Sunday, October 1, 2023

Tamu Tengah Malam (1989)

... aka: Midnight Guest

Directed by:
Atok Suharto

If you think your love life is a mess, spending 80 minutes with these folks should make you feel a little better about that. Wealthy, middle-aged Ningsih (Ully Artha) falls passionately in love with younger shirt-chaser Kadir (Hengky Tornando), but their doomed romance is rife with issues, starting with the fact she's married to Sulaiman (Jack Maland) and has a young daughter, Mirna. To solve that issue, she promptly kicks them both of them out of the house and moves her new man in instead. However, Kadir is a player and isn't content with just one woman. He's been going behind Ningsih's back with a youthful widow named Suryani (Yurike [Prastica]). With his sugar mama supposedly gone for the evening, Kadir sneaks Suryani over, but Ningish comes home early and catches the two of them in the act. 

The spurned adulteress then goes into a rage. She throws a vase at Suryani's head, bites a chunk of flesh off of Kadir's arm and spits it on the ground (!) and then runs around the room frantically trying to skewer both of them with a spear. That ends when Kadir flings a machete across the room into her back and then Suryani finishes her off with the spear. The two then hide the body in a secret room in the cellar. However, before dying, Ningish promised to return from the grave to get revenge... and that she does!

Years later, Kadir and Suryani have married. The bookish, shy and now-teenage Mirna (Dian Nitami) is friends with the wilder and more rebellious Lisa (Sally Marcellina), who just so happens to be Suryani's daughter from her previous marriage, though both girls are oblivious to everything their parents have been up to. Mirna and Lisa get together at Lisa's mansion with some friends to study for an exam, where a hidden passageway and a strange statue made of green crystals, rumored to be some kind of vessel to summon demons, are found in the basement. The teens hold a séance using the crystal, which ends up unleashing Ningsih's vengeful spirit. Lisa is possessed, throws everyone around the room, tries to strangle a guy, spits green gunk in someone's face and then passes out. A doctor is called in and claims the incident was caused by stress from studying too hard (!!)

Both Mirna and Suryani are plagued by nightmares, with the former seeing her late mother as a leyak / leák (flying severed head with entrails attached) and the latter envisioning herself trapped in a jail cell with a worm that transforms into a snake with Ningsih's laughing head attached. While that's going on, Kadir's long-ago-healed arm wound opens back up again and starts bleeding. But it's the innocent Lisa who seems to get the bad end of the deal for most of the film. After hearing the ghost calling to her over the radio, she finds herself possessed yet again. Her face turns green, she does 360 degree spins with her head, turns holy water into blood, pukes some more and then thrusts her hand into a shaman's stomach, rips out his guts and throws him out of the upstairs window. That's followed by many more attacks on others. Another shaman is eventually called in to try to exorcise the spirit.

This alternates between wanting to be taken seriously and being just plain (intentionally) silly; almost as if it's trying to send-up The Exorcist, which it knowingly recycles plot points from, at times. As is customary with older Indonesian genre films, there are some grating comedy elements interjected into the mix, mostly centering around maid Mina (Lina Budiarti) and a girl-crazy, ass-pinching, always-horny chauffeur (Mandra Bokir) who will probably die a virgin. I'm sure these are included as a means to break up the tension but, as is often the case, they turn out to be the low points of the film. That said, at least these goofy moments are kept sidelined and aren't allowed to completely take over the film like you'd probably see if this were made in Hong Kong or Thailand at around the same time.

Aside from that, much of the rest of this is pretty great. Well, maybe not great, but it sure is entertaining and a lot of fun to watch! Remember that leyak I mentioned from Mirna's nightmare? Thankfully it turns out to be Ningsih's usual ghostly form so we get lots of scenes of a head flying around in the basement attacking people. Better yet, it gets to do so with a gigantic stretchy tongue that's used to subdue or even kill people! In one scene, it strangles a guy and then rips his head off after both of his arms get pulled off! During another amazing scene, it sprouts a small spinning saw blade at the tip (!) that's used to bore through a victim's head.

There are lots of other bizarre moments to be found here, like a scene where possessed Lisa's top half detaches from her bottom while the chauffeur tries to feel up her legs. Kadir's arm wound eventually sprouts a green snake, footage from the original murder is replayed on a TV set and the ghost writes "Hari Pembalasam" ("Judgment Day") on the wall in blood and then goes to a funeral, where she lounges on top of a gravestone wearing a white miniskirt and giant white sunglasses, admiring her own work. The whole thing has this really bizarre blue / green tint to it, though I can't tell if that's the way it was filmed or if the print is in need of color correction. I'm assuming it's the latter.

This was written by Tindra Rengat (director of the Indo cult classic MIRACLE BABY), who also shows up in cameo. The director made quite a few other obscure genre films, including Perempuan Malam / "Night Virgin" (1987), Putri Kuntilanak / THE WITCH'S DAUGHTER (1988), Melacak dendam / "Tracking Revenge" (1989; an uncredited remake of NINJA III: THE DOMINATION that I really need to see!), Misteri di Malam Pengantin / "Wedding Night Mystery" (1993), Misteri Permainan Terlarang / "Mystery of the Forbidden Game" (1993) and Roh: The Evil Spirit (2006).

I'm not aware of any official home video releases outside of Asian VCDs, and this has also never been available in an English-friendly version. The widescreen print I watched was snatched from the Flix channel.


Saturday, September 30, 2023

Las crueles (1969)

... aka: Cruel Ones, The
... aka: El cadáver exquisito
... aka: Exquisite Cadaver, The
... aka: Finom holttest (Nice Corpse)

Directed by:
Vicente Aranda

A despondent-looking young woman emerges from some dried corn stalks, takes off her jacket, kneels down and then lies her head on the tracks right before a train comes barreling through. Years later, a book editor (who is annoyingly never given a name despite being the lead character, but is played by Carlos Estrada so I'll be calling him "Carlos" from here on out) receives a small package wrapped in yellow paper. Inside is what appears to be a severed human hand. He refuses to touch it, insists it's fake, made out of wax and must be some kind of joke and makes his secretary (Alicia Tomás) swear she won't tell anybody else about it. He's next seen out in the woods burying the hand and frantically looking around to make sure nobody has seen him.

When Carlos returns home, he's greeted by his two annoying young sons, who inform him that his wife (who is also never given a name but is played by Teresa Gimpera, so she's now "Teresa") is out running around with the new neighbor and the two had been "having drinks in the kitchen" and talking "about clothes... and about men... and pills" before taking off. When the wife finally shows back up, we can quickly see this is a loveless and miserable marriage. She presents him with a telegraph asking if he'd like a forearm next. Signed "Parker."

The following day at work, Carlos receives another yellow package, this one much larger than the last. Too scared to actually open it, he takes it to a public square, leaves it on a seat and waits for a man to steal it and walk off. When he returns home, his wife hands him back the same package and claims a man brought it to their home. This time she opens it. Instead of a body part, there's a dress and a photo of an unknown brunette woman. Suspicious, Teresa starts trailing her husband and discovers the woman in the photo, who dresses in all black and seems to always be wearing black gloves, is stalking her husband and even knows where they live. Another note is left behind at their home, again mentioning the forearm.

The mysterious woman who's been signing all the letters "Parker" turns out to actually be a Parisian woman named Lucia Fonte, who's played by glamorous French actress and model Capucine. When she pulls up next to Carlos one evening and looks over, he feels compelled to hop into the car with her. The two take a silent drive to a mansion, where she tells him all of his questions will be answered if he drinks a glass of whiskey and eats a blotted paper LSD tablet. After he does, he hears voices from a woman bemoaning her lost love, who apparently didn't feel the same way about her as she did him. That's followed by the discovery of a well-preserved nude corpse in an upstairs fridge, a hallucination of a nude woman falling over and over again and brief flashbacks. The spurned lover, Esther Casino (Judy Matheson), turns out to be the train girl from the opening scene, while the man who drove her to suicide was, you guessed it, Carlos.

Carlos awakens the next day at home in his own bed, with his wife informing him that she brought him back there herself at Lucia's insistence. However, Lucia's recollections from the night before do not match the husband's. She claims it's Carlos who's been stalking her for weeks, finally showing up at her home and exposing himself to her. Fearing being raped, she slipped a sleeping pill into his drink and then called Teresa to come fetch her wayward unconscious hubby.

Finally backed into a corner, Carlos is forced to confess his affair to his wife, which we see in flashbacks. Esther was a troubled, aimless, unemployed, bored hippie into astrology and on some kind of medication that she refused to take because it made her put on weight. He first spotted her in a diner drinking a strawberry milkshake and playing with her pills (red flag!), but began a brief, intense affair with her anyway. That all ended with him eventually tiring of her bizarre behavior, moodiness and suicidal tendencies, and literally leaving her in the dust. There's now clearly some scheming going on with at least one of the characters, though it's best I not reveal any more.

This film has no reputation to speak of, few online reviews and has mostly been forgotten, which made the discovery that it's actually quite good all the more sweet. For starters, it's well-written for a change, especially in comparison to most other European mystery / suspense / gialli from this same time. There's an intriguing and twisty plot, some surprising content (electric carving knife dismemberment anyone?), interesting characters and a decent, somber mystery that reveals different layers all the way up to the end. The direction is also nice, with some tastefully done, stylish flourishes here and there using stills, sepia flashbacks, film run backwards in slow motion, out of focus shots, surrealist elements, etc. These are used sparingly to enhance the story, not distract from weak writing as we all too often see in films like this.

Performances are quite strong here, too, especially from the ill-fated Capucine (who committed suicide in 1990) as the enigmatic, possibly lesbian, possibly vengeance-seeking woman in black. On the flip side, the male protagonist is a complete dickhead and difficult to handle on at first, though that just ends up making the finale all the more satisfying. Genre regular Víctor Israel swings by for a minute as a creepy doorman and there are also small parts played by José María Blanco, Luis Ciges and Luis Induni, but focus is placed almost exclusively on the four lead characters.

The director went on to make The Blood-Spattered Bride (1972), which is highly regarded by some, and co-write THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976) before finally finding some acclaim in his homeland in the 80s and 90s, winning some of the country's top awards in the process. 

It's based on the story "Bailando para Parker" by Gonzalo Suárez, who isn't mentioned much in horror circles despite writing and / or directing some pretty interesting films himself. Some of his other work includes the short El horrible ser nunca visto / "The Horrible Being Never Seen" (1966), El extraño caso del doctor Fausto / "The Strange Case of Dr. Fausto" (1969), the underrated MORBO (1972), La loba y la Paloma (1974; called House of the Damned in the UK and US), Beatriz (1976) and Rowing with the Wind (1988), which netted him a Best Director Goya Award.

Reportedly, the production was beset with problems from the get-go, which also extended to its post production and eventual release. Director Aranda and Suárez were feuding (stemming from a previous production the two had worked on together), Aranda got injured, they went through five different scripts and then, after filming wrapped, there was a lawsuit over ownership and issues with distribution. Quite a headache.

Though this boasts a cast seemingly hand-selected to appeal to international audiences (the four leads are all from different countries: Argentina, England, France and Spain), I'm only aware of a couple of countries this was officially released in. Aside from Spain, a cut, English-language version was released theatrically in the U.S. in 1973. This same print, which is oddly missing any credits and doesn't even have a title screen (the one I'm using was taken from the trailer), was used for the later Something Weird VHS, DVD-R and streaming releases.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...