Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Tiyanak (1988)

... aka: Goblin
... aka: Monster Baby

Directed by:
Peque Gallaga
Lorenzo A. 'Lore' Reyes

While passing through the jungle, Jopet (Crispin 'Pen' Medina) and his pregnant wife Nelia (Betty Mae Piccio) hear the sound of a baby crying. She goes to investigate, finds an adorable little baby wrapped up in leaves and picks it up, only for the infant to spring to life and go all It's Alive on her. Near where the woman was killed live the well-to-do Marsos family. Virginal daughter Christie (Lotlot De Leon), who's been away at college, decides to come back home for a visit so she can introduce everyone to her medical student boyfriend Jojo (Ramon Christopher). Upon arrival, Christie is disheartened to find that her sister Julie (Janice de Belen) is severely depressed after having had several miscarriages, including a traumatic recent one during the final trimester. Julie's been so shaken up by what she's been through recently, plus the financial burden medicine and frequent doctor's visits are putting on her and her husband Mars (Rudolf Yaptinchay), that she has a screaming nervous breakdown by simply recounting it. Being the good sister she is, Christie is forced to slap the shit out of her to calm her down and then tells her to “Trust in God.” Well, God's line's apparently busy, so someone else ends up answering her call.

After hearing several neighborhood boys talking about monsters said to be lurking in the woods, little sister Monica (Carmina Villaroel) consults her husky-voiced, deeply religious grandmother (Mary Walter, from KILL BARBARA WITH PANIC), who lays out the mythology of the creatures for us. Back when God and Satan were warring for power, three different groups formed: Those who followed God and became angels and saints, those who rebelled and followed Satan and became demons and those who were “two-faced” and refused to take a side. Those in the latter category waited out the revolution until Satan and followers were banished to hell but, by then, it was too late. Their doubt in either side trapped them on Earth, where they are cursed to live as immortal creatures. These beings took the shape of “manananggal” (a bloodsucking, winged witch), “aswang” (a shapeshifter that takes many forms, including that of a werewolf) and “tiyanak” (a vampire-like monster that imitates a child or baby in order to ensnare prey). Because these creatures are doomed to live on Earth forever, they're filled with bitterness and envy and often like to take it all out on any humans they come across.

While outside getting romantic with some guava, Christie and Jojo hear a baby crying and find an abandoned infant in the shed. They bring it back home, where Julie stakes her claim and believes it to be a blessing from God to repay her for all of the babies she's lost. Granny, on the other hand, isn't having any of it (“Maligno! That baby is a devil. Kill it!”) Despite being older and wiser, her warnings are ignored when the man of the house caves in to his wife and allows her to keep it. They name the baby “Angelica” and problems start up right away, with it constantly fussing, cutting Monica's face (which causes a very nasty infection) and tossing an angel figurine onto the floor. After it attacks Monica, Granny attempts to kill it by smothering it and pushing its stroller down the stairs but the baby retaliates and kills her instead.

For some reason, most in the family refuse to believe the baby could be at fault. Christie is skeptical at first and, after the baby disappears, Mars and Julie think it's some kind of extortion / kidnapping scheme orchestrated by a gang of thugs who are actually Jopet and his buddies looking to get revenge on the monster. Having already been attacked once, Monica certainly knows better and teams up with two neighborhood kids: servant boy Niniko (Smokey Manaloto), who witnessed the first killing, and cop's son Aries (Chuckie Dreyfuss), who has access to guns. The three go to visit kindly backwoods medicine woman Telang Bayawak (Zorayda Sanchez), who reveals that the tiyanak hides when it's injured, can only be killed with fire and that, each time it transforms from human baby to monster, it leaves behind a layer of cloth-like skin, sort of like when a snake sheds. She instructs them to get the skin and bring it to her.

Christie finally becomes a believer herself when she rescues the baby from the thugs only to almost get killed herself after it slaughters a female doctor (Suzanne Gonzales) and a nurse at the hospital. Of course, the staff doesn't believe her story and dope her up, so baby Angelica returns home. The following day, the rest of the family go to church to get the baby baptized but it screams, cries, makes candles melt and turns holy water into blood. Jopet and his goons show up with guns; prompting Julie to run off with the baby. She ducks into a movie theater showing HOUSE (1986), falls asleep and little Angelica transforms into a monster and slaughters an annoying kid who won't stop disrupting the movie for the rest of the audience. (Hell, where was Angelica two weeks ago when I went to see The Witch in a cinema packed with teens?) The gang busts in, starts shooting innocent people and Jopet finally pops a cap in the baby's head before going crazy and being hauled off by police while the theater owner chews Julie out for not paying for a ticket and screams things like “I won't watch horror films anymore!” Hilarious! Things finally end up at the house, which the monster has been using as its safe haven all this time, for a fiery finish.

The directors have clearly seen the aforementioned IT'S ALIVE (1974) because this has many scenes clearly inspired by both it and its sequels. It's hampered a bit by poor editing choices that repeatedly cut away from the action and horror scenes to show other characters discussing matters somewhere else. However, none of that means this isn't a hell of a lot of fun! Despite a run time that exceeds 2 hours, things move along quite nicely and it's filled with fun moments, decent horror scenes (especially when the baby traps the leading lady in a storage closet) and even some fully intentional laughs. It's nicely shot, the cable-controlled demon baby design is surprisingly good and the cast is decent as well. Though Julie is annoying and JoJo is a douche bag, this makes up for it with a likable female lead, great supporting roles for Walter (who had been starring in similar films since 1927!!) and Sanchez, plus kid characters who are not only not annoying but actually smarter and more resilient than most of the adults. I'm now officially stoked to see more 80s Filipino horror if they're as much fun as this one.

Co-director Gallaga previously made the “Manananggal” segment in the anthology Shake, Rattle & Roll (1984) and went on to do the “Aswang” segment in Shake, Rattle & Roll II, which he co-directed with Reyes. The two directors also teamed up on a feature-length Aswang movie in 1992, a 1999 follow-up titled Sa piling ng aswang (“In the Presence of the Aswang”) and a 2014 remake of this one titled T'yanak. The 2011 documentary The Aswang Phenomenon features an interview with Gallaga about the vampire-creature legends; which are presented as fact to just about every young child in the Philippines.


Unknown said...

This is an actually good review of a famous horror sequence in the country. I rememeber this giving me nightmares (granted I was 6 when I first watched it). Do you also post elsewhere? Really interested in regards to your critique.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Thank you. I post some reviews on Letterboxd but I should be back here full time here soon. Been a busy year!

LB account:

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