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Bangkok Haunted
cast: Pimsiree Pimsee, Dawan Singha-wee, Pete Thong-jeur, and Kalyanut Riboonrueng

directors: Pisuth Praesaeng-iam, Oxide Pang

130 minutes (18) 2001 widescreen ratio 16:9
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Donald Morefield

Anthology movies have a rather mixed pedigree. There are displays of excellence, like the eerie and compelling Dead Of Night (made in Britain in 1945, so perhaps it's the great granddaddy of them all), and many other moderately successful and enterprising - if not always so exemplary - horror show offerings, such as Baker and Bloch's Asylum (1972), or Romero and King's Creepshow (1982). The format ranges from Borowczyk's arty erotica, Immoral Tales (1974), to Gainsborough's Somerset Maughan adaptations Quartet (1948), Trio (1950), and Encore (1951), to Spielberg's TV tribute compendium, Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), and the supposedly funny but horribly flawed Four Rooms (1995). Bangkok Haunted is from Thailand and features three dark mystery chillers which, despite one odd and perplexing deviation from the usual format of portmanteau pictures, offers a fairly good example of how to splice unconnected stories together with a framing device if no wraparound narrative suggests itself.

Legend Of The Drum tells of how enduring traces of a tragic injustice enter the waking dreams of a young woman after she mysteriously receives an antique but seemingly cursed drum. Black Magic Woman is an entirely contemporary, erotic story of desire, obsession and suspense, in which a lonely girl uses a magical love potion to attract men, but discovers the drug's horrific side effects only when it's far too late... Pisuth Praesaeng-iam directs both of these.

The third piece, Revenge, is directed by Oxide Pang (co-maker of that stunning ghost story The Eye), and is the most complex and intriguing of the genre stories. Partly a detailed police investigation into the apparent suicide of a disabled man's daughter, partly a revelatory message-from-beyond, it is composed of fragments that only cohere at the climax, where the rational world of detective work fuses with the supernatural realm to startling and creepy effect. That's sufficient detail about the stories, I think. Now, is the film any good overall?

Familiar subgenre clichés abound, as spectral figures dart around in shadowy rooms, and pallid faces are reflected in mirrors only to vanish from sight when the victim of a haunting turns to look... And yet there's a cross-cultural freshness and unassuming sense of morality in these stories, as common occult themes from British and European cinema are redressed for exotic settings. A wraith appears and disappears from a moving car, signalling to viewers, if not the driver, that some otherworldly force or unquiet soul is following the hero's progress on his journey towards actual fact or hidden truth, and generates a deeply ominous feeling of an encounter with the unknown, especially if we - the audience - are left unaware of what's supernatural and what isn't until after the event.

Curiously, this belated 'shuddering' affect, a kind of prickly hair-raising on the back of your neck, which occurs with a sudden fascinating apprehension, is what distinguishes the very best spooky stories from much less ambitious fare. And, I'm happy to report, Bangkok Haunted delivers this utterly delirious sensation more than once. This is a first class scare fest you should not watch in the dark - not unless you really want to stay wide awake all night, while glancing nervously around your bedroom and fretting over every creak on the stairs, or windblown rattle of the windows.

The DVD has an anamorphic picture with Dolby digital 5.1 sound and English subtitles. Disc extras: making-of documentary (30 minutes), text filmographies, promo art gallery, film notes by Justin Bowyer, original theatrical trailer, Tartan Asia Extreme trailers for other releases.
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