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Plot: where Monika goes confusion follows. Hilarity ensues!

Monika (released domestically as La Ragazzina that translates to Young Girl) is historic for being the debut of blonde bombshell Gloria Guida. In a blitz career that would only last 8 years Guida would be the star of a series of almost interchangeable bawdy sex comedies that banked heavily, if not entirely, on her willingness to shed clothes. The credit of discovering one of Italy's most enduring and popular commedia sexy all'Italiana Lolitas is Mario Imperoli, who would direct her in Blue Jeans (1975) and shoot her to domestic superstardom with nothing but a pair of very low-cut jeans.

Miss Teen Italy 1974 Gloria Guida

In the wild and exuberant seventies Gloria enchanted everyone everywhere she went. Guida was Miss Teen Italy, 1974 and bound to turn heads. In 1974 Gloria was 19 years and starred in only two movies. The following year would be one of her busiest as she starred in 7 (!!) movies and played, chronologically, a novice nun, a disgruntled socialite heiress, her world-famous schoolgirl, a naughty maid, a young and willing debutante, and a wayward prostitute. Gloria was frequently paired with slapstick specialists Lino Banfi, and Alvaro Vitale, as well as genuine comedic talent as Enzo Cannavale, Lando Buzzanca, and Vittorio Caprioli. In 1981 Guida married to crooner, actor, and showman Johnny Dorelli. Like her husband Guida maintained a singing career until that ended too in 1991. Since retiring Gloria has lived in Italy with her husband and remains a star domestically despite not having done anything significant in many years.

Monika (Gloria Guida) is an fun-loving sixteen-year-old who has an unrequited love for her art professor Bruno De Angelis (Andrés Resino). She doesn't like her boyfriend Leo (Gian Luigi Chirizzi) too much, and when he isn't annoying her she's courted by an uncredited middle-aged gentleman. The situation at home isn't much better. Her lawyer father Massimo Moroni (Paolo Carlini) is married to his job leaving his bored, stay-at-home wife Sandra (Colette Descombes) to seek her pleasure elsewhere. To Monika's dismay her mother holds up an affair with her art professor when she's not tempting her neighbour with topless sunbathing, striking sexy poses, and skinny dipping. All Monika wants is to be loved, but all men seem only interested in one thing. If only Monika could meet the right man...

As low on story as Monika is it never fails to showcase Gloria at her finest. In that capacity she can be seen sporting impossibly short mini-skirts, getting the prerequisite medical check-up, in the shower as well as a a bout of topless sunbathing, and her soon-to-be signature: running around across the countryside with little to no clothes on. While most of Gloria's comedies tend to be identical there are thankfully some exceptions. Her most creative probably is The Minor (1974), and her most iconic La Liceale (1975). Usually (but not always) her sexy melodramas tend to be stronger than her comedies and as such That Malicious Age (1975) and So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious (1975) come highly recommended. If Gloria has one classic to her name it would be the Fernando Di Leo satire To Be Twenty (1978), a scathing polemic so rich in political subtext and some of the darkest cynicism disguised as a sex comedy that it was misunderstood upon original release. It also helped that it co-starred that other famed Lolita from the Golden Age of commedia sexy all’Italiana, miss Lilli Carati.

Supporting Gloria Guida are Paolo Carlini, Colette Descombes, and Andrés Resino. Paolo Carlini debuted in 1940 and his first big break came with the William Wyler directed Roman Holiday (1953) with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Carlini also appeared in It Started In Naples (1960) with Clark Gable and Sophia Loren. In the 1970s Carlini frequently appeared in comedies and Imperoli would cast him once more for the crime flick Like Rabid Dogs (1976). Colette Descombes was a French actress that ended up in Italy, and her most notable entry is the giallo Orgasmo (1969) from Umberto Lenzi. Andrés Resino played a professor earlier in the León Klimovsky directed Waldemar Daninsky epic The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) with Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy.

Never underestimate the appeal of a blue-eyed blonde that's prone to get naked. Guida played just about every possible male fantasy figure, everything from a naughty nun, a night nurse, and (more often than not) sex-crazed socialites or horny Catholic schoolgirls. The only thing that Gloria never came around to play was the l'insegnante or the teacher. As unbelievable as it may sound Gloria etched out a career almost exclusively in sex comedies and coming of age dramas. Whereas her contemporaries Barbara Bouchet, Evelyne Kraft, Edwige Fenech, and Rosalba Neri branched out into a variety of Eurocult genres, for some reason she never did. Imagine what a giallo with Gloria Guida could have been. Imagine what Renato Polselli or Luigi Batzella could have conjured up with her starring.

Monika comes from a time when Gloria Guida had yet to define herself as the penultimate Italian sexbomb, and the once-and-future queen of lowbrow Italian sex comedies and coming of age melodramas. It seemed that everybody realized early on where Guida's strengths lie, and in the years to follow she would be taking her clothes off in increasingly absurd (and sometimes genuinely comedic) situations. While not all Guida comedies are created equal she did some excellent work with Silvio Amadio, and Mariano Laurenti. She would never equal or surpass her lone stint with Fernando Di Leo (and neither would her co-star Lilli Carati for that matter) and fortunately she never ended up working with hacks like Alfonso Brescia in her post-1975 and post-To Be Twenty (1978) years. Gloria was wise to quit when she did, by her own volition and with her dignity intact.

Plot: young girl dabbles in black magic and summons an evil spirit

P was no doubt helmed in response to Ringu (1998), and Danny and Oxide Pang’s underappreciated The Eye (2002). P picks up where the Pang brothers left off in 2002 and is historic for being the first Thai-language film to be helmed by a Westener. The Westener in question is British expatriate Paul Spurrier and P has the good fortune of having Suangporn Jaturaphut (who would never act again) as the leading lady. The horror in P is peripheral and subordinate to the human interest, but that doesn’t make P any less effective when it fires on all of its cylinders. As a modest little genre piece P assuredly maintains Thailand’s place in the horror pantheon. More often a gritty and bleak drama about sex tourism and the criminal underworld surrounding it P is atmospheric and frightening when and where it matters. Thailand might not be able to compete with Hong Kong, China and Japan in terms of sheer numbers but P might just be strong enough to help turn the tide. No new promise has risen to take the Pang brothers’ place in domestic fright cinema but Spurrier might just be the guy.

Paul Spurrier had his start in cinema like many a young filmmaker: by taking to the streets and shooting his own feature with a bunch of enthusiastic friends. The result of that was Underground (1998), a gritty crime drama about drugdealers in London. Spurrier had acted as a child in the British-Swiss war epic The Wild Geese (1978) and at some point at the dawn of the millennium relocated to Thailand. Naturally a filmmaker is going to dabble in horror early on his or her career and what better place to mine for local folklore and superstition than Asia? Since P was only Spurrier’s second feature the most cost-efficient would be to do a ghost movie. Hong Kong, Japan, and China have set many a precedent of ghost stories within in an everyday, metropolitan setting. Instead of Hong Kong or Beijing P is set in the neon-drenched sidewalks of Bangkok. Perhaps not as much of an indictment of sex tourism as we would like it is a lot stronger than much coming out of China. Not only because P actually manages to be frightening every once in a whlie, mostly because the sobering reality surrounding the supernatural tale at its center is as horrific, if not moreso, than its titular ghost.

Just like in China ghosts are part of everyday life in Thailand. Most of them come from a combination of Thai Buddhism and local folklore legends. Some of these came from the neighboring Cambodian, Lao, and Malay cultures. Others were adopted later through the Chinese community in Thailand. Interestingly, a large portion of ghosts from Thai folklore tend to be nocturnal, a few exceptions notwithstanding. Most ghosts in Thai culture are benevolent and many have built shrines in specific places exactly for that reason. Offerings (usually incense, small food items, drinks, or fruit) are made to appease the spirits and ghosts for good fortune and it’s considered an ill omen to neglect a ghost shrine. In Dan Sai, Loei Province a three-day event called Phi Ta Khon (ผีตาโขน or Bun Luang) is held annually, usually between March and July, to honor the spirits. The most recognizable to Western eyes is the Phi Song Nang (ผีสองนาง), a Thai version of the Chinese Nü gui or the ghost of a beautiful woman that lures, seduces and then kills hapless men. The titular P refers to Pee or Pii (ผี), the Thai word for ghost. The Pii here is the Phi pop (ผีปอบ), a cannibalistic witch spirit popular in Thai folklore that tends leaves the witch’s body when she’s in a dormant state to feed on the intestines of whoever she victimizes. To Western eyes the Phi pop comes across as a combination of the vengeful ghost (onryō) from Japan and the shape-shifting fox spirit (húli jīng) with its carnivorous proclivities popular in Chinese folklore and superstition.

In Lower Isan in the northeastern region of Thailand in Si Saket province lives a young orphan Khmer girl named Aaw (Suangporn Jaturaphut) with her ailing, superstitious grandmother (Pisamai Pakdeevijit). To protect herself grandmother has initiated Aaw in the ways of Khmer black magic. All she has to do is obey the three sacred rules. No longer able to treat grandmother’s deterioriating health with the medicine she’s able to procure in her peasant village in the valley of the Mun River on the border with Cambodia Aaw is forced to seek employment in Bangkok. In Bangkok Aaw is picked up by Pookie (Opal) and before long harsh reality sets in. She’ll be working as a go-go dancer in the Pbar where she’ll be servicing foreign clients. Before that Mamasang (Manthana Wannarod) changes her name to Dau and she will broken into her new employment by bar owner Martin (Paul Spurrier). A bitter rivalry develops between Dau and club favorite May (Narisara Sairatanee) with the latter’s accomplices Mee (Amy Siriya) and New (Supatra Roongsawang) trying to sabotage her at every turn. In her darkest hour Dau turns to her grandmother’s black magic to help turn her fortune. As she sinks deeper into destitution and prostitution Dau breaks the three sacred rules one by one. Will anybody be able to stop the evil that Dau has summoned?

It would be something of a misnomer to call P an exploitation movie as it never is very exploitative to begin with. Even though it concerns itself with sex tourism, prostitution, and go-go dancers everything in P stays within the realms of the respectable. The most risqué, if it can be called that, is the sapphic tryst between Aaw/Dau and Pookie – but P goes well out of its way not to make a thing out of it. The go-go dancing sequences are usually sexier than the implied prostitution scenes that precede a kill. Where P really shines is in the ways it finds to creatively kill Johns on a limited budget. First and foremost P is a human interest drama and the supernatural – and horror elements are tangential and secondary to that. When P does focus on the horror it follows the conventions of the ghost horror subgenre without ever rocking the boat. Where it really gets interesting is how it treats the exorcism scene. Instead of a typical exorcism the purging of Dau’s demon bears more of a resemblance to a drugs withdrawal scene. Far more troubling is that P isn’t really all that interested in offering social commentary on the political machinations behind the circumstances in which it forces its lead character. Spurrier acknowledges that sex tourism and coerced prostitution do exist, but seems to be in no apparent hurry to make or take a stance either way. P is a horror where the unflinchingly bleak picture of modern day Bangkok is often more frightening, especially when the neon signs come on, than the ghost at its center.

Greatly adding to the mystique of P is a tour de force performance of Suangporn Jaturaphut. That Aaw/Dau mirrors Jaturaphut’s own life experiences so closely greatly adds to the authenticity of P. Suangporn also grew up under-privileged and disenfranchised in the slums of Bangkok and only took to acting as a means to pay for her ill mother’s mounting medical expenses. Her mother saw to it that she went to school and got herself an education as to not fall into the ever-looming threat of prostitution. In the decade-plus since P Suangporn has enrolled in Assumption University and eventually received her B.A. in Chinese for Business. Little is known what became of Jaturaphut post-B.A. but it’s safe to assume that she simply disappeared in the anonomity of everyday civilian life. She appears to not have disavowed her involvement in P in the years since but it’s unlikely that we will ever see Suangporn on the big screen again. Director Paul Spurrier has since worked as a cinematographer on the television series Edge of the Empire (2010), helmed his third feature The Forest (2016) and the television series Eullenia (2018-present). In other words, Spurrier has naturally become part of the Thai cinematic landscape.

Thailand has long been the mecca of cheap action and in the last couple of years has been making a comeback in terms of horror. While not as visible as China, Hong Kong, and Japan since the 2000s the country is steady on the rise again. P was unlike, say, the preceding year’s The Sisters (2004) not nearly as blatantly imitative of Ringu (1998), Ju-on: The Grudge (2002), and South Korea’s A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003). While ghost movies like Shutter (2004) and the Art Of the Devil (2004-2008) franchise are staples in Thai, it’s movies like Meat Grinder (2009) that prove that Thailand has come a long way since Universal monster romps The Wolf Girl (1977) and Werewolf (1987). Like the best Asian horror P draws from rich local folklore and superstition and coupled with Spurrier’s almost documentary-like gaze it makes P an atmospheric little ditty. Anybody remotely familiar with Asian ghost horror will find nothing novel here, and just like Verónica (2017) and We Are Not Alone (2016) it was quietly released on Netflix. P was not going to revitalize the ghost subgenre, but it deserved better than that.