When Kevin Ragsdale and his wife had their first child, they decided to take him to Thailand (his wife’s country of origin) to introduce him to the family. Kevin’s brother Rich and Rich’s girlfriend tagged along, and while dealing with considerable jet lag, the two decided to take a walk through the surrounding jungle. Little did they know that their late night stroll would lead to inspiration.
As Rich and his girlfriend continued their trek, they came to a clearing. Around the clearing, they found numerous “retired” ghost houses in various states disarray.
“My first reaction was this is really cool,” Rich laughed. “And then, you know, we’re poking around and it suddenly occurs to me that maybe this is a little stupid!”
You see, ghost houses are an ancient tradition in Southeast Asia. The small, often elaborate structures are placed outside homes and businesses set aside as a sacred space for spirits who might visit the structure. It’s meant to appease those spirits, but to also set up a place to commune with the spirits of nature. They are highly regarded and are literally set on pedestals among the communities.
The repository, a ghost house graveyard as the brothers came to call it, set a fire in their imaginations.
“It was something we’d never seen before in an American horror film,” Kevin pointed out, “but we thought it could be very cool and that American audiences would be open to it.”
Kevin and Rich sat down to flesh out the story and then brought in screenwriters because, as they both admitted, dialogue isn’t their strong suit, and soon their script was complete.
Aptly named, Ghost House, centers on Julie and Jim, an American couple played by Scout Taylor-Compton (Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween 2) and James Landry Hebert (Super 8, “Westworld”), on a romantic vacation in tropical Thailand. When Julie disturbs an old ghost house, she soon finds herself both haunted and hunted by an angry female spirit.
Now that they had a script, it was time to work for funding which the brothers tell me wasn’t the easiest quest.
“Yeah, it took a while when we’re telling people why don’t you help us fund this movie in Thailand…where you’ll have no control,” Rich explains.
“And it’s halfway around the world,” Kevin piped in.
“Come on,” Rich said, “no one does anything weird with their money in Thailand!”
Regardless, the funding was finally secured and casting began in earnest with Taylor-Compton and Hebert coming onto the project rather quickly. The largest question mark for the brothers became casting the Thai cast. They had no idea what the local acting pool was like, and the language barrier presented its own problem, especially for the pivotal character of Gogo, Julie and Jim’s driver and the man who ultimately explains the ghost houses and helps them when things get terrifying.
Their blessing came in Michael S. New. The actor, who is half-Thai, Half-Canadian was perfect for the role that was based on the Ragsdales’ driver on their own fateful trip to Thailand.
Through it all, it seemed that, though it was definitely work getting started, the way things fell together was kismet. Acclaimed make-up and prosthetic designer Vincent Van Dyke set to work designing the phenomenal special effects make-ups for a shoot that was made up of predominantly practical effects.
Meanwhile, Rich, who was already directing the film, set to work composing a glorious score made up of orchestral pieces that paid homage to great classic horror films, synth-style compositions as a nod to the horror scores of John Carpenter, and a mixture of local ethnic Thai musical sounds. When the three come together, they create something that works in ways you cannot imagine, and I, for one, hope the score is released on CD or in download form, as well, for genre fans who love the music as much as the acting.
What’s more, the film spans the gap between East and West beautifully, a fact that Kevin points out ultimately works due to two distinct factors.
“My wife was there constantly,” he says. “I should have given her a producer’s credit on the film. She was really a guiding force.”
And the other factor? The almost entirely Thai crew.
The Ragsdales spent a lot of time talking to the crew about how they made movies and reinforcing that while it wasn’t really a Thai movie, it ultimately wasn’t an American movie either.
“We really wanted it to be an international film,” Rich finally explained.
The formula worked. Ghost House opened at #2 in the Thailand box office and has continued to see that same sort of welcome throughout Southeast Asia in places like Cambodia, Myanmar, and Malaysia.
The Ragsdales’ production company is currently working on a few different projects and if Ghost House is any indication, I think we can expect great things from KNR Productions!
Ghost House is currently available on Video on Demand. Check out the trailer below!
All photos provided courtesy of Rich Ragsdale