Art of the Devil is a series of brutal Thai horror movies that focus on witchcraft, revenge and seductive demons. The original film isn't connected to the two sequels that followed but it is an entertaining movie in its own right. I wasn't a big fan of this instalment on first viewing, favouring the two demented sequels instead, but Art of the Devil is an effective chiller with gore, sadistic violence and dubious acting aplenty. Everything we have come to expect from a Thai horror movie.
When a millionaire spurns his pregnant mistress, she places a deadly curse on his entire family. Sure enough, each member dies in brutal fashion. The rejected mistress, who loses her unborn child in a tragic accident, sets out to reclaim her inheritance. To do this she must kill the millionaire's ex-wife, not to mention the entirety of her family as well. All in a days work for a vengeance seeking purveyor of the dark arts. A young reporter sets out to investigate the case, but he soon comes to realise you should never underestimate the power of the, um, dark arts.
The first film seems tame in comparison to its fiercer siblings, but don't panic, there is some arresting imagery along the way. As with most Thai horror movies, the lead actress certainly looks the part, which helps to ease the pain of dubious plotting, weak performances and budgetary restraints. There's a traditional lank haired demon thrown into the mix too, but thankfully she doesn't get in the way of the blossoming witchcraft.
The Art of the Devil movies are a refreshing change of pace for Asian horror fans because they favour the dark arts over vengeful demons. Of course, the relentless torture and extreme violence of later instalments don't hurt the series either. The original outing deserves a little more loving than you'll find online though, it's an effective chiller even if it doesn't break the mould.
Art of the Devil 2 shares little in common with the first film in the series, besides the obligatory gore and black magic of course. Part 2 introduces Aajaan Panor (Napakpapha Nakprasitte) to the mix, a beautiful young teacher who is humiliated by her students. The plot is convoluted but it holds your attention throughout, aided by Nakprasitte's memorable performance. The rest of the acting is, as with the film that came before it, a mixed bag of delights and disasters, but Art of the Devil 2 brings with it some glorious imagery courtesy of the Ronin Team, seven directors with a common passion for horror.
Quite why the six friends/victims decide to pay their respects to Miss Panor remains unclear, but it does give the Ronin Team a reason to bring on the torment and titillation. Which is what they do, in a series of unforgettable torture sequences that linger long in the darkest corners of the mind. My personal favourite, you ask? When dozens of salamanders claw their way out of one of the victims bodies, killing him instantly. It's a fantastic sequence, bloody, brutal and beautifully realised. In fact, I would go as far as to say it's one of my favourite moments in horror history.
Napakpapha (better known in Thailand as Mamee) was a nominee for best actress for the Bangkok Critics Assembly's 2005 awards. She was also nominated as best supporting actress for the Thailand National Film Awards. Strangely enough, the nomination was protested by Mamee and Five Star Production, who insisted that she should have been nominated in the best actress category. Five Star then boycotted the awards ceremony.
Still, Art of the Devil 2 is an accomplished horror movie if you can overlook the contrived plotting and weak performances. Embrace the bloody vengeance instead, and try to avoid falling for your teacher - that rarely ends well.
Put a love curse on her and you're asking for trouble. Miss Panor (Napakpapha Nakprasitte) is back for more pleasure and pain (pleasure in pain more like) in Art of the Devil 3 (Long khong 2), a workman-like prequel which fails to hit the same dizzy heights as part two. Once again, Art of the Devil 3 is directed by Kingkiat Khomsiri, Art Thamthrakul, Yosapong Polsap, Putipong Saisikaew, Isara Nadee, Pasith Buranajan and Seree Pongniti.
Revisiting key moments from part two and bringing together a cast of fresh and familiar victims, Art of the Devil 3 finds Miss Panor strapped to a bed in the psychiatric ward as her nurse looks on. Which works for me. Miss Panor is pregnant, as is the nurse, who also happens to be an aunt of one of the characters from part two. Art of the Devil 3 is less convoluted than part two, which works in the films favour, however, it's not nearly as satisfying either. The events of part two are woven in with aplomb, though I would definitely advise refreshing your memory before you dive into this one.
The new characters struggle to make an impact and in truth, Art of the Devil 3 falls a little bit flat. Perhaps the success of the second instalment demanded that a prequel be rushed into production, but Long khong 2 is less satisfying than part two, despite another commendable performance from Napakpapha Nakprasitte. Die-hard fans will still get a kick out of the gruesome torture sequences - the abortion sequence is difficult to watch - even if they don't quite hit the mark this time out, and it's always a pleasure to spend an evening with Miss Panor.
Unfortunately, Art of the Devil 3 pales in comparison to part two, coming on like a greatest hits collection rather than a worthy addition to the series.
So how would you rate them, I hear you ask? Art of the Devil 2 takes top spot thanks to some memorable kills, but the original outing deserves to find an audience too. The final chapter is entertaining enough but feels like a lukewarm retread of what has gone before. The Art of the Devil trilogy is a gory, occasionally glorious series of films that deserves your full attention. Enjoy.