Bangkok Haunted (2001)
By: Michael Helms on September 13, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
English, Spanish Subtitles. Panik House Entertainment (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). Thai DD 5.1, Thai DTS 5.1, Thai DD 2.0. 130 minutes
The Movie
Directors: Legend Of The Drum and Black Magic Woman by Pisuth Praesaengaim, Revenge by Oxide Pang Shun
Starring: Pimsiree Pinisee, Dawan Singhawee, Pete Thongjuer, Kanyanut Sriboonrueng
Screenplay: Pisuth Praesaengaim and Sompop Wetchapipat
Country: Thailand
Three women sitting around in a Bangkok bar on a lonely rainswept night egg each other on to tell the spookiest stories they can muster. Legend Of The Drum involves an antique drum, a female antiques dealer, an academic, a young female ghost, a severed arm and an extensive flashback sequence to Bangkok of 1917. Black Magic Woman features the creation and application of a deadly perfume used to attract males and eventually zombify them. Revenge is a police procedural that places a cadet police officer at the centre of investigations into an apparent suicide case.

Prior to Ab-Normal Beauty, The Eye, and even before Bangkok got really dangerous, the Pang brothers, or at least Oxide, got involved with this horror anthology project that was designed to present the subject of life after death in a new way. At least, that's it's reason for being as described by Executive producer Rashane Limtrakul amidst the extras on this magnificently presented disc.

With no prologue or set up the film gets straight into it as a truck loaded with crates and boxes hurtles along a mountain road. A guy in the back wearing black is reading a comic when a hand with long fingernails gouges into his leg. A ghostly white face girl appears causing him to hastily exit the speeding truck. Upon reaching it's destination one of the items (a drum) baffles it's new owner, a young female antiques entrepreneur who consults an academic regarding her new possession. Unfortunately, her bafflement becomes ours as we're thrown into an explanatory flashback investigating the social origins of the drum and the particular attachment of the spirit that now haunts it. In 1917 Bangkok a man promises to look after a dying man's daughter. We're then introduced to Gnod a young man with a horribly scarred face who had been scalded for banging a drum. The girl is training to be a dancer and the scenes where she presents her talents preforming the mathematically precise dancing against a red back drop, underscored by exotic and eerie Thai music, makes for a mesmerising moment that can make you forget you're supposed to be watching a horror film. Gnod is jealous of the girl's new boyfriend. Back in the contemporary world the professor warns our Nightmare Before Christmas t-shirt wearing antiques dealer to ditch the drum. One night as she sleeps the ghost appears and drapes her hair over her. Our gal gets up and follows her as her own eyes glow white. It's all a dream though. Later when the boyfriend turns up they end up underwater with our gal in full dance costuming. The ghost girl image appears again as the story wraps with the antiques owner cutting opening the drum and Gnod re-appearing to reveal the real truth about the drum. Cut to the bar for the first time as the two listeners dismiss the story as naff demanding something more cruel and erotic. Now you're talking, but despite immediately introducing one of the main male characters in a morgue performing an autopsy, and the female lead sitting on a toilet near a Warriors Of Virtue poster, things soon get pedestrian with the reconstructing of a poisoner's m.o being the main thrust of Black Magic Woman. Set almost entirely at night with minimal lighting (in fact Thailand seems to be powered entirely by a six volt battery) Black Magic Woman cruises nightclubs as the titular character picks up victims, takes them home, and has it off with them before she lets them drown in their own green bile. One guy comes back from the dead and before confronting his black magic woman in the shower jealously attacks an older and richer suitor of our gal with an axe. Necrophilia by implication provides Black Magic Woman with it's own version of a happy ending.

Story number three, Revenge, begins with the question, "Have you ever seen a corpse with a rope hanging around it's neck?" before quickly becoming the cleverest entry in terms of general cinematic storytelling as it deftly unravels the events that lead up to the death by hanging of a young woman. By it's end it just about subverts any ideas you might have had during the opening scene and also becomes the saddest story, also revealing some of Bangkok Haunted's most horrific imagery (a back yard abortion is a factor here). Certainly it has the most complex plotting which writhes and twists away as much as any of the victims in any of the preceding stories. Somehow it's no surprise that Oxide Pang was in charge but that doesn't mean it's riddled with the latest digital editing techniques. Like all of Bangkok Haunted a simple approach is in evidence at most times, even when the ramping up of information could've been of benefit.

Bangkok Haunted ends on a sombre note as our three drinking buddies get vocal and critical about the three stories. One gal is left to foot the bill as rain pours down on a lonely street in the last shot. As far as wraparound sequences in horror anthologies are concerned, this three girl effort is interesting without being innovative but definitly an improvement over something like The Monster Club that featured Vincent Price dragging Peter Cushing into a disco at a time (70s/early 80s) when western horror anthologies were at their prime. Overall Bangkok Haunted is not without chills despite something of a lite approach. Presentation though cannot be faulted as US new label Panik House Entertainment seriously attempts to attract attention amidst the myriad of titles vying for shelf space across the world.
I don't know what it is about Thai darkness that makes it so deep but the transfer captures it all and positively envelopes you in it. The bulk of all three stories and the wraparound occur at night and things seem to get darker as the stories unspool but everything that you're supposed to see stays in sharp relief, even during the bar scenes of the second story. Subtitles are uniformly readable and understandable.
Excellent surround sound (in Dolby and DTS) pumps out all sorts of music and noise while keeping all the dialogue up front and centre and well-balanced.
Extra Features
A 31 minute Behind The Scenes Making Of that looks like it was made specifically for Thai TV, begins by interviewing the Executive Producer and several other talking heads before ending in a round table discussion with the three main actors. Topics include the spooky stuff that dogged the production and how a real body was used in the autopsy scene. There's several different trailers for the film along with a poster and stills gallery, and production notes. There's also two essays by Art Black (from Psychotronic Video) on Thai Cinema and the Pang Brothers. If that's not all, there's also a box size reproduction of the cover art on a sticker. The whole thing is presented in a cardboard slip cover over the clam shell box that has multi-coloured 3-D printing.
The Verdict
Not without it's share of brutal moments but hard to describe as completely hardcore horror there's still much to recommend Bangkok Haunted. Separately any of the stories presented could stand alone (and two at least probably warrant some expansion) but what really collectively binds them is their attention to atmosphere and straight forward storytelling. As another type of Asian horror cinema Bangkok Haunted bodes well for future Thai product. At the very least it definitely has it over some of the mysterious excesses of the Japanese and at worst it's just too pedestrian. Whatever, Bangkok Haunted is well worth devoting more than two hours of your life to it's contemplation of death. As an intial presentation from Panik House just the standard of reproduction in all areas should leave you eagerly awaiting their forthcoming foray into the hardly explored world of Japanese 60s/70s gang violence.
Movie Score
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