Folklore has often been exploited by filmmakers in search of exotic material. Something less frequent is the movie that successfully exploits an authentic cultural concept with equal parts humor and reverence. The thin line (perhaps illusory) lines between love and hate, right and wrong are examined with shocking violence and poetic silliness in Mondo Macabro's seasonally appropriate Mystics in Bali. An anthropologically intriguing cinematic capsule of cultural legend, this is by no means a serious flick. Instead, in true classic 'midnight movie' fashion, we have a catalogue of atrocities and action -- a trick-or-treat bag full of funky kung-fu, flying heads, and black magic. After being out of print for several years, MM releases this one-time PAL release for region one aficionados.
The story, as it is, combines serious elements of an exotic people's belief systems with camp and humor. While this lessons the true fright potential, and eliminates any true pretence of drama, Mystics clearly isn't a film concerned with character sensitivity. Instead, what you see is what you get -- in this case, a monster mash of epic proportions. Catharine, a young American woman on vacation in Bali, is researching black magic. Asking her native friend Mahendra to introduce her to a local witch, skilled in the arts of the Leyak, she is taken in as a student . . . at a price. While Catharine is sleeping the witch uses her head to fly through the night, sucking babies from out their mother's wombs from between their legs. (Yikes!) This flying head, by the way, is captured complete with glistening entrails and a spinal chord! Mahendra convinces his uncle, a powerful warlock, to intercede on Catharine's behalf, leading to enough madness and mayhem to satiate even the most jaded gore gourmet!
Mystics in Bali manages to create a satisfying whole from uneven story elements, lop-sided characters, and ridiculous set-pieces. Tension is maintained through its open handed acceptance of the marvellous and bizarre. As crazy as flying heads and battling Leyak are, it should be noted that the story is fairly faithful to authentic folklore. Even the more gruesome features are representative of the culture's authentic beliefs, reflecting the superstitions of the people, and thereby making it as valuable as a piece of culture as it is entertainment. Pig women, flying heads, and riding hags are all based on the religious beliefs and legends of Indonesian society. The belief that witches can use unsuspecting hosts during the night as horses/vessels upon which to ride throughout the countryside is just one belief here that finds its way into the folk tales of several countries. In Africa, a Hag can ride a man across the village, draining his strength like a vampire, until he dies; similarly, Europe abounds with accounts of witch-women borrowing various skins and body parts to ride upon during midnight revels. The very strangeness of these matters, and the ancient beliefs and associations that they represent, lend spice and authenticity to the loopy narrative.
Mystics In Bali is presented in its original aspect ratio (2.35.1). Enhanced for anamorphic TV, this NTSC version is in every way superior to the old PAL release. Re-mastered from the original negative, colors are startling and bold, telling their colorful story with brazen hues of reds and black. Little print damage is evident, seen only in a brief amount of grain. Audio is featured in Dolby Digital Stereo, dubbed in English. Lacking subs or alternate language choices, the track is nevertheless clean and well balanced.
Extras are exciting if not as generous as one has come to expect from MM, including the essay 'How To Be A Leak,' which describes the occult practices shown in the film, a filmography for H. Tjut Djalli (the director), and an essay from Pete Tombs exploring the history of Indonesian horror cinema. Of further interest is the original Trailer and, finally, the Mondo Macabro promo reel. Good goofy times await!
Review by William P. Simmons
|Released by Mondo Macabro|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|