Saturday, November 5, 2022

Krasue Sao (1973)

... aka: กระสือสาว
... aka: Ghost of Guts Eater
... aka: Krasue Girl
... aka: Will-o'-the-wisp

Directed by:
S. Nawaraj (Sanit Kosaroth)

One of the only fully surviving pre-80s Thai genre films, this has been preserved for posterity thanks to a couple of enterprising men in Sweden who traveled to Thailand right at the dawn of the home video revolution, acquired the rights to a handful of films not released anywhere outside of the country and then issued them to VHS in the early 80s. The original Thai language soundtracks were retained but the films were given new English titles and hard coded Swedish subs. These acquisitions, less than 20 in total, were then distributed through two different labels: HB Video-film Norrköping and Video World. Ghost of Guts Eater was sadly the only horror movie of the lot and the rest appear to be action films. Because the same VHS-sourced copy has been bandied around so much in recent years (the quality is dark / poor but it's surprisingly in widescreen), the most common print you'll now find has American subtitles on top of Swedish subtitles on top of smaller Swedish subtitles!

The film centers around a well-known ghost in Thailand called a krasue. This same ghost has equivalents with different names depending on the Southeast Asian country you're in, but the spirit is usually the same: a detached, flying woman's head with internal organs (heart, stomach and a lump of intestines) dangling beneath that has a taste for flesh and blood, typically that of fetuses and babies. There are dozens of films involving this creature, which are still being made regularly to this day, and this appears to be one of the earliest films of this type.

One of the titular creatures is terrorizing a small village, scaring the bejesus outta everyone and slaughtering chickens. The ghost has taken possession of an old woman named Chim (Sulaleewan Suwanthat, who's also featured prominently in the Italian exploitation classic MAN FROM DEEP RIVER) and, having used up her body for all its worth (one of the unfortunately side effects of such a possession), is about to pass itself onto a new carrier. Thankfully Chim's syrupy sweet granddaughter Bua Klee (Pisamai Wilaisak) happens to be living with her. Prior to passing, Chim gives Bua Klee a ring, but only under the condition she promise to never take it off. She also insists Bua Klee cremate her body immediately and not tell anyone about her "murder." Bua Klee's boyfriend Boon Muang (Sombat Metanee, who passed away this past August) and his best friend Phi Chood (Choomporn Theppitak) happen by their hut just in time to help. They also must help Bua Klee fend off the unwanted advances of the thuggish arse Chatr (Man Teeraphol), who also has romantic designs on her.

Bua Klee (now pregnant) and Muang get married but their wedded bliss doesn't last too long, nor does the newfound peace and quiet in the village. The ring Bua Klee now adorns houses the spirit of her krasue-possessed granny... and she's hungry! Now possessed by the spirit herself, Bua Klee's head occasionally pops off and flies around the village late at night looking for grub. Several villagers i.d. the floating noggin as belonging to her and rumors she's a vampire rapidly spread. An exorcist, Doctor Prasit (Tat Ekathat), is called in to help. He gives the skeptical Muang a "holy rod" and instructs him to beat his wife with it. You'd think this would cause some friction in their marriage, as suddenly whipping your wife without explanation is sometimes known to do, but Bua Klee just brushes it off with a smile: "No matter what, I will forgive you! I love you so much! Please love me long!"

Seeing how the beating does not reveal any kind of evil spirit, Muang goes back to Dr. Prasit and punches him out, which prompts the exorcist to plot revenge ("Your vampire wife will die!"). However, his attempt at calling forth a demon backfires when it kills him, captures his spirit and takes him to hell. With things rapidly going downhill for them in their village, Muang, Bua Klee and Chood flee to the country to stay with Muang's uncle, Chaeng (Sawin Sawangrat), but the seclusion ends up not offering up any protection.

In a scene that sounds much better than it actually is, another old krasue lady lives nearby, which leads to a krasue v. krasue catfight over an animal carcass that concludes with Bua Klee biting the other krasue's guts. That prompts the injured krasue and her hubby (some kind of flying "demon") to get revenge, which they plan on enacting whenever Bua Klee gives birth to her baby so they can steal it and eat its heart. But that's not all!

When Muang travels back into the village to make a deal with wealthy trader Kamnan (Chao Klaewklong), he strikes the fancy of the man's spoiled daughter, Madua (Metta Roongrat), who herself is already being pursued by Chatr (the same guy who was trying to get into Bua Klee's pants earlier in the film). Chatr attempts to kill Muang, but only shoots him in the arm. After spending a few days nursing him back to health, Madua declares her devotion to him ("You know I love you so much!"). Him being married and already having a child isn't of any real concern to her. She just uses love spells to make him fall for her. The father then catches them in bed together and forces them to get married.

Meanwhile, a desperate Bua Klee is trying to find a way to get her man back. She learns of a treasure by some old ruins that's supposedly guarded by a giant. As for how to break the curse, it involves finding some fire and then stripping naked next to it. She attempts this (showing off her bare ass in the process) but is denied the treasure because she's yet to atone for her sins. A plan is hatched to break the love curse against Muang, which causes things to spiral out of control. Many people get killed.

While it may seem hard to believe by today's standards, this was a major release and a hit film in Thailand at the time, with many top box office draws in the cast and special effects work (including some brief, crude stop motion) that was considered elaborate and revolutionary by early 70s Thai standards. It was also shot on 35mm during what was considered the Golden Age of cinema in the country, so the production values are somewhat better (though still low!) than much of what came later. Starting in the second half of the 80s, similar films would be cheaply and carelessly shot on 16mm, bogged down with childish slapstick comedy, not even feature much in the way of special effects and be marketed almost exclusively to rural audiences. The films were not well-made or sophisticated enough to cut the mustard in larger urban areas and were mostly ignored there.

Running 105 minutes, this almost seems like three different movies mashed into one. It's episodic and melodramatic, sometimes tediously so. The pacing is horrendous, the soundtrack is comprised almost exclusively of overbearing (stolen) music and it ends up sidelining the very creatures we came to see in favor of the alternately mushy and messy relationship drama. That would perhaps be easier to take had we not been saddled with a lead female character who's insufferably whiny, pathetic and weak. Sometimes this hits on the right side of weird but the highlights are sadly few and far between.

The credited director is ส.เนาวราช, which is translated to either S. Naowarat or S. Naowaratch on most websites (the Swedish subs call him "S. Nawaraj"). Doing a little digging around and connecting of some dots, I was able to find out who this guy really is and about some of the other players involved. The real director is สนิท โกศะรถ, or Sanit Kosaroth, who was best known as a crime fiction writer and magazine publisher. The Naowarat / Naowaratch alias was a pen name he frequently used. He passed away just two years after this film was released at the age of just 45. The film was financed by บันลือ อุตสาหจิต / Banlue Utsahachit, who owned his own publishing house that frequently employed "Naowarat" as a writer. It's based on a graphic novel series by ทวี วิษณุกร / Thawee Witsanukorn, which was published by Banluesan Publishing House.


Tras el cristal (1986)

... aka: Behind the Glass
... aka: In a Glass Cage
... aka: Prison de cristal (Crystal Prison)

Directed by:
Agustí Villaronga

One the very best genre debuts of the 80s was this highly disturbing and memorable first feature from Villaronga. Klaus (Günter Meisner) leaps from the roof of his home in a suicide attempt. Instead of dying, finds himself paralyzed from the neck down and confined to an iron lung to live out the rest of his days. His miserable, put-upon wife, Griselda (Marisa Paredes), and their lonely young daughter, Rena (Gisèle Echevarría), are then tasked with spending the majority of every day catering to Klaus' every need. Griselda feels more like a slave than a wife and is in desperate need of help, while Rena has been unable to live a normal childhood, have friends or even go to school due to her responsibilities, which far exceed what a young girl should be dealing with. The family, originally from Germany, have been living in exile in an old country mansion in Spain for eight years. They're spent most of that time indoors, having not made any trusted friends or acquaintances that they can turn to for help. Instead, Griselda writes to her father, who financially supports them, to arrange for any help they may need. Sounds like we should be sympathetic, right? Turns out quite the opposite!

The reason the family had to flee their homeland in the first place was because Klaus is a Nazi war criminal who conducted sadistic medical experiments on young children, whom he also molested. Not only that, but Klaus continued to indulge in his sick fantasies after war, kidnapping, raping, torturing and / or murdering a series of young boys. As for Griselda, while she may not be fully aware of her husband's post-WWII extracurricular activities (the two spent many years apart), she does know what he did as a Nazi, yet is more concerned with the inconvenience and stress her husband's injury and the relocation have caused her. She secretly confides to her father in a letter, "At times, I think it would be best if he died." In the same letter, she asks if he'd send them a live-in nurse to help care for Klaus so she can have more time for herself and Rena. But mostly herself.

Enter Angelo (David Sust), who mysteriously comes to the home claiming to be a nurse. Griselda is immediately suspicious of the strange, soft-spoken young man. For starters, she knows her father didn't send him, so who did? And, if no one did, why did he come there on his accord? There are numerous other red flags. He looks far too young to be a nurse. He didn't announce his arrival, but instead sneaked inside, locked himself in Klaus' room and had a private conversation with him before revealing himself. In an effort to get to the truth, Griselda cleverly sets him up by having him give their maid (Imma Colomer) a shot so she can observe that he actually has no clue what he's doing. Convinced now that he's there under false pretenses, she insists he be fired but Klaus demands he stay. Frustrated, Griselda starts seriously considering (literally) pulling the plug on her husband herself.

Angelo is soon revealed to have been one of Klaus' many victims as a child and yet he's not really there for revenge. His trauma has manifested itself in other ways, namely him developing a twisted infatuation with his abuser. He was even lurking around to witness Klaus' most recent rape / murder of a young boy and his subsequent attempted suicide. Afterward, he hid the boy's corpse to cover for him and then stole his scrapbook / journal, which details years of his horrific acts starting at the concentration camps. Now in the home, Angelo starts sneaking into Klaus' room late at night to perform some extremely disturbing rituals that include depriving him of oxygen, performing sex acts with him and reading passages from his journal detailing his crimes. Just as Klaus had access to many helpless young boys to fulfill his sick fantasies in the camps, now Angelo has a helpless captive to fulfill his, which mimic what Klaus was up to.

It isn't long before Angelo manages to get the upper hand in the household. First, he removes the domineering Griselda from the equation. He then fires the maid. Rena, who wasn't on good terms with her parents to begin with, is initially receptive to Angelo's displays of paternal affection; something she's never really experienced before. All the while, the torture and torment of captive by captor late at night continues. Angelo puts a corpse on top of the iron lung so Klaus is forced to stare at it all night long, lets the home rapidly deteriorate, burns the furniture, encases everything in wire and refuses to bathe the former Nazi, making him lie in his own filth. He then goes even further than that, by luring young boys to the home so he can murder them right in front of Klaus, using tools from Klaus' very own Nazi medical kit, replicating his exact methods of dispatch and the exact scenarios present in the journal.

You may be thinking, what's there to possibly gain from watching something so unpleasant and disturbing? As it turns out, quite a lot. Perhaps there's nothing really new here content-wise. This is essentially about the cyclical nature of abuse, violence and trauma, how it's transferred from one generation to the next and how victims often turn around and claim their own victims. However, this is such a potent, well-executed, visually striking example of that theme that it hardly even matters. The acting from all four leads is superb and the overall visual style and cold, steely blue photography by Jaume Peracaula are all perfect for this material. The arresting aesthetic qualities of the film are matched by nearly every other facet of the production.

Villaronga not only expertly handles the suspense and horror content but also somehow manages to gracefully walk a tightrope in regards to the controversial subject matter. He neither soft-peddles nor is overly graphic with depictions of abuse toward children. Just enough is shown to achieve the desired impact but nothing beyond that. The director took inspiration for the Klaus character from the reputed crimes of 15th Century lord Gilles de Rais, who supposed gained sexual gratification from the rape, torture and murder of hundreds of young boys; crimes for which he was tried, convicted and executed for in 1440.

In a Glass Cage was not quite given its proper due upon release. It was praised by some critics but denounced by others (who still were forced to at least recognize how well-made it was) and the extreme nature of the content did not exactly set the box office ablaze either. As a result, this was mostly screened at film festivals before being ushered onto home video, and is still occasionally trotted out for theatrical showings to this day. The appeal of this movie was, is and will always remain somewhat limited, and that's understandable.

Despite its spotty release history, this was actually more popular here in America than in most other countries. After playing at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1986 (where it was nominated for Best Feature) and other scattered showings around the U. S. (mostly in major cities), it was given an unrated VHS release through Cinevista Video in 1988, where it started to develop a cult following. In 2004, Cult Epics released a DVD, which they followed with a (much improved) Blu-ray release in 2011. The controversial film had censorship and ratings problems in some countries, namely Australia (where it was banned) and the UK (where they didn't even bother submitting it for classification because they knew it would be censored).

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