Ghosts, zombies and vehicles with long memories run amok in “Phobia 2,” a superior T-horror anthology with four out of five segments landing in the right scare spot. The biggest hit ever for production-distribution outfit GMM Tai Hub, the pic has scored more than $3 million in Bangkok alone since its Sept. 9 release. Almost certain to become the year’s top-earning Thai movie, this in-name-only sequel to 2008 hit “Phobia” (aka “4bia”) has strong regional prospects and should be snapped up by fest programmers with appropriate slots. Limited theatrical play outside Asia is possible; ancillary ought to go gangbusters.
Light on gore and paying close attention to character and suspense, the self-contained shorts have more in common with Amicus anthologies of the ’60s and ’70s than with contempo Asian splatterfests. Like many Amicus entries, “Phobia 2” discreetly places a few of the same props in several episodes for keen-eyed fans to spot.
Atmospheric opener “Novice,” by Paween Purijitpanya, finds juvenile delinquent Pey (Jirayu Raongmanee) packed off by his exasperated mother for a spell as a trainee Buddhist monk. Pey’s bad behavior at the rural retreat coincides with the “Hungry Ghost” ritual, which involves the reawakening of a spirit and the damnation of a living soul. The “Sleepy Hollow”-like climax has the boy fleeing through a forest that comes alive in telling ways.
Visute Poolvoralaks’ “Ward” fails to deliver on a decent premise. Suffering a bad leg injury, young Arthit (Worrawech Danuwong) is placed in a hospital ward next to the dying leader of a religious cult (Gacha Plienwithi). A couple of dream sequences work OK, but the twist is pretty obvious.
The omnibus returns to form with “Backpackers.” Muscularly helmed by Songyos Sugmakanan (“Dorm”), the yarn opens with a young Japanese couple accepting a ride from a sleazy trucker (Suteerush Channukool) and his teenage sidekick (“Dorm” star Charlie Trairat, excellent). In a terrific midtale switcheroo, the yarn turns into a zombie thriller when the vehicle’s cargo is revealed. Ensuing bloodbath with super-fast, super-vicious reanimated corpses brings to mind “28 Days Later.”
Parental guilt and extremely tough punishment for dishonesty are served up in the gripping “Salvage,” by Parkpoom Wongpoom (“Alone,” “Shutter”). Thai-American singer-thesp Nicole Theriault wins the anthology’s acting prize as a used-car saleswoman whose shoddy vehicles exact a dreadful revenge.
Saving its best for last, “In the End” is a very funny “Scream”-like spoof of Thai horror moviemaking. “Alone” and “Shutter” co-helmer Banjong Pisanthanakun, here co-scripting with Mez Tharatorn, produces his best work yet with a story revolving around Kate (Phijitra Ratsameechawalit), an actress playing a ghost who turns out to actually be one. Local scream queen Marsha Vadhanapanich is a treat as herself, and there’s top-class goofery from Wiwat Krongrasri, Pongsatorn Jongwilas and Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk as panicked crew members.
Lensing is consistently excellent, with the spooky forest of “Novice” and color-desaturated images of tight spaces in “Salvage” standing out. All other technical work is of the highest order. Thai title translates as “Five Crossroads.”