Saturday, July 9, 2011

Thai Ghost Movies: The Horror, The Horror

What is it with Thai ghost films? With the flimsy plots, undeveloped characters, gratuitous gore and cheap special effects, its enough to make any movie critic keel over in agony. Yet, the punters keep coming back for more. Thai horror films do most of the time out-gross comedies and period dramas in the kingdom’s box offices. It’s hard to deny that Thai filmmakers are quite adept at the ghost flick genre. The chilling music, the manipulated thrills and grisly spills – it all makes for a fun, adrenalin-filled evening.

Aside from some notable exceptions like The Shutter and the well-researched Nang Nak, Thai horror films don’t usually stand on anything resembling legs in terms of cinematic value. But they sure do scare the hell out of the viewers, and isn’t that the point? Those of you who turn to jelly at the mere sight of blood may ask, why the obsession with the macabre? Is watching the slaughter of innocent people in the most blood-curdling manner some type of depraved idea of fun? Well, to horror-buffs, the answer is yes, but not because they are sadists. On the contrary, compassion often drives horror-enthusiasts to sympathize with the victims. This empathy felt with their fear is what leads to that sought-after blast of adrenalin. In academic jargon it’s the sadistic versus the masochistic. And it is this masochistic search for the ultimate ad-renalin rush that keeps horror fans glued to their cinema seats.

In Thailand and throughout much of Asia, the popularity of ghost films must also be analyzed in context of the pervasive belief in spirits, or phi, as well as the animism present in Buddhist and Southeast Asian cultures. In a country where amulets and spirit doctors are as readily available as cigarettes, ghost stories have long been part of the local tradition. Thai horror movies are often a mixture of folktales about ghosts, or mae nak, and old beliefs such as phi kraseu, or ghosts who refuse to die, possession or witchcraft. And the audience sucks it up like a vampire at a blood bank.

The horror genre in Thailand saw a resurgence after the enormous local and international success of Nonzee Nimibutr’s Nang Nak – a remake of the time-worn story of Mae Nak Phra Khanong. In the years that followed, many critics contended that Thai ghost films took a turn for the worse. That is until the release of Shutter in 2004. Directed by Pakpoom Wongpoom and Banjong Pisanthanakun, The Shutter’s simple plot of a photographer seeing ghost-like images in his photographs captivated local audiences. In recent years, the popularity of films that make up the "New Asian Horror" genre has begun to influence Hollywood, evidenced by remakes of Asian hits The Ring, The Eye and Shutter. It is clear then, that a fear of ghosts and spirits is universal, making this genre a killing at box offices worldwide (bad pun intended).

Also, check out some Thai Horror movie posters here.

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