Casual fans may only recognize Thailand as the country that produced martial arts sensation Tony Jaa, but you’d be wise to give a few Thai horror films a try. While the Thai movie industry once lagged far behind other Asian nations in terms of quality, it’s made significant progress in recent years.
The horror genre has benefited from this greatly, as advances in both funding and technology have allowed directors to create films brimming with both atmosphere and raw terror. As with many Asian nations, the ghost story is still the king, but horror films from Thailand also feature black magic, slashers, and plenty of other weirdness.
The following list includes some of my favorite Thai horror films, and it provides a nice cross-section of styles. If you have a local horror retailer like Eerie Books (hint, hint), be sure to check their stock for Thai products. And if they don’t have what you’re looking for, there are always options ranging from Netflix to Amazon.
- The Victim (2006) - Shooting on location at a number of real-life Thai crime scenes, director Monthon Arayangkoon has woven a tense film that combines elements of a ghost story with the gritty realism of a crime thriller. Pitchanart Sakakom stars as Ting, a struggling actress who gets a gig with the police re-enacting crimes alongside accused killers and rapists. She’s so good at her job that many of the criminals are moved to tears by her heartbreaking performances, but things take a turn for the weird when she assumes the role of a murdered beauty queen. Disturbing visions begin haunting Ting, leading her to wonder if the real killer was ever caught. Filled with a number of twists and turns, The Victim is atmospheric throughout and filled with nail-biting suspense.
- The House (2007) - While the title of the film is nothing to write home about, The House still manages to deliver an entertaining ghost story and a noteworthy performance from lead actress Intira Jaroenpura. She stars as Chalini, a reporter investigating the murders of three different women by their respective lovers. After some snooping around, she locates the creepy house where all three women were killed. But when she goes inside, Chalini finds herself in a nightmarish world filled with ghostly females and 10-foot-tall shadowy figures. The pacing is relentless, and director Monthon Arayangkoon wrings the maximum amount of terror from every scene. Highly recommended for fans of Thai horror films or scary movies in general.
- Phobia (2008) - This impressive Thai horror anthology weaves four tales of terror, each 25 minutes in duration. The first story, “Loneliness,” revolves around a girl who foolishly befriends a stranger via text massage. The second, “Deadly Charm,” mixes witchcraft with the slasher genre. Next up is “The Middle Man,” a horror/comedy combo about a group of Thai youths who go camping in the woods. And finally there’s “Last Fright,” a chiller about passengers stuck on a nightmarish plane ride. If movies like Creepshow and Three…Extremes float your boat, be sure to give this one a look.
- Phobia 2 (2009) - The popular horror anthology returns, this time offering up five tales instead of four. Things kick off with “Novice,” a well-crafted short about a kid who runs afoul of spirits after being sent to a monastery by his mother. Next is “Ward,” a 15-minute horror flick about a man staying overnight in a hospital room with a stranger. “Backpackers” follows, and it should serve as a treat to fans of zombie movies. “Salvage” is the fourth entry, a 20-minute gem about the frantic search for a missing child in a used car lot. Last up is “In the End,” a slick comedy/horror melding about spooky events on a movie set. Most sequels are a letdown, but Phobia 2 is quite possibly better than the original.
- Alone (2007) - After being separated from her conjoined twin, a young Thai woman (Marsha Wattanapanich) must deal with the guilt of her sister’s death. But when she returns home to visit her ailing mother, the spirit of the dead twin shows up with evil intentions. Wattanapanich is impressive in a dual role, and the emphasis on character development pays off during the film’s final act. A solid Thai horror movie from start to finish.
- Sick Nurses (2007) - Most horror movies aren’t what I’d call sexy, but most horror flicks don’t feature a bunch of hot Thai girls running around in nurse costumes, either. This decidedly different genre film deals with a group of organ-stealing hotties and the consequences that arise when they harvest one of their own. The deaths are bloody and inventive, and there’s plenty of tan flesh to be ogled. Give it a try, especially if you’re a guy.
- Memory (2008) - Scares abound when a dedicated psychiatrist sets out to help a troubled girl with mysterious bruises on her body. Everything about this film is top notch, from the performances (I especially enjoyed the mother who keeps a straight razor) to the steady camerawork and pacing. And while some horror films fall flat in the later stages, Memory delivers a conclusion that’s both logical and harrowing.
- Shutter (2004) - A photographer and his girlfriend flee from the scene of an accident and later find ghostly images appearing on his photographs. When her boyfriend’s pals begin to experience a supernatural presence, as well, the girlfriend digs into his past and realizes that he’s been keeping secrets. Fans of Japanese horror will be familiar with the vengeful ghost storyline, but the film’s overall execution makes it feel fresh every step of the way. Considered by some to be the greatest of all Thai horror films.
If you’ve seen all that South Korea and Japan have to offer, go ahead and give these Thai horror films a try. Their industry has really come on in the last few years, so those worried about a drop in acting or production value can breathe a sigh of relief. When it comes to cranking out cinematic nightmares, Thailand is one to watch in the future.