains them.

Boarding with the nouveux riche (translated as obnoxious rich trash) Ra family, the priest becomes attracted to their son’s young daughter-in-law (once their adopted ward) – who essentially functions as the house slave, comely, timid, and abused Tae-ju.  As he moves closer to her, she does the same – discovering his “secret,” and opening the door to her desired freedom (“Can you turn me?”).  As they literally soar through the skies at night, claiming victims, Tae-ju degenerates into something totally fiendish – relishing horrendous vengeance on the family who treated her like a dog.  The ending is tragically frightening…and romantic.

For those readers with a literary bent, the narrative may sound a bit familiar.  I’ll cut to the chase; it is indeed an intentional vampiric version of Zola’s Therese RaquinTHIRST, spectacularly directed by Chan-Wook and hauntingly photographed by Chung Chung-hoon, is the serious horror pic macabre aficionados have been waiting for.

The acting is as praiseworthy as the direction and visuals, so rousing applause to costars Song Kang-ho (as the priest), and especially the magnificent Kim Ok-bin (as Tae-ju, the wife/servant whose new thirst for blood is both literal and figurative; in case you recognize the name, she, too, is familiar, Ok-bin is the star of the cross-over 2017 action hit The Villainess).

The Kino-Lorber Studio Classic of THIRST is top-drawer, looking sleek and slick in 1080p scope.  It is presented in the original Korean w/English subtitles, that can be removed if one is fluent in the language (a fine stereo track features the music of Jo Yeong-wook).  Extras comprise running audio commentary by journalist Bryan Reesman, and the theatrical trailer.

Riveting, stylish entertainment, THIRST takes vampire cinema to a new level, and, as such, highly recommended.

BABY BLOOD. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA [English dubbed or French w/English subtitles]; Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Studio Canal CAT # K24002. SRP: $29.95.

THIRST. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1 or 2.0 DTS-HD MA [Korean w/English subtitles]. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Focus Pictures International & Moho Film/Universal Studios. CAT # K23822. SRP: $29.95.

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