Saturday, February 12, 2011

Horror Film Review

A House of Mad Souls (2003):  You've heard me say Thai horror films are not to be missed, that they're on par or even better than most of the drivel oozing out of Hollywood.  Sadly, this is the exception that shoots that rule all to hell.

So what's wrong with it?  The problems are legion.  First, let me say that whoever was in charge of putting the subtitles together must have done it on a Friday at around 4:45 PM.  And was drunk.  And maybe high on Sharpie fumes.  Look,  despite my English degree, I'm not a language prude (which should be obvious if you've read this blog).  But mistakes in spelling, grammar, syntax...very distracting.  Worst of all is what happened at the film's climax.  I'll get to that.

The opening credits gave me hope.  Spooky music, nice graphics, very professional looking.  It was all downhill from there.  A man (named Man, by the way) breaks up with his doctor girlfriend, Jitta (played by Cindy Burbridge).  He's a real wuss about it, whining and such.  She's shattered, moves out of the big city and back to a suburb where she started doctoring eight years earlier.  Back then, she had an 8 year-old boy for a patient who really loved her.  When she moved to the city, he basically gave up and died.  We are never told what ailed him.  Now that she's back, she starts seeing a boy in odd places and weird things start to happen.  She finally makes the connection, digs through medical records, and finally get the story from the hospital's director.  The boy's father was also a doctor and went loopy when the kid died.  He took him home, propped him up in a chair and acted as though he were alive.  Reading to him, trying to feed and give him water...I wasn't going to mention this, but maybe I should.  You wonder why the boy hasn't decomposed at all over eight years.  This is answered when the father puts him in a bathtub and rubs oddly colored liquids over his body.  Here's the part you won't like:  they show the boy completely naked a number of times.  From the front.  Yeah, I know.  It was definitely one of the final nails in this film's coffin.  Anyway, the lady doctor convinces the dad to let his son go.  By this I mean cremate the body and do the Buddhist ceremony thing. 

So all is right with the world as far as the lady doctor is concerned.  That is until she goes back into the medical records room and finds out...what?  I'd love to tell you, really I would, but here's where the subtitles failed.  Close up shots of files that would enable the viewer to read what the doctor is reading sort of lose their dramatic punch when the written language is Thai and the subtitles guy didn't bother to translate any of it.  (I picture him with a Sharpie jammed up each nostril and jug of Mad Dog  20/20 between his legs.)  When she reads the files, the doc goes bananas and runs out of the hospital like her ass is on fire.  What I cobbled together from the final shots and common sense leads me to believe the whole hospital staff were ghosts.  Or maybe she is.  Hell, I don't know.  It didn't help that the Netflix DVD took a crap at the very end.  Honestly, at that point, I didn't mind.


Acting:  I've seen better acting in toilet paper ads.  I wish I was kidding.  Cindy Burbridge is not an actress as far as I can tell.  She was Miss Thailand World but looks about as Thai as Julia Roberts.  The boy was annoying, his voice sounding like a feline having a crisis.  The only glimmer of talent was the boy's father, but that was cancelled out by the bathtub scene.  Ew. 
Story:  In a word?  Boring.  The same idea was done to near perfection in Dorm (also a Thai film).  Direction:  Hand-held camera work can sometimes create great tension and give a horror film a unique look.  Not so in this case.  It created a cheap, school-project feel.  And the narrative flow was totally sabotaged by constant flashbacks to events we saw only ten minutes earlier.  It was done to pad the 84 minute running time, I'm sure of it.  Perhaps most distracting of all was the horrible sound and lighting. 
Production Values:  Um...what production values?  Yeah, really bad.  I'd love to know the budget of this one.  If it was more than a hundred bucks, I'd be surprised.  The film stock looks like it was stored under water. 
Gore/FX:  None and none.  I can forgive a lot if there's copious amounts of inventive carnage.  Nothing to be found in this movie. 
Ending:  I think there was a twist  but can't be certain due to the subtitle snafu.  Beyond that, however, we find Jitta sitting on a bench decked out in full makeup and jewelry and making supermodel poses while we're treated to more flashbacks.  That's when the DVD gave up the ghost (groan-inducing pun intended). 
Verdict:  Should you watch A House of Mad Souls?  You should not watch it and (I can't believe I'm saying this) I would rather watch Paranormal Activity or The Last Exorcism again than this awful mess.  I still say Thai horror is some of the best out there...just not this one.  My advice?  Go watch Dorm or Shutter again.

My Rating:  1 out of 5

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