79 K orea is well known for its horror films, if not quite as well as its eastern neigh- bor; yet with Halloween upon us there is nary a Korean horror film to be seen on the local marquees. That’s because the Western holiday is still a baby here, and the traditional time for horror movies in Korea is during the hot, humid summers, as the chills provided by the genre are said to cool viewers down. Horror films from Korea, like those from other hor - ror-producing nations, tend to be a mixed bag. The quality has dipped further of late, and each year seems to be a recurring case of diminishing returns. But don’t let that dissuade you from discovering the many treasures of Korean horror cinema that have sprouted here and there over the years. Korean horror differs from its Western counterparts in a number of ways. Slasher films, a staple of U.S. and European horror, are not common here. The vast majority of Korean films fall into the “haunting” category and the majority of the spirits that terrorize vacuous protagonists are vengeful high school girls. Films also tend to be more character-driven, and sha- manism and local folklore often play a role. There is far less gore in Korean horror than might be expected given Korean cinema’s reputation for violence. The most famous Korean horror film is probably Kim Jee-woon’s “A Tale of Two Sisters” (2003), a hand- some production that elevates the tension through exceptional mise-en-scène. But rather than relying on sound effects, it delivers scares by excavating a dys- functional family’s deep psychological scars. Another option, and perfect for a marathon, is to explore the “Whispering Corridors” (1998) films, a five-part (to date) series that afforded rookie directors an opportunity to break into the biz. They’re all teen- girl haunting films, but the best is “Memento Mori” (1999), a surprising horror film that blends ghost scares with psychological scars as it explores a high school lesbian relationship. Clever and exceptional - ly well written for a horror piece, the film builds to a conclusion manic enough to sate any viewer’s genre cravings. Lesser known is the shamanism-themed “Pos- sessed” (2009). A layered work that employs subtle symbolism and some exquisite, earthy photography, it’s more challenging than your typical horror film, but provides ample rewards for the discerning viewer. People sometimes say that Korean horror pig- gy-backed on the late ‘90s success of films from Ja- pan like “The Ring” (1998) or “The Grudge” (2002). While there is some undeniable borrowing going on, as producers latched onto a successful, and cheap, formula, horror has a much longer history in Korea than most realize. Classic examples such as “The Devil’s Stairway” (1964) and “The Thousand Years Old Fox” (1969) were major influences on today’s film- makers, and the local leg- ends mined by these earlier films made for some unique additions to the genre. For most of the 2000s, K-horror was lauded for its high production values, which were more in sync with top- shelf Hollywood productions than with their cheaper coun - terparts from Japan. With beautiful films such as the colonial-era chiller “Epitaph” (2007), K-horror had an ad- vantage in Asia. But following a temporary downturn in the local industry, budgets were slashed and local films went digital and handheld. Soon, the major tal- ent the genre used to attract opted for other projects and the quality of Korean horror films suffered greatly. Despite this poor state of affairs, Korean horror ap- pears to be making a comeback. There may not be as many pure horror films as in the past, but horror elements are sneaking into more and more local films. Korea has always been good at hybrids, and recent successful experiments include the horror rom-com “Spellbound” (2011), high school horror comedy “Mourning Grave” and the horror romance “My Or - dinary Love Story,” both released in 2014. Korean cinema has a remarkable capacity for evolution, and with a genre as intrinsic as horror, you can be sure that they’ll find a way to bring it back into the fold before long. More info j Modern Korean Cinema www.modernkoreancinema.com Clever and exceptionally well written for a horror piece, (‘Memento Mori’) builds to a conclusion manic enough to sate any viewer’s genre cravings.