Skip to content

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.

Plot: nymphomaniac explores the sordid underbelly of Stockholm

Anita Swedish Nymphet was one of the last directorial efforts from Swedish screenwriter Torgny Wickman. Wickman is mostly remembered for Ur Kärlekens Språk (1970), released internationally as The Language Of Love, that sparked massive protests in London upon release. Skräcken har 1000 ögon (1970), released internationally as Fear Has A 1,000 Eyes, allegedly was the first Scandinavian erotic horror movie of note. Anita - Ur En Tonårsflickas Dagbok (released internationally as Anita Swedish Nymphet, as it will be referred to hereafter) wasn’t Wickman’s first foray into sexploitation. It is, for all intents and purposes, a reimagining of his earlier Eva - den utstötta (1969), with Christina Lindberg replacing Solveig Andersson, and one of the early roles for Stellan Skarsgård.

During high school Christina Lindberg started modeling, first in bathing suit in local newspapers and later for nude pictorials with Mayfair, Lui and Playboy. She was a Penthouse Pet in 1970. In 1973 she released her photo book This Is Christina Lindberg by her photographer and soon-to-be husband Bo Sehlberg. Sehlberg refused to let her work with other photographers and forced Lindberg out of exploitation cinema. For much of the 1970s Gothenburg-born starlet Christina Lindberg was the subject of a number of mostly impoverished exploitation films awash with full frontal nudity and simulated sex. Together with Janet Ågren, and the lesser known Leena Skoog, Christina Lindberg was one of the more recognizable faces in the Scandinavian exploitation industry. A few exceptions notwithstanding Lindberg's filmography is about as nihilistic as it is depressing.

Christina debuted in the naturalistic and very matter-of-fact comedy Rötmånad (1970) (or Dog Days internationally). It was good-natured and amiable despite its nasty Darwinian streak. Things got considerably darker with Exponerad (released in the US as The Depraved) and Maid In Sweden (1971). The latter mostly resembles Anita Swedish Nymphet and the former was remade in Italy three years later as The Minor (1974) with Gloria Guida. 1973 was a career-defining year for Lindberg as she starred in both this, and the infamous rape revenge caper Thriller – En Grym Film. Thriller – En Grym Film (1973) contained hardcore porn inserts, and even an actual corpse. It sort of was a Swedish remake of Turkish revenge drama Golden Girl (1973) with Filiz Akin. As an exercise in nihilism it easily matches, if not surpasses, Niko Mastorakis’ Island Of Death (1976) and Meir Zarchi’s I Spit On Your Grave (1978) in its commitment to shock and offend as much of its viewership as possible in little under two hours.

Anita (Christina Lindberg) is a 16-year-old student and left to fend for her own in a cold, uncaring society that has written her off before she was able to make something of herself. Anita has a problem. She's a nymphomaniac, a concubine of despise. Her classmates shun her, her parents consider her a lost cause and have cut her off. When not even her family cares for her plight, no wonder then that every lowlife and degenerate in Stockholm tries to take advantage of her when the possibility arises. The only that actually goes out of their way to make Anita feel comfortable is psychology student Erik (Stellan Skarsgård). She comes knocking on Erik's door all battered, bruised, and broken. Black-eyed and with blood seeping from her lip. As they mutually engage in household chores in and around Erik’s studio apartment he takes the time to let Anita tell her story.

She has sollicited men at the local pub, the train station, the library, the art club, and in the streets. How she ended up falling in with Stockholm’s least desirable, leading to her arrest during a drugbust. In her darkest hour she threw herself at closeted lesbian social worker Agnes (Berit Agedal, as Berit Agerdal), and to make ends meet worked in a burlesque cabaret. From all this Erik concludes that Anita's rampant nymphomania must be the product from some unprocessed childhood trauma and/or neglect. Anita confides in Erik that he's one of the few to be friendly to her despite her vulnerable emotional/psychological state, and the only to never take advantage of her condition. Not even when she threw herself at him. Erik on his part figures that it's not sex what Anita has been seeking all this time, but love and human connection. The way he sees it the only way for Anita to be cured is to experience a real orgasm while being with a man that truly loves her. The morning after experiencing love (and not sex) for the first time Anita returns home to find that her parents have changed the door locks...

Whereas British, Italian, and German sex comedy starlets would typically alternate between light fare and more cynical outings, the deeper Christina Lindberg got into her career the bleaker and unpleasant her projects became. The advent and legalization of hardcore pornography in 1979 instantly made redundant the entire softcore genre and nudity-heavy variants of both comedy and horror. The increasing demand for actresses to do hardcore led to several (Paola Senatore, Lilli Carati, Ilona Staller, and Brigitte Lahaie, to name three Italian and one French example) changing careers. Stockholm never had its own regional variant of Madrid, Spain's Cine-S, the pornochanchada from São Paulo, Brazil, or the maple syrup porn from Québec, Canada. Sweden (and Finland too, for that matter) had always been very liberated compared to the rest of Europe - and thus a regular soft erotica industry made no sense. It's sad that the first victim of that was Christina Lindberg, one of Sweden's greatest sex symbols up until that point.

As unbelievable as it may sound today international English-language distributors had the gall to cut the promotional trailer in such a way to make Anita Swedish Nymphet look as an innocuous coming of age drama as Faustine and the Beautiful Summer (1972) or a general audience goofy sex comedy as Herzblatt oder Wie sag' ich's meiner Tochter? (1969). It presented itself as an exposé of something that happens to "every girl" when she reaches "a certain age." As exploitative as the Schoolgirl Report (1970) series were they never were as intentionally nasty and bleak as the average Christina Lindberg romp. Maid In Sweden (1971) pretty much suggested what Lindberg's early career was going to consist of. Christina, 23 at the time, is seldom seen smiling, always on the verge of crying - and it doesn't help one bit that every other movie she did tried to outdo the last in terms of wanton cruelty and nihilism. In that sense it's a sobering realization that Rötmånad (1970) was Christina Lindberg's finest hour, and that it was only and invariably downwards from that point going forward. While the tricks it plays may be underhanded and deplorable at least it delivers exactly what it promises.