Sunday, September 1, 2013

Salamamgkero (1986)

... aka: Magician, The
... aka: Magic of the Universe
... aka: Monster of the Universe

Directed by:
Tata Esteban

At a circus, world renowned magician Professor Jamir (Michael De Mesa) makes his young daughter Freza (Sunshine) disappear. Unfortunately, he cannot get her back regardless of how many times he says "Kazaam!" or "Kaboom!" Freza has somehow vanished into thin air without a trace. Desperate for answers, Jamir and his wife Lovina (Tanya Gomez), accompanied by their pudgy young stage assistant Bojok (Tom Tom), make a trip deep into the jungle to consult prophet / sorcerer Master Ahura (Turko Cervantes). Ahura immediately informs them they're all in grave danger from demonic forces. He sends his assistant outside to decapitate a monkey, makes everyone eat raw monkey brains, chants and then speaks in the missing girl's voice. She reveals that she is in trouble but doesn't elaborate any upon that. Hardly information worthy of having to consume raw monkey brains to get if you ask me. Jamir and company decide to take their act to the road in their awesome decked out bus, which has a large monkey head fastened to the grill. During his next act in a small village, Jamir's entire audience and his wife all mysteriously vanish during his "Swords of Death" routine. Just what in the hell is going on? Read on, dear friends...

So as it turns out, Jamir's long-deceased great grandfather Lolo Omar (also played by De Mesa) is at the root of the problem. 100 years earlier he cursed one of his disciples, a witch named Mikula (Armida Siguion Reyna), who was banished for misusing her powers for her own evil gain. Mikula was turned infertile and has had to live the past century holed up in her castle lair with a giant throbbing forehead. Now she wants to enact her revenge against poor innocent Jamir and his family and, while she's at it, put the whole world under her diabolical control. Helping her in her schemes are a flamboyant half monkey / half man named Tumok (Rene Johnson), gold-painted muscleman and executioner Krug (Rex Roldan) and a dozen or so snorting, rubbery, pig-like ghouls. They all use Globo, a buck-tooth magic mirror that looks like a cross between a crustacean and a bunny rabbit and speaks mumbled, incomprehensible gibberish, to sometimes track what our hero is doing.

Jamir is visited by the ghost of his grandfather, who relays all the crucial information our hero needs to save his wife and daughter and destroy the witch. The ancestral medallion Jamir wears around his neck has helped protect him thus far from Mikula, but he also needs to not only gain knowledge and boost his confidence before taking on the forces of evil, but also acquire a "regalia" (a sacred staff of justice the enables one to control nature) from a magical geisha named Siddha (Gina Alajar) to fight her. Jamir and his tubby little sidekick venture into the woods and encounter an evil swordsman, get kidnapped by a tribe of banana-devouring dwarfs in loincloths and white face paint and run across Kleriga (Liza Lorena), the crazy-haired "forest guardian" whose own daughter has been killed by Mikula and wants revenge herself. Kleriga can shoot lightning bolts out of her eyeballs but that doesn't save her from getting her head melted off. Bojok gets kidnapped while outside taking a dump and is dragged back to the lair where he's forced to karate fight another little boy for the witch's amusement. Lovina manages to temporarily escape into the jungle, where she encounters a swamp monster and a guy whose wife has been cursed to slowly turn into stone. Can Jamir locate the castle and save everyone before it's too late?

This colorful, busy juvenile fantasy adventure seems aimed at children but it would probably never pass muster as a kid's movie here in the United States without a few snip-snips. The animal killing, blood and gore, eye gouging, a head that bubbles, swells, bleeds and eventually explodes, a potion made from decapitated human heads and more would have to go. That aside, this childish tale is meandering, unfocused, irritating, predictable and filled to the rafters with too many incidental characters. Attention is shifted away from our hero for long stretches of time; so long in fact that you start forgetting all about him! As a result, the quest aspect of this one is less than compelling. The final showdown between the forces of good and evil doesn't even happen until the very end and is over in a matter of just a few minutes. The actor playing our hero is pretty dopey and lacks charisma. The lady playing the witch has about the opposite problem. She goes completely over the top into camp territory. I guarantee you'll get sick of her following every line of dialogue cackling "Ha! Ha! Hahahahaha! Ah! Ah! Hahahahaha!" very quickly.

The art direction and make-ups are fairly good for the budget, the editing is terrible and, despite most of the scenes being heavily drenched in red and blue light, this whole production feels rather dreary and grim. The director was clearly inspired by American fantasy films of the early 80s; particularly those that utilized Jim Henson studio effects, such as the previous year's Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. This one even throws in a random and completely out-of-place dance party sequence (!) where the monsters sing, bounce around and play instruments fashioned out of bones. What's sorely lacking here in comparison to the Henson films this desperately wants to be (aside from a healthy budget) is a true sense of wonder and, well... "magic." I'm actually surprised someone even bothered dubbing this at one point because the market for something like this in English-speaking countries was probably pretty slim.

No director, writer or producer is credited on the print that I viewed, though they did make sure Globo (a piece of rubber sitting on top of a television set) got special billing during the opening credits. Globo, you diva! Deimos has released this on DVD on the set "Eastern Horrors, Volume 3." It's been double billed with Counter Destroyer (1989; aka The Vampire Lives).

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