My ever vigilant quest for subtitles has finally rewarded this lil’ Catgirl with some nice fansubs for the recent Thai Horror omnibus “Haunted Universities” after what seemed like… well… forever. One quick order to Thailand later, and the official Thai release is mine for my viewing pleasure…. Yay!!
It’s synopsis reads like follows: “Remember your university days, when you traded scary urban legends with your friends? Prepare to see some of those legends brought to life in the Thai horror anthology Haunted Universities. In the tradition of the hit “Phobia” franchise, young directing team Bunjong Sinthanamongkolkul and Suthiporn Tubtim frame four loosely connected school-related horror stories around a young volunteer paramedic with a special gift.
In “The Toilet”, a group of bad guys goes to a school to retrieve drugs from a young student’s locker. However, they didn’t expect the terror waiting for them in the school’s haunted fifth-floor bathroom.
A bad case of hazing sends a young girl into “The Elevator”, where she attracts the attention of wronged spirits. Worst yet, the young girl’s grandfather was the one who wronged them in the first place.
The darkly comedic segment “The Morgue” tells the story of a cowardly medical student assigned to look over the corpse in a hospital. The wilder his overactive imagination runs, the more paranoid he grows.
The directors save the best for last with “The Stairway”, about two girls who participate in a web-cam chat that ends with a creepy man vowing to kill them both. What they don’t know is how far the man will go to keep his promise.”
Neko certainly liked “Phobia”…. and I’m thinking it’s a pretty good bet I’ll be enjoying this one just as much. Ghosts…. creepy haunted Asian schoolkids…. and knowing Thailand, some particularly nasty, gory horror the way only they seem to do it these days. It’s popcorn crunching time this evening for me…. and a new review for all of you, so hang in there, Gentle Visitors and “Read On”!!
Given the success of GMM Tai Hub’s “Phobia” it wasn’t hard to guess that even more anthology horror films would soon be coming out of Thailand, and this one is Sahamongkol Film’s answer to that obviously lucrative trend. Despite it’s title, only three of the four stories are actually tied to a university setting, but hey…. that’s a fairly minor quibble. Only one real question matters…. How does it stack up as a horror film? Hmmmm? Let’s see….
Our four tales are all told around a main character Muay (played by Panward Hemmanee), a young girl working the night shift with one of those Urban Rescue teams you see in Thai (and Indonesian) movies…. That’s right, those “corpse collectors” who generally show up at crime scenes and accidents to deal with the unpleasant (and spiritually unclean) task of cleaning things up and seeing that the bodies are properly delivered to the morgue. She seems a bit out of place to her more seasoned and weary co-workers, never ready to jump right into the thick of the job and always… always… talking away on her cellphone to an unknown friend rather than attending to the grisly business at hand. But….. unknown to them, Muay has already had her own brush with the supernatural and can see ghosts…. a definite downer given her current job. Her mysterious friend? Well, that’s something we’ll get to later….
Our other tales involve the various corpses and victims our Rescue Crew encounters during a typical Bangkok night shift. First up, a young couple of lovers who run afoul of drug dealing gang members and the angry, restless spirits haunting “The Toilet”. Here two thugs get their just desserts when they are sent to straighten out a young university student selling dope for them on campus. He’s fallen a bit behind on his sales quota and has apparently been ducking our two tough lads for some time before getting caught by them during an evening out with his girlfriend. They want their money and they want their dope even more….. Too bad our boy hid the stuff in his locker on campus, it just means we’re in for a midnight trip to the school where the leader of the thugs is vaguely amused by the story of a haunted restroom on the fifth floor that the two students are seemingly scared silly of. Needless to say… his attempt at bravado while torturing his two captives with their “superstitious” fears ends rather badly… for everyone.
Next up, in “The Elevator”, an auto accident brings Muay and her co-workers into contact with Nok Noi, the young granddaughter of a notorious army general who ordered the shooting massacre of protesting students on campus some 20 or more years earlier. (Probably a well known event, but not being up on Thai history I’m a bit vague on the date, so I’m guessing simply from the look of clothing and equipment seen in the flashbacks…) She’s tried to put her family’s ugly past behind her and simply be a freshman student, but there are those on campus that seem unwilling to let the past die with the victims. She eventually gets introduced, rather unpleasantly, to another haunted locale on campus…. an elevator where a group of students were shot to death by soldiers. Today so soaked with blood and misery that school officials first had it painted red to hide the blood that refused to be cleaned away, and now is planned to be removed altogether to end the controversy and rumors. Noi experiences all that misery…. and the ghostly spirits of two young lovers forever separated by that tragedy. It’s here we learn about Muay’s peculiar affinity for the ghosts…. but exactly how, Neko’s not going to spoil for you.
Our third tale, “The Morgue” takes us to the portion of the campus devoted to medical studies and a poor dental student named Prasert with a wee lil’ problem. He’s a medical student who’s deathly afraid of corpses and ghosts. Considering he has to take anatomy classes as well as do the occasional postmortem dental examinations for the morgue as part of his training that’s a really big problem indeed. How’s a guy to cope?
Well it helps if you’ve got a best buddy like “Joke” to smooth things over, generally take care of the more grisly elements of anatomy class for you and cover your ass…. except when he doesn’t. Thanks to him failing to turn an assignment in for Prasert on time, he’s forced to score some quick points with his professor by covering a colleagues night shift….. in the morgue. D’ohh!! Well… at least Joke will stay with Prasert and keep him company…. right? Ummmm? Nope.
Our boy “Joke” has a big date that evening…. so Prasert is on his own to wait out a lonely night… just him and a room full of corpses. It wouldn’t be so bad if Muay and company didn’t deliver the body of a possible murder victim that the police are ever so anxious to know more about. They’ve only got one simple request…. just take a peek at the body and tell them if she’s got a tattoo on her back. If only Prasert wasn’t sooooo scared…. and if only the body wouldn’t keep disappearing!! This story is more comedy than full on scares…. but it works pretty well at both and it’s good to see “Joke” pull a cruel stunt on Prasert only to finally figure out why the dead are something to fear after all.
At last… our story wraps itself back to Muay and her friend…. her roommate Sa (played by Anna Hambouris) in “Stairway”. Muay and Sa are best friends and roommates sharing a tiny little upstairs one-room apartment. Sa like to flirt… and chat rooms on the Internet seem safe enough for a lil’ anonymous sexy fun, despite Muay’s unease. But after a chat session in which Sa goes a bit too far in her teasing results in a guy threatening to kill her and Muay, the fun is ruined. At least Sa assures Muay that the guy has no idea where they are… he probably isn’t even in Thailand…. so what’s there to fear… right? We’ve all heard that before…..
Unfortunately she’s wrong, of course. “Beckham” is actually her socially maladjusted next door neighbor…. and worse the protege of a smooth and sophisticated serial killer who cruises the Bangkok nights in search of vulnerable young women to slaughter. “Beckham’s” been waiting to finally get the chance to perform his own torture/ murder just like his friend…. and now he’s got the perfect victim in mind.
Sa leaves Muay to slip out for some late night take out food, only to run afoul of a group of dangerous looking guys on motorbikes. Saved from a probable rape by “Beckham’s” smooth partner, it’s off to the boondocks for a vicious bit of torture at the hands of her captors before being dumped in the swamp to be forgotten forever. The two killers decide to go and get creatively messy with Muay as well, tying up all loose ends, but Sa did promise her friend she’d bring home noodles……
Our two evil killers slip up the staircase to Muay’s room, knock quietly at her door and wait for her to sleepily wake up expecting her friend to have locked herself out. It’s the perfect plan…. but it fails to take into account Sa’s burning desire to protect Muay and seek revenge on her killers. The two are terrified…. as the shattered, bloody remains of Sa slowly…. agonizingly…. crawl up the stairs to frighten them away from her friend’s door. By the time Muay finally gets to the door and opens it, they’re gone for good, leaving only a grisly blood trail upon the stairs……. and a takeout bag of Pad Thai hanging from her doorknob.
To finish…. we see Muay finishing her shift as dawn breaks. A final phone-call from Sa lets her know she’s leaving…. that she’s found those two at last and that Muay shouldn’t worry about her. It’s a sad, bittersweet ending but somehow satisfying for all that. Of the four stories, this one resonated most clearly for me…. as an oft-times timid Asian woman sharing an apartment alone with my girlfriend and often more than a little scared of the very real things that might just be lurking outside my door at night. Of all the possible things about the film to remember, I think that image of the bag of take-out food hanging from a doorknob, lovingly delivered from beyond the grave, will stick with me the longest. Sometimes the scariest ghosts aren’t the ones who hate you, but the ones who love you more than their own life itself……
So. How did this one compare? In general, I have to say it’s a restrained film compared to “Phobia” and it’s sequel. While all of the stories were good, the final story “Staircase” worked best for me and gave me some very squeamish moments, mostly I think, on a personal level. But overall, the entire film works very, very well. It’s properly filmed, and acted with good, simple little stories that won’t have you going “Huh?” too many times, but probably could have stood to have been a bit more bloody to satisfy the gore fans out there. Still, for my money this one gets a well deserved 3 “Meows” out of 5 for bringing on the scares the way I like them.
The Thai DVD itself is well done as always, listed as a Region 3 (but actually a Region Free disc) in anamorphic wide-screen PAL format. No subtitles are on board at all, but luckily the English fan-subs Neko managed to find are remarkably well done, grammatically correct and properly timed for use with the Thai DVD. I imagine either Singapore or HK will release a version eventually, but if you, like this impatient lil kitten, can’t wait for your Thai movie fix, they’ll more than do the job. Given the 6-10$ cost of a Thai import though, it’s hard to wait for them to get around to it…..
Don’t worry, it’s Trailer time…. so take a look at all the creepy fun of “Haunted Universities” for yourself!!