Tuesday, August 7, 2007

MYSTICS IN BALI (1981) Movie Review

I've been waiting for a chance to write about this movie for sometime, but the inavailability stateside has always held me back. But with Mondo Macabro's US DVDebut coming up on October 2nd, it is finally time to talk about...


American student Cathy has come to Indonesia to investigate and learn the black magic of the Leyak, the masters of the oldest and more powerful of the black arts. Her friend, a local named Mahendra, uses his connections to get her a meeting with one of the reclusive masters, who decides to take Cathy as a student. Cathy soon learns, through dance, hypnosis and meditation the spells of the Leyak, including transformation. But when Cathy thinks she has learned it all and attempts to leave the old woman, the Leyak master puts Cathy under a possession spell so that she can use her to collect the blood of newborns. The Leyak master literally "borrows" Cathy's head as her head detaches from her body - with her lungs, heart and organs still attached! - and flies off into the night to bring the Leyak her blood.

Coming out of Indonesia at the height of their exploitation film exporting craze, which utilized the small country's wealth of folklore, legends, and magic to bring to the screen unique sleazy movies to satiate the filmgoers around the world with sex, violence, and the bizarre. MYSTICS IN BALI has become one of the champion examples of this period of Indonesian Cinema, of which the entire movement was basically funded by the government for tax breaks and to create a small job community. The result was hundreds of micro-budget releases with an eager excitement that helped the films to overcome their technical limitations.

Director H. Tjut Djalil (who would go on to bring the world LADY TERMINATOR) goes native in this black magic filled horror film that pulls from specific regional folklore to bring to the world images they've never seen before. His approach to black magic and native superstitions is so over the top that if one did not know it was made by local, one would decry the stereotyping and almost racist depiction of the practitioners. Djalil fills the movie's soundtrack with rumbling tribal beats and rhythms to punctuate the atmosphere and to remind foreign audiences they are in a strange and new world.

Although there are obvious budget restrictions on screen, Djalil overcomes these limitations with an energetic assortment of special effects. The highlight is of course is Cathy's flying head, and the first time Djalil lets her head loose is an out-of-nowhere sucker-punch to the collective horror stomach. Unless you've grown up on Indonesia folklore, you've never ever seen something or heard of something like this before. Djalil incorporates a variety of cheap effects to bring this legend to life, from blue-screen layering and split-screens for close ups to literally flying a mannequin head with some guts attached around on string for the wide shots. The result is ludicrous but somehow hypnotically appealing. Djalil keeps the hooky effects coming as he shows transformations with a cheap WOLFMAN-style fades as more and more make up is applied with each shot, and a fifteen foot tongue that comes out of the woods in which you can almost imagine the poor sod behind a tree trying to keep control over it.

Part of the charm of any East Asia import is of course the English Dub. MYSTICS IN BALI may hold the record for one of the most stilted and blatant exposition dialogue tracks to ever be recorded. And while classic Hong Kong kung-fu flicks were usually given their audio dub by professionals in a studio, this track seems to be recorded by the first people Djalil could find on the street that spoke English, and told to read the script on the spot. Several main characters ever sound like they were dubbed by the same person! To top it all off, Djalil doesn't ever try to get the actors lips and the dialogue to match up.

Take a look into a world of cinema mostly overlooked save for the most experimental moviegoer with this wildly amusing and entertaining tale that will be sure to put a smile on your face and serve as an introduction to the world of Indonesian sleaze. There's plenty more where this one came from!


www.bali-center.de said...

Nice report about Mystics in Bali

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