Monday, May 28, 2007

Vamp or not? Satan’s slave

DVD set

This 1982 Indonesian film directed by Sisworo Guatama Putra is a real mismatch of various horror genre staples. According to the DVD box it is the Indonesian version of Phantasm (1979). In truth it is way too long since I have watched that movie to be able to comment on any similarities in the content, but there are no silver balls – I know that much. It also has a strong haunted house theme, an undead theme that fluctuates between zombie and vampire and a witchcraft/Satanic overtone. Again, according to the blurb this is one of the first movies to use Islamic belief as a way of dealing with the undead. That said the story synopsis on the box bares little resemblance to the plot of the film I saw.

mother comes to the windowGiven there is no cast list I will be unable to match actors with characters. Essentially however, we begin at the funeral of Mrs Murnato. Her death has left behind the father, a successful business man, and two kids, Rita and Tommy. The night after the funeral Tommy sees his mother float to the window, stylistically based on Salem’s Lot I feel. She calls his name and gestures for him to follow, which he does. This is seen by Rita.

eyes of the deadThe next day Rita visits the grave and sees Tommy, but he runs off. His friends suggest that he see a fortune teller who warns him of great danger and says that he must rely on black magic. Back at home strange things are happening. The phone keeps ringing and asking is it is Tommy’s house, a picture falls, Tommy’s nose bleeds. Then Rita’s boyfriend Herman shows up and invites her to a party. During their conversation he mentions that for 40 days after death the spirit of a dead person will walk the house.

DarminahBefore Rita goes to the party a woman, Darminah, turns up. She is a housekeeper sent by an Agency, though we recognise that she is the fortune teller. When Rita returns from the party she becomes quite bitchy with asthmatic gardener Karto, who wants them all to pray for her mother. She then sees her mother and Darminah makes an enigmatic appearance. A man is also trying to contact the father, but we don’t know why.

a vision of devilsTommy has visions of devils and being sacrificed by Darminah and so goes to get more occult books, but the man trying to see the father, a priest we discover, gives him a pamphlet on Islam. Tommy tries to pray but the windows fly open and his mother beseeches him to stop. Due to interference and snooping Karto is killed, made to look like he hung himself.

herman and his fangsHermann is going to get a shaman to exorcise the house and is killed for his trouble. Suddenly the family have the undead corpses of the mother, Herman and Karto to deal with. Now the undead are somewhat zombie like, though they do occasionally speak. Of them all Herman is the most vampirish. He has fangs and later tries to bite Rita’s neck. He can also become insubstantial.

summoning motherAs the story progresses we see that the dead are raised by Darminah and that she appears not to be human – perhaps some sort of devil, certainly punishing those who are unbelievers. Her raising of the dead and subsequent control is more zombie like (traditional rather than Romero) than vampire like and she also speaks later of taking the souls of the unbelievers – control of the soul to control the corpse is very voodoo. burning evilThe evil is defeated by the priest using the power of prayer, causing the dead to collapse and Darminah to burst into flame. Of course the use of holy icons (or prayer in this case) is much more applicable to the vampire genre than the zombie genre.

The DVD has some pixilation issues, the screen a few times just become a mass of coloured pixels. From what I can gather this is a transfer issue and not the fault of my actual disc.

Karto hungThe film itself is very pro-Islamic - those who do not believe in Allah will be attacked by evil - indeed the last section of the film is very heavy handed about this. There is nothing wrong with it being pro-Islamic but the last scene did irk due to the ham-fisted, preachy, almost propaganda way it was dealt with. That said the logic of the film’s premise is weak. Karto believes and tries to get the family to pray, yet he is still killed and raised as one of the undead.

the undeadI should mention a shaman who is called in to exorcise the house towards the end of the film, who calls to the God Batara. One assumes this is in reference to the Balinese god of the underworld Batara Kala, who was also the creator of light and the Earth. Given the shaman fails, and later Islam succeeds, one wonders whether this was intended as propaganda to suggest that the film viewers in Indonesia should embrace Islam and forget the old traditional God forms.

herman tries to biteA fascinating, if religiously unsubtle movie, but is it Vamp? I’m tempted to say no. The undead have aspects of ghost, zombie and vampire. Herman is the most vampiric but his fangs are only there on the first visit. The attempted bite is in a typical vampire style, but may just have been convenient or, more likely, was simply referential to the many styles the film apes. The undead speak the names of the family, but we can never be sure if that is not Darminah speaking through them. This is much more zombie/ghost with a splattering of vampire hue.

The imdb page is here.

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