Country: Thailand

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 108'


Monthon Arayangkoon

Cast: Pitchanart Sakakorn, Apasiri Nitibhon, Penpak Sirikul, Kiradej Ketakinta, Chokchai Charoensuk




Story: Ting is a young actress asked by the police to help them by re-enacting the crimes (in the role of the victim). She takes part in re-enactments when the criminals are already caught, which are staged for the media (this seems to be an actual practice in Thailand, supposedly to show off the efficiency of the law and uselessness of the path of crime). Ting makes an extra effort not to offend spirits of the crime victims, and they start paying back by giving hints about their destinies. In one case it seems that the real culprit was not found, so it's up to Ting to do the right thing...

Review: THE VICTIM is a Thai horror film. How many thoughtful, intelligent ones have you seen coming from that country? There's (almost!) none that I recall. At their best they tend to attain the level of a solidly put mindless entertainment. At their best! Thai horrors are usually derivative, gimmicky, shallow, infantile, overly melodramatic and soap-operatic, and only occasionally do they manage to ape the motifs and imagery from their superior Asian cinematic brethren sufficiently to induce a chill or two. If you're not too picky, you'll get just that in THE VICTIM – and nothing more.

THE VICTIM is a typical representative of horrors from Thailand: instead of characters you get two-dimensional cardboard types; instead of plot you get a series of randomly arranged gimmicks; instead of drama you get melodrama; instead of suspense you get twists (the more 'unexpected' and illogical – the better!); instead of horror you get tiresome 'boo!' scares and cheap imitations of yet another Sadako clone. And, last but not least: instead of originality you get – contrivance. (With all due respect to rare exceptions to this rule, like THE DORM, soon to be reviewed here.)

The greatest contrivance in this film happens at its middle mark (a SPOILER follows: if you still have hopes for this film, skip this paragraph): just when you start caring for the silly plot, the makers wisely decide to surprise you with that age-old hateful gimmick: 'it was all only a movie!' Yes, folks, the first 48 minutes of the flick are actually a film within the film. If at that point you do not feel too betrayed to go on, you'll have to re-invest your thoughts and emotions into a wholly new plot. Yes, it is related to what preceded it, but further development only discredits the few qualities existent in the first half, without offering any new ones. Actually, in the second half THE VICTIM turns to the worse, and ends with another shoulder-shrugging 'So what?' twist.

There are so many possibilities inherent to this particular plot, and THE VICTIM doesn't care for any of them. If examination of the horror genre's tropes (a la NEW NIGHTMARE, or SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE) are way above the heads of THE VICTIM's makers, how about a look into the mind frame of a person who would act as the victim at a crime scene, with the culprit present? Oh, sorry, that's too serious, too. They don't want no drama, all they want is to spook out the audience and that's that. Well, that's a valid ambition in itself – as long as the makers are able to achieve it. THE VICTIM's main problem is not that it's not as clever or complex as it could've been. Its major malfunction is that it's just not scary nor entertaining enough.

How could it be, if its director lacks the ability to measure and edit a horror scene properly? The sense of timing is one of the most precious talents a horror director can have, and Monthon Arayangkoon sorely lacks it. All of his horror scenes last longer than they need, thus undermining their effect. Most obvious example of his lack of subtlety is a scene in the first half, in which Ting has an encounter of the spooky kind in a corridor. First of all, Mr. Arayangkoon feels that meeting just one single Sadako-inspired, face-covered-with-black-hair ghost is not enough, so he peoples the scene with a dozen more of blue-faced spooks reaching toward Ting. Then he stretches the scene with far too many shot/countershots of Ting vs. The Ghost, way too many camera set-ups than really needed – probably trying to milk the scene for all its worth, but instead turning it into a ridiculous self-parody that can scare only the most pronounced simpletons.

It certainly doesn't help that Mr. Arayangkoon can't think of anything better than to shamelessly copy the tired RINGU/GRUDGE clichés, some of which include: ghosts (otherwise unseen), captured on camera just as in the far superior SHUTTER; frozen-scream ashen faces of victims, as seen in RINGU and its numerous clones; ghostly hands crawling slowly across the floor towards the victim; invisible ghosts swaying around people and not doing much, as in THE EYE; and the inevitable despicable variation on the old 'it was all only a movie!' device, which says: 'it was all only a dream!' You know the drill: something scary happens. Boo! 'It was all only a dream!' You wake up, go to the bathroom. Something scary is in the mirror. Boo! You wake up again. 'It was all only a dream!' And so on. And on. And on.



SHUTTER (2004)

Country: Thailand

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 93'

Directors: Banjong Pisanthanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom


Ananda Everingham,

Natthaweeranuch Thongmee,

Achita Sikamana,

Unnop Chanpaibool


Story: A young couple –Tun, a photographer, and his girlfriend Jane- are driving home from a party late at night. They have a hit-and-run accident: after they mow down a young woman, Tun urges Jane to drive away from the scene. Soon, however, strange light patterns and faces start appearing on his photos, scary dreams haunt him, ghostly presences are felt around him and Jane, and they start investigating the ‘ghost photos’ phenomena and history of the girl who seems to be behind the haunting. Of course they are not chosen randomly: it turns out that the ghost is attached in a very peculiar way to one of them…

Review: Just as you might suspect from the above synopsis, SHUTTER is yet another addition to the still-growing body of RINGU-induced works dealing with (or should I say: exploiting?) the motif of a long-black-haired female ghost prone on one kind of vengeance or another – usually by popping out of various technological devices such as TVs, video tapes, cell phones or, as in this case – cameras and photographs. OK, it was scary the first time around. But after a dozen films with black hairs emerging from the water surface or female ghosts crawling closer and closer towards a petrified protagonist, do you still shiver - or do you yawn?

SHUTTER is not exactly yawn-inducing thanks to a solid pace and occasionally energetic direction. There are inspired shots, like a single take of a man’s suicide over a high-rise’s balcony (simply but effectively staged, and explained in the additional features on the disc), or a stroboscopic scene in which Tun uses the camera’s flash to find his way in a suddenly darkened room. The hit-and-run is also well edited, and has a nice… uh, impact. The film’s culmination involves a solid suspense on the fire escape ladders chase, and the very end has a nice touch of macabre romance which reminded me, in a way, of the end of HAUTE TENSION (a far superior film to SHUTTER by any standard, and strongly recommended!).

The film’s main gimmick is the ‘ghost photos’, a phenomenon that you can read about in any publication devoted to the supernatural. The directors use the allegedly real photos (credited at the end of the film) which show the blurry faces gawking behind their living relatives. The concept is at the same time silly and potentially spooky: the problem is, spooky photos have already been done to death in the past 30 years, ever since THE OMEN; and the original RINGU has reminded us of that as well. Imperfections of the eye and the secrets hidden in the grainy images were suitable bases for films ranging from Antonioni’s artsy BLOW OUT to some great movies by Dario (DEEP RED) Argento and Brian (DRESSED TO KILL) de Palma. The two directors of SHUTTER are not visionaries like those authors, but merely competent purveyors of the tried-and-true tricks: their use of photography is far from revolutionary in either formal (visual) or thematic sense, but it serves the purpose of a decent, unambitious, moderately effective piece of entertainment.

The amount of scare achieved by the film depends strictly on the viewer’s cinematic experience and exposure to similar Asian (and other) flicks from recent years. The ghost photos would seem much scarier if you haven’t seen them in RINGU; the same film has also staged the ultimate ghost-crawl-toward-you, but the one in SHUTTER is passable as well (though not as good as the one in A TALE OF TWO SISTERS); the black haired head emerging from the water would be more effective if you haven’t seen RINGU or DARK WATER; the upside-down ceiling-walking ghost will be even scarier without THE GRUDGE and ONE MISSED CALL, while the ghost hovering next to a running car may be familiar to those who saw JU-ON 2; and of course, the whole ‘they are around us’ gimmick (from the film’s tagline) has already been exploited by THE EYE…

Other than the whole photo angle, SHUTTER is curious for having a protagonist who turns out to be one of the most despicable main characters in any recent film I can remember other than BAD SANTA (although even the latter attains a redemption at the end!). The amount of his sleazy, whiny cowardice and irresponsibility has to be seen to be believed! But don’t worry: he gets his just desserts! Some reviewers have stressed a big twist at the end; I won’t spoil it for you, but I’ll reassure that it’s not of the tired ‘they’ve-been-dead-all-along’ variety. Besides, it’s not such a big twist after all. The overhyped reviews elsewhere on the net may make you expect something more than a tolerable, watchable nothing-special Asian ghost flick with slick visuals that SHUTTER is, so – be warned. Don’t believe the hype until it’s the KFCC hype!

DVD [ NTSC, Region 3 ] : The usual plastic DVD case is enveloped by a carton one (slightly better designed). The sharp images come in anamorphic widescreen enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs, while the audio options include Dolby Digital 2.0, Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and dts ES. Audio is in original Thai, with subtitles in English, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese. Other than the film itself, on this dual-layered disc you can also find very short and conventional promotional featurettes: a minute or two of director’s and actors’ talk, a couple of minutes of behind the scenes, a ‘ghost photo’ made during the film’s shoot (!), and the trailers.




Wallflower Press

(London, UK – distributed in the US through Columbia University Press)




'Cultographies' is a new series of books, devoted (as you might guess) to ''the weird and wonderful world of cult cinema''. In format and approach they are very much reminiscent of the acclaimed British Film Institute's series 'BFI's Modern Classics'. Small in size and not longer than 130 pages, 'Cultographies' books manage to compress unbelievable amount of valuable facts and interpretations between their covers. Comparison to BFI's series is no small praise, but it is a well-deserved one: cult movies are still denigrated as cinema's poorer, more colorful but somewhat shameful cousins, but the approach exemplified by the first three books of the 'Cultographies' series is as serious as if they were talking about CITIZEN KANE. And before some readers are repelled by the word 'serious' I hasten to add that these books at the same time manage to be personal, entertaining and highly readable. If there is one quality to stress above all others, then it is the perfect balance achieved between the academic and popular writing. Serious, but not solemn or dry; entertaining, but not condescending or straining to be funny.

Cultographies Series Editors, Ernest Mathijs and Jamie Sexton, have conceived the books' structure in a uniform way, so that each book covers the four major elements which define a cult film:

1) Anatomy: the film itself – its features: content, style, format, and generic modes.

2) Consumption: the ways in which it is received – the audience reactions, fan celebrations, and critical receptions.

3) Political Economy: the financial and physical conditions of presence of the film – its ownerships, intentions, promotions, channels of presentation, and the spaces and times of its exhibition.

4) Cultural status: the way in which a cult film fits a time or region – how it comments on its surroundings, by complying, exploiting, critiquing, or offending.

THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW is a well-chosen title to start up the series (the other two books in this series include Volume Two: DONNIE DARKO, by Geoff King and Volume Three: THIS IS SPINAL TAP, by Ethan De Seife, soon to be reviewed here), as in many ways it epitomizes the cult film as a phenomenon. "ROCKY HORROR is not just a product of its time, but of other times as well – it is history congealed, a tapestry woven out of many threads of history, some obvious, some buried in the weave," says Jeffrey Weinstock and goes on to un-weave, re-present and contextualize the film's numerous symbols and allusions. The meaning of Dr Frank'n'Further's tattoos is revealed, together with the pink triangle on his dress, and other details that you may or may not have noticed but which are parts of a larger frame of references. Some of the central issues that THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW invokes include the modes of spectatorship and the desire (the audience's desire to participate in the film, to make it conform to its wishes, to possess it) and, of course, gender politics involved in the films gay-friendly and sex-friendly attitudes. Mr Weinstock convincingly places the latter in their historical and cultural context: Stonewall, Nixon's resignation speech, Women and Gay rights movements, the rise of pornography, musical and avant-garde theatre, rock'n'roll subcultures, etc. In that regard, his book covers a much larger ground than 'just' an analysis of one single film. THE ROCKY HORROR embodied the tendencies of the times that the book analyzes, providing a bigger picture, while never losing sight of the smaller.

In his obvious devotion to the film Jeffrey Weinstock does not turn into its unequivocal partisan: the balance of his approach and style is mirrored in his constantly balanced awareness of the film's numerous contradictions and faults, including the central question, whether the film is essentially subversive or conservative? "If Frank self-identifies as gay (or gay-friendly), does this advance, to use the language of the 1970s, the cause of Gay Liberation? Or rather, does the association between homosexuality (or bisexuality) and Frank as polymorphously perverse transvestite mad scientist-cannibal-murderer ultimately hinder social progress for gays?" The author concludes that "THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW is not just a cult movie, but a 'meta-cult movie'; it is not only a movie pieced together from other movies, some of them possessing their own cults, but one that itself participates in cultic activity as it both reveres and savages the tradition which spawned it." This book is especially eye-opening in terms of revealing the assumptions of mainstream (heterosexual) cinema by pointing things we take for granted and rarely question (like, why are there no men in the Aqua Musicals of the 1940s?). It concludes that THE ROCKY HORROR is 'queering' the history of cinema by re-possessing and re-contextualizing the generic clichés of musical, SF and horror film, shedding a new light on 'innocent' pleasures they provided by casting light "upon underlying cracks and fissures in the patterns of their original cinematic contexts."

The book juxtaposes the film's relevance then and now, showing how "THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW slowly underwent a process of cultural gentrification as nostalgic thirty- and forty-somethings remembered when they used to be wild and the love that many of them bear towards the film today is inextricable from memories and fantasies of their youth." It doesn't shy away from the ironical development in the history of the film's reception: "Once upon a time ROCKY HORROR attendance marked one as 'edgy'; now, it marks one as normal." Jeffrey Weinstock's greatest accomplishment in this book is the control and precision with which he balanced all complexities attendant to the film and its (cinematic, and wider cultural) significance, never losing his way in irrelevant anecdotes or academic mumbo-jumbo. As the first book in the 'Cultographies' series, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW is an invaluable addition to every library, regardless of how devoted to cult cinema in general or THE ROCKY HORROR in particular you are. Just as that film's values transcend cinematic ones, this book transcends its subject and attains a much wider relevance.