Living off spirits

When fear is entertainment, all the old beliefs in ghosts and spirits are "cultural assets" with the potential for big profits – especially today. New sound and image technology is scaring the "dollars and cents" out of horror fans both at home and abroad.

Clicks clacks, moans and whispers

"Khun Paen felt no fear. He recited the spell that woke the child spirit, who began to speak. Khun Paen danced. He leapt into the air and rode on the back of the spirit. The guman thong (child spirit) would protect his father from danger."

From Khun Chang-Khun Paen, the episode in which the guman thong is removed from the womb of khun Paen’s wife, Buakli. The version recited by Master Storyteller Kru Jaeng during the reign of King Rama IV

Although the traditional oral recitation of the folk tale Khun Chang-Khun Paen involved only the clacking of wooden sticks (krab) and the nuanced voice of the storyteller, they were often enough to conjure up pictures of the newborn spirit in the audience’s imagination. The storyteller’s job was helped, of course, by the widespread belief

in ghosts and the supernatural that permeated life in the past. In 1957, a radio play about ghosts hit the AM airwaves in the dark hours of the night, captivating listeners in Bangkok and all around the country. The play’s producers were constantly working to outdo themselves, coming up with new spine-chilling storylines that would keep listeners tuned in. Then, with the advent of FM radio, horror fans were treated to a program called The Shock, which gave people an opportunity to phone in and relate their own personal encounters with ghosts and the spirit world live over the radio.

Traces of a deranged mind on paper

Once fear takes hold of your imagination, it is not long before images of monsters and spirits come spilling out. Short-story writer Hem Vejakorn is a case in point. His tales of demons and ghosts shook up the publishing world in the years right after World War II. His popular success inspired publishers to start printing one-baht comic books filled with Thai-style stories from beyond the grave. After 1982, novels and comic books began to feature Western ghosts, most notably the "farang" vampires on the cover of Banleusarn’s Shock magazine that hit newsstands in 1983. Today, there are ghost stories of every description available to fans of the genre. So whether you prefer J-horror manga or Western-style horror flicks or the old-timey Thai ghost comics at 5 to 10 baht a pop, you are sure to find something to send shivers down your spine.

Ghost movies…today

The earliest locally-made ghost movies were cheap affairs that blended fear and laughter. But many of the ghost films made today are quality products with box office returns in the hundreds of millions of baht. Advances in image and sound technology and the dedication of experts both behind and in front of the camera – everyone from directors to screenwriters, cinematographers, special effects engineers, sound designers, actors, and producers – have resulted in a resurgence in popularity for Thai-made ghost movies here at home and abroad.