Checking into the Checkinn99 a few Sundays back for the jazz session, and to meet up with two friends — Frank (name changed), an international man of mystery, and Eric, a professional portrait photographer — I sat on the usual wicker chairs as a jazz trombone player belted out his blues.
Bar manager Chris bolts through the door and grabs me by the shoulders: “James, there’s some people you must meet!”
These people are a portly American ghost-hunting enthusiast, and expat filmmaker Kaprice Kea who, having just directed contemporary horror The Attic, has some ghostly ‘previous’.
They are here investigating the fable surrounding ‘the white glove’, a ghostly image captured by the aforementioned photographer Eric Nelson. The production team began probing for further Checkinn ghost stories.
Did I have any stories to contribute?
Do I believe in ghosts?
Have I even seen one?
“Hmmmm. Okay, maybe.”
The truth is I do have a soft spot for ghosts.
As a kid I camped out in the library immersing myself in the supernatural. These ghost reference books were kept in the non-fiction section.
Hmmm… Non-fiction? There must be something in it…
So I spent most of my childhood shivering under the duvet convinced the Brown Lady of Plucky or the Headless Horseman had materialized in my bedroom. Yeah, me and ghosts go way back.
As I’m chewing over the possibility of an afterlife, Chris drops the bombshell.
The lease is not being renewed at the bar, the Checkinn, Sukhumvit’s most popular nightlife venue, is on the road, and this, this film project, is the last chance to document the venue.
To immortalize Sukhumvit’s oldest nightlife venue with real life ghost footage suddenly became our collective mission.
It takes a moment to sink in.
Those literary events? The theater productions, Chris Wegoda dressed up in women’s tights for the Rocky Horror show. No, surely they can’t take this away from us. They can’t tear down the venue where Robin Williams held court for a week during the filming of Good Morning Vietnam?
Is the world insane?
How can this happen?
How can anyone demolish the venue where Bob Hope entertained all and sundry during the Vietnam conflict?
The shutters can never be pulled down!
But they were and they will be.
As we began shooting things got weird fast.
Outside and to the rear of the venue, where the legendary tunnel once snaked through decadent rat infested bars, is now simply rubble. A building site launch pad for the new sanitized Sukhumvit to rise up into the darkened oily sky.
Chris Catto-Smith had his back to the rubble as he talks about that evening.
The details are hazy but him and I, legend has it, were out back being entertained by a dwarf karaoke singer. I know what you’re thinking, but hey, dwarfs need love too.
So Chris is rapping about the dwarf. As the word ‘dwarf’ leaves his lips, a figure rises up from the rubble behind him and approaches the cast and crew. You guessed it, the vertically challenged chanteuse approaches us unbeknownst to the bar manager.
She points a ghostly finger directly at us.
It is pure pantomime as each of us repeats, “She’s behind you, Chris.”
“She’s behind you!”
The dwarf stands staring at us, eyes like burning coals etching her malevolent intent into our very beings.
Is she alive?
Some state between the two?
“No, Chris, really, she’s behind you!”
But Chris doesn’t buy it. He continues his monologue before turning around the very second the dwarf disappears back down into the rubble.
The next week we are in the basement, or the dungeon, as it is fondly known, filming interviews.
Kaprice Kea directs, having ingeniously cast Jim “Bizarre Thailand” Algie and myself, as the documentary’s compelling double act. Jim Algie probing questions and eliciting colorful answers from the staff, patrons and Yours truly, the credible voice of authority in a world of shadows.
No story quite so colorful, perhaps, as the tale of the young barmaid who became demonically possessed at a Checkinn team bonding outing to the island of Koh Chang.
“It took five of us to hold her down as she bit a piece of wood in two,” Chris describes the scene.
“When we finally calmed her using an ancient black magic Khmer spell, the malevolent spirit jumps from her soul and enters the soul of one of the Checkinn lady managers.”
These are strange times we live in.
The days and nights passed until the final evening of shooting.
What began as a reality ghost hunting documentary has transformed into something else. There were plans for hidden cameras and high tech ghost detecting equipment. Plans there always are. Yes.
We had no less than five paranormal experiences to uncover. The white lady who walks across the bar each morning at 3am, the poltergeist toilet door rattler, the ex-employee who was seen applying make-up after her death, Mama Noi and her final lady drink… The stories mounted up thick and fast.
But, in the end, by the final shoot we came away with something much more than one of those dull reality ghost hunting documentaries with green lights and plasma detectors. Yeah, no heavy breathing, anorak-equipped hipsters required here.
No ghost monitoring equipment apart from the cameras. We sat and talked of old times, shot hundreds of hours of film and drank the remains of the bar stock.
No lights, no bells, no freaking whistles.
Sometimes… No scratch that. Each and every time you set out to make something creative you end up with something different to what you had in mind.
It’s like the cheesy Hollywood movie where the gal wants to date the quarterback but ends up with her nerdy male best friend and learns a valuable life lesson along the way. The gal in this case is, of course, Chris Catto-Smith and the high school is the Checkinn99.
There are, of course, ghosts in the bar, but you will have to wait for the documentary to see them.
And perhaps the real star of the show, and indeed the real ghost, is the bar itself; and the secrets it holds have been vanished forever along with those demolished walls. But maybe, the true story will live on with those who witnessed the comings and goings inside that historical old bar.
Have you spotted any ghosts on Sukhumvit?