issue 3

5:37, by A.P. Howell

Bay Min-chul’s final film, Rain and Starshine, remains not merely incomplete, but lost. All footage was allegedly destroyed. The production company claimed that action was intended to honor the dead; a more cynical reading suggests a public relations campaign. Less than half of Rain and Starshine’s principal photography had been completed when production was suspended. The film could not be salvaged, the sunk costs could not be recovered, and public calls to investigate set conditions and a possible cover-up threatened the company’s reputation.

Whether undertaken as a show of respect or a bid for favorable press, the decision had a dramatic effect on Bay’s reputation. Rain and Starshine had been referred to as a “cursed film” from the moment news of the accident broke; subsequent tragedies only reinforced that perception. The shadow soon fell over Bay’s entire oeuvre. His earlier films remain largely absent from discussions of South Korean cinema.

Perversely, the fixation on Rain and Starshine has not led to any push to verify the destruction of all footage or search corporate archives for any remaining snippets. The screenplay is available, but most interest has come from ghoulish corners of the public rather than serious film scholars. Bay’s later exoneration is little more than a footnote.

Bay is not seen as a promising director whose career was cut tragically short. He is a pariah, his works nearly forgotten. When his films are remembered, they are divorced from their proper context in the history of South Korean cinema. Even more than the loss of the films he might have made, that forgotten legacy is the true tragedy of Bay Min-chul.

Geoffrey W. S. Bradley, Independent Visions: A Survey of South Korean Cinema, 1984–1997 (2015)


“You’re going to die.”

Randie jumped. Not at the words–it took a little while for her brain to sort them out. But she was supposed to be alone in the audiovisual office.

The room was closer to the size of an office than a closet, even if it was cluttered closet-fashion with obsolete pieces of technology. The visible wall space was decorated with comics, memes, and xeroxed images from the collections she worked on. The door whined whenever someone entered. Randie didn’t notice consciously any more, but something deep in her brain paid attention, and that part of her brain hadn’t heard the door opening.

When she turned around, she jumped again. The woman standing behind her was not one of her colleagues.

Also, she was splattered with blood.

Randie’s brain caught up with the woman’s words: You’re going to die. The woman had made it through several doors, including this one, without a swipe card, which meant security had completely failed. She decided it was okay to be deeply concerned, maybe even frightened, rather than just reflexively startled.

The intruder was even shorter than Randie, but much slimmer. Half her face was marred by burns and lacerations, which drew some attention away from the dent in her skull. She looked like she was cosplaying some anime schoolgirl, but her white shirt was ragged, torn and burned and bloodstained. Something that looked disturbingly like a sausage or a snake or an intestine glistened near her waist and her mangled left arm hung at the wrong angle.

Randie had seen really good zombie make-up, but this went above and beyond.

“I said, you’re going to die.”

There was a hint of petulance in the woman’s tone. Girl, maybe: it was hard to tell, but she struck Randie as young.

“Eventually, sure.” Randie, socially awkward and anxious, had trained herself to fill silence and provide the illusion that she was holding up her end of a conversation. Even when she had absolutely no idea what to say.


Theodore C. Gilbert Papers

1949–2012 (bulk 1963–2007). 98 linear ft.

Biographical note:

Theodore C. Gilbert (1934–2012) was a noted real estate developer, philanthropist, and collector. With a family inheritance providing start-up capital, he purchased properties throughout the United States. He eventually concentrated his development efforts along the east and west coasts. Gilbert believed in the value of the arts and, despite their secular nature, considered his buildings to be artwork commissioned in the fashion of “a Sistine Chapel or Gaudí cathedral–I just get the fun of walking around the completed work.” (New York Times, 1994)

Gilbert’s philanthropic efforts were similarly-minded. He established scholarship programs in architecture, fine arts, and film at the City College of New York, Pratt Institute, Parsons School of Design, New York University, Woodbury University, and the University of California, Los Angeles. He founded the Theodore C. Gilbert School of Film at the University of California, Vallejo.

As a collector, Gilbert’s interests were eclectic. “Maybe money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy a lot of interesting stuff.” (Grizzly Growls: Fifty Years of the College on the Hill, 2001) His Los Angeles home contained a screening room with seating for three dozen. Gilbert’s extensive collection of domestic and foreign films, ranging from classics to B-grade monster movies, including some whose creation he funded. Gilbert also collected rare books and occult material.


The woman scowled. Half of the expression was lost to blood and burns and shredded flesh, but the emotions behind it were quite clear. “You watched the videotape. I’m here now. You’re going to die.”

Randie’s brain apparently overloaded a little bit. Rather than pay attention to the threat (promise? Prediction?) or her impossible visitor, years of graduate school and professional training and impulses to accuracy and (some said) pedantry bubbled up. “I didn’t watch the videotape.”

The woman pointed to the VCR.

“I’m migrating data. I watched the digitized copy.” Randie tapped the hard drive.

The woman harrumphed. “Even if it’s a copy, you still watched it.”

“Who are you? Why are you in my office?”

The woman rolled her eyes. Randie glanced down at the hard drive. She had reviewed the migrated video. Had seen the burned and broken body of a woman on a movie set. Had watched panicked crew and actors yelling unintelligibly (to her) in an effort to secure the area and provide first aid. Randie’s skin had crawled at the realism of the situation. It hadn’t looked like raw footage of a stunt. It had looked like a very real accident captured by cameras that continued to roll during the chaos.

“My name is Tai Soo-jin,” the woman relented. “Yes. You watched me die.”

“I’m sorry.” It seemed like the sort of thing one ought to say.

“They usually scream,” Soo-jin noted. “Why aren’t you screaming?”

“I don’t know,” Randie said honestly. “Maybe because you’re not that scary? No offense. I’m just more confused than anything.” But even the confusion was subsiding. There seemed to be a system in place. She was confronting something incredibly weird, but it wasn’t complete chaos. “Is there anything I can do for you?” Randie gestured vaguely at the blood, in a way she hoped was compassionate rather than rude. “Does it hurt?”

“Not anymore. But thanks for asking.” The lips quirked up in a hint of a smile. “Nobody’s ever asked before.”

“So…you’re a ghost.” Soo-jin nodded solemnly. Randie almost asked if she could touch her, see if she had any substance–she looked solid enough–but many white women had asked (or not) to touch Randie’s hair and she couldn’t bear to be one of Those People. Even if–“And you’re going to kill me?”

“No,” Soo-jin said. “That isn’t how it works. You watch; I’m summoned; you die.”

Randie frowned at the lack of agency. “When?”

“Five minutes and thirty-seven seconds. That’s how long it took me to die,” Soo-jin added helpfully. “I don’t remember all of it, but I’ve seen the time stamps.”

Given her appearance, Randie thought it was just as well Soo-jin couldn’t remember everything about her final minutes of life. “I’m surprised you’re speaking English.” A ghost hadn’t completely driven away concerns about descriptive metadata, like the language of the video.

“I’m speaking Korean.” Soo-jin waved an idle hand. “Translation’s part of the curse. Anger, rage, vengeance–universal emotions. The words are just extra style points.”

For somebody who only came out of a haunted videotape for five and a half minutes at a time, Soo-jin had accumulated some decent insights and data.

“So I guess the cassette is the vector for the curse?” Randie mused. “Or maybe two curses, one on the viewer and one on you? Unless you want to be here.”

“I don’t want to not be here,” Soo-jin said. “But I’m not as angry as I used to be. And you don’t seem like the typical viewer.”

“Who is the typical viewer?”

“First it was people from the set, and then a bunch of lawyers and executives and insurance guys and investigators.” Soo-jin sat in the spare office chair and began to spin around. “It was supposed to be safe. The bus wasn’t supposed to hit that car, and Ji-hoon missed his cue so we weren’t on our mark…” She sighed. “After a few rooms full of people died, it was a while before anybody watched it again. And then it tended to be one guy sitting alone in the dark, you know?”

Randie grimaced. “It’s a snuff tape.”

“I was going to be a star. Not of this movie, but it was a solid part,” Soo-jin said. “I had lines, Ji-hoon and I had chemistry, my death scene–the one in the script–was going to be heartbreaking. And instead, the tape gets passed around between perverts.”

“I’m sorry.”

Soo-jin sighed again. “It’s not your fault. I’m really sorry you’re caught up in this. You seem like a nice person, and I really appreciate the conversation. It’s been a while.”

Randie was a bit more concerned about the next five minutes and thirty-seven seconds (less, now) than the ghost’s lengthy afterlife. If she was going to die…well, she might as well die doing her job, and maybe save somebody else. She popped the VHS cassette out of the VCR. “Haunted” was scrawled across the label in handwriting she didn’t recognize, slightly more legible than that of Theodore C. Gilbert.

“Out of curiosity, did he die after watching the tape?” Randie pointed to a picture of Gilbert, gray-haired and a bit goofily manic, stuck to the wall above her monitor.

Soo-jin nodded. “Did you know him?”

“Nope. He donated his library to the university. Rare books, personal papers, born digital stuff, and his AV collection. The tape’s been sitting around for years.”

“His pants were still on,” Soo-jin said, struggling under some impulse to speak well of the dead. “So I guess he was kind of a classy guy.”

“He was a bit of a jerk,” Randie said. The archivist who’d processed Gilbert’s correspondence and journals had shared stories. “But he collected some weird stuff. He might have been more interested in the tape because it was haunted, rather than because it was snuff.”

“Intent doesn’t matter,” Soo-jin said. “Just the impact of watching.”

Randie bent over her desk and scrawled out a note. Tape does seem to be haunted. DO NOT WATCH. DELETE DIGITAL VERSION. (She couldn’t quite bring herself to erase what was, apparently, one of the last things she would ever do.) After a moment’s consideration, she added: Snuff. Outside of institution’s collection policy.

“I wonder if this is the only tape.”

“There used to be a bunch,” Soo-jin said. “Plus the film it was originally shot on. Every copy worked the same way.”

“Gilbert died of a heart attack.”

“They do usually clutch their chests after the screaming and everything. Sometimes they run,” Soo-jin added. “I used to chase them.”

“And then…what? Do you just go back into the tape?”

“I guess. I can sort of tell how long it’s been since someone’s played it–a long time or really short, like right after it happened,” Soo-jin said. “It’s been getting longer.”

“Maybe snuff fans are more careful these days.”

Soo-jin shrugged. “I suppose there’s better quality material available. The cameras weren’t set up for close ups.”

“And VHS is not exactly ubiquitous any more…” Randie said, wondering if it was ethical to destroy the tape. Save future lives, but maybe exorcise or damn Soo-jin in the process? Eliminate the possibility of future scholars studying a haunted artifact?

“Everything does seem to have changed a lot since 1992.” Soo-jin sighed. “I wonder if my parents are still alive.”

“We can check–” Randie said, but then decided there wasn’t time to explain the Web. There wasn’t time for her to explain. She glanced up at the clock. She’d never thought much about her own death–there were so many ways it could happen, all hopefully far off–and now that she had a little time to put affairs in order, she couldn’t think what to do. Call her mother? What would she say? I love you, Mom, and I just wanted to tell you one more time before I’m killed by a cursed VHS tape.


Theodore C. Gilbert Papers

Series IX: Restricted materials

The death of Tai Soo-jin. June 11, 1992. 1 video cassette. Excerpt of footage from the set of Rain and Starshine, dir. Bay Min-chul, uncompleted. Digital surrogate is available for onsite viewing only, with permission. Please consult the audiovisual archivist for more information.

Indexing Terms

Personal names: Bay Min-chul (1957–1992); Tai Soo-jin (1971–1992); Tai Soo-jin (Spirit); Yong Ji-hoon (1968–1992)


Randie glanced at the clock. Her remaining life span was distressingly mysterious since she’d neglected to check the time of Soo-jin’s original pronouncement.

“It…seems like it’s about time.”

“Past time,” Soo-jin frowned. “I don’t understand…not that I’m sorry you’re still alive. It’s been so long since I’ve talked to another woman.”

They waited in tense silence as another minute passed. Randie checked the creation date of the digital file. Add the time to watch it, double that… Soo-jin examined the equipment, the pictures Randie had taped to the wall, a calendar (her lips tightened when she saw the date). Anything to avoid looking at Randie.

And then … “That’s it,” Randie announced. “Five minutes and thirty-seven seconds since I checked the time.”

“And you’re still here.” Soo-jin smiled uncertainly. “And so am I.”

“I wonder if it’s magnetic tape,” Randie said. “If there’s some property of the material itself. I didn’t watch the output from the cassette, much less the original film.”

“And I didn’t appear until after you’d watched your digitized copy,” Soo-jin added. “So maybe only part of the curse transfers from tape?”

“Maybe,” Randie said excitedly. Not only did she (apparently) get to live, but there was a fantastically interesting new problem to examine. “I wonder if the cassette’s been exorcised. Or if you’re still in there, or bound to it, like a genie in a lamp.” There were more relevant cinematic examples of haunted technology, but the ones Randie was familiar with post-dated Soo-jin’s death.

The ghost tucked bloody hair behind her ear. It was very much the mannerism of a young woman, insecure in her place in the world. “I’m not sure what happens next.”

“Neither am I.” Randie tore up the note she’d written. Most of an archivist’s job was throwing things away. But she also preserved them, in their original format or as something new, retaining things that mattered and the story that surrounded them. “But I bet it’s going to be interesting.”


Haunted Materials: Safe Handling and Ethical Considerations

Randie M. Dillon

The American Archivist Vol. 87, No. 2, Fall/Winter 2024

Abstract:

Genuinely haunted materials are rare, but archivists should be aware that such items may exist in their collection. Without proper evaluation and description, institution staff, materials, and researchers may be in danger. These concerns are generally understudied in the archival literature. This article proposes safety procedures–including isolation, provenance research, expert evaluation, restrictions on use, and special storage–intended to protect the materials themselves and the people who come into contact with them. Another consideration is the ethics of interactions with supernatural beings in situations where, depending upon the archivist’s action, a noncorporeal individual may be trapped, banished, or otherwise harmed. Communication and consent are key, and ethical interactions (informed by cross-disciplinary study) not only provide humane conditions, but can also enhance the historical record. The article concludes with a case study of the Theodore C. Gilbert Papers and the spirit Tai Soo-jin.


A. P. Howell has worked as an archivist, ice cream scooper, webmaster, and data wrangler. She lives with her spouse, two kids, and a dog who hates groundhogs. Her stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Little Blue Marble, and Community of Magic Pens. Her website is aphowell.com.

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