Friday, August 6, 2021

Pop Phi Hian (1990)

... aka: ปอบผีเฮี้ยน
... aka: Ghoulish Ghost Mother
... aka: Pop Is Strong Enough
... aka: Pop Phi Hien
... aka: Porb Phee Hien

Directed by:
อัจกลับ (Atklub) (?)

Despite not officially being an entry in the HOUSE OF POP series (which is the longest-running film series in Thai history), this may as well be! Compared directly to the first two Pop entries, this features a near-identical plot and characters, the same stars, the same supporting actors, the same unsuccessful mixture of folklore-steeped ghost-horror and truly irritating slapstick comedy (often speeding up the action for "comic" effect and such) and appears to have been filmed in the same exact locations. I assumed it was also made by the same director too, but, surprisingly, that doesn't appear to be the case (unless the name on the poster is an alias).

Most Thai genre films from this time are basically equivalent to B-movies made in other countries, except for the fact that most aren't as well-made, they're generally even lower-budgeted and they were never meant to be distributed internationally. Quickly and cheaply shot so that the minuscule budgets could be recuperated fast, these were cranked out in fairly large numbers, with prints touring the countryside to be shown to more superstitious "common folk" in small villages, who typically were more into ghost legends and such. Those in major metropolitan areas in Thailand weren't especially interested, though many of these films saw a second life as cheaply-pressed and poor-quality VCD releases, often presented with an incorrect aspect ratio. I suppose one could refer to these as poor man's horror movies as they were cheap to make, cheap to see and then cheap to own on a home viewing format.

All the men in a village lust after the beautiful but reclusive Kaew, who's played by actress / singer / model ตรีรัก รักการดี / Trirak Rakkarndee, whose name is spelled differently on just about every website you visit (Treerak Rakkandee, Trerak Rakkandee, TeeRuk Rukkarndee...). Kaew lives in a small home on the outskirts of the village along with her intense grandmother, Chom, who seldom goes out into public. While their humble little abode isn't anything to write home about, a greedy developer and his wife are after their land. Poor Kaew can't even go from one end of the village to another without being harassed by a quartet of thoroughly obnoxious hooligans; once again played by Thongchai Prasongsunti and those same dudes with the ponytails from the HOP movies. These are the kind of guys who chew with their mouths open, loudly slurp their drinks, never shut up, constantly stick out their tongues, fart a lot (which they eventually discover works as a ghost repellent) and behave like complete morons the entire movie, so prepare to be annoyed!

A pop (cannibalistic female ghost) has been going around the village late at night ripping the guts out of victims with her clawed hand, so an old exorcist is brought in to fight her. The pop is revealed to be Chom and she and the exorcist have a magic duel featuring a spear, a flaming staff, exploding rocks and one of those cheap plastic glow necklaces. Injured in the battle, Chom stumbles home and spits an orb into Kaew's mouth before falling over dead; transferring the evil spirit into her granddaughter's body. Now that Kaew has been left all alone, kindly new village leader Phalat (Ekapan Banleurit) steps in, develops feelings for her and vows to help take care of her, though little of their relationship is actually fleshed out.

The portly developer shows up at Kaew's home offering her a wad of money for her place. When she refuses, he attempts to rape her, but she gets away after pushing him into a lake. Later that night, she lures him into the woods and rips out his guts. Seeing how the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, the developer's equally-scummy son (Narong Jenklongtham) starts a sexual relationship with a poor village girl named Plau, knocks her up and then, instead of marrying such a lowly creature, brings an old woman abortionist over. The two force her to drink poison, pin her down and start putting extreme pressure on her belly, which not only kills the baby, but also her. Kaew stumbles into the hut afterward and the pop exits her body and resurrects Plau's corpse.

Now in its new host body, the pop pays a late night visit to a snobby rich woman, amusingly played by veteran actress Metta Roongrat (THE WOLF GIRL), and her prissy daughter in a surprisingly funny scene where the mom panics and accidentally locks her daughter outside with the ghost. The pop then goes after her former lover, tricks him into kissing her and then bites off his tongue, spits it out, rips open his chest, pulls out his guts and eats them. After unsuccessfully attempting to bully Kaew out of her land with her thugs, the developer's widow joins forces with the exorcist and they both end up dead. While this does a fair job of following a basic plot line for a little while, at least by 80s Thai standards, that's all eventually thrown right out the window during the disastrous final act. Yikes.

To be fair, this actually starts out as an improvement over the first three House of Pop movies in that it delivers more gore, has a few bits that actually ARE funny, some atmospheric night scenes using fog and backlighting and features the spirit going from body to body, which at least keeps things a little bit interesting. There's also a fun character in the form of a no-nonsense Amazonian waitress (played by Maneerat Waiyawut) who frequently has to chase the annoying local guys out of her restaurant with a bamboo pole and meat cleaver. She even pulls a rifle on them at one point... and I can't say that I blame her.

However, this completely runs out of gas well before the hour mark and keeps falling back on the dumb-as-dirt and seldom-funny antics of those pesky village idiots, who unfortunately take over completely during the finale. The make-up, editing, photography and special effects are all terrible and the sheer awfulness of the last twenty minutes almost have to be seen to believed. It features a spiritualist riding around on some cheap-looking floating cart who eventually gets blown up, a random zombie, lots of very poorly-executed jump cuts, the pop flying around a lake, several characters being sexually violated by guinea pigs (!?) and the moronic dudes climbing trees, putting boxes over their heads to "hide," running around dressed in foliage bikinis after losing their clothes and other such assorted nonsense; most of which is sped up and accompanied by truly irritating music. Parts of John Carpenter's Halloween score are also used.

Very few Thai B horror flicks from the video era were ever officially released outside of the country nor were they ever given English subtitles. And once you sit down to actually watch one of these things, it's easy to see why. These were simply unable to compete with similar films being produced by major studios elsewhere in Asia at around the same time. Actually, the best part about most of these older Thai productions are the excellent posters.

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