Saturday, 16 June 2012

Portmanteau Thai Horror Movie



Remember the portmanteau horror movies of the old days? Asylum, Tales from the Crypt, Dr Terror's House of Horror all spring to mind. I think that what killed off the sub-genre was the rise of 'slasher' movies like Nightmare on Elm Street, which offered young audiences the same kind of thrill - a series of nasty incidents with some kind of linking narrative. The obvious downside of the slasher flick, though, is that if the central premise is weak, or the machete-wielding maniac is unconvincing, the whole thing is pretty flimsy. Whereas a series of stand-alone, if linked, stories can offer more variety.

Anyway, 4Bia (Phobia, geddit?) is a recent Thai attempt at this concept. The four loosely-linked stories, each helmed by a different director, pretty much run the gamut of horror film orthodoxy. Here, of course, are haunted lovers, vengeful spirits, and young idiots running about in the woods. But all four tales are handled with sufficient panache and energy to prove diverting, at least to me. The changes of mood and pace are often tricky to handle in this kind of film, but 4Bia gets it right.

The first story 'Happiness' is arguably the most predictable - pretty girl stuck at home in a high rise with a broken leg gets mysterious text message. She unwisely responds, and wackiness ensues. But it's a sprightly and effective opener, thanks to a very good solo performance by Maneerat Kham-uan. It's an object lesson in what can be achieved with solid direction.

The second segment, 'Tit for Tat', is altogether darker and quite gory. It concerns those old favourites, high school bullying and resulting supernatural vengeance. Again, the director and young cast show great gusto in getting enough material for a ninety minute film into about twenty minutes.

It's followed by the very different 'In the Middle', taking us from straight horror to a knowing parody of the genre. Four friends go on a camping trip, and of course there's much discussion of ghosts (Why are they always women with long hair?). They discuss twist endings - inevitably, some doofus hasn't seen The Sixth Sense. When the twist ending of this segment comes, it's duly satisfying.

Finally there's 'The Last Flight', which has a distinct period feel. An airline stewardess has unwisely had an affair with a prince (remember, this is Thailand), which makes a certain princess deeply unhappy. When the princess dies her body is flown back on a specially-chartered plane, and the stewardess must accompany it. The 'scary thing on a plane' theme has been done a few times, but this is a decent addition to the canon.

All in all, 4Bia is an enjoyable and refreshing attempt to revive portmanteau horror and give it a shot in the arm. It's a good example of the way the Thai film industry has brought some much-needed humour and charm to the somewhat tired and formulaic Asian horror market.