Saturday, February 27, 2016

Nyi blorong (1982)

... aka: Snake Queen, The
... aka: Theendum Mohini

Directed by:
Sisworo Gautama Putra

Born in Java, Indonesia and of Eurasian descent, Suzanna Martha Frederika van Osch adopted the singular stage name Suzzanna and began acting when she was just a child. She won numerous awards then (including being named “Best Child Actress” at the Asia Film Awards in 1960) and, by 1972, she was named “Most Popular Actress in Asia” at the Asia Pacific Film Festival held in Seoul, Korea. Moving into middle age in the 80s, she became Indonesia's #1 female horror star in a series of wild genre films that seldom saw light outside of Asia. Though not her first horror efforts, it was the pair of Sundelbolong (1981; given the awkward translation “Ghost with Hole”) and Ratu ilmu hitam (also 1981; aka Black Magic 3, Black Magic Terror or The Queen of Black Magic), for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Citra Award at the Indonesian Film Festival in 1982, that helped to change the dynamic of her career. It was around this time she also married her second husband and frequent co-star, Clift Sangra, who was over twenty years her junior. Numerous other genre films throughout the 80s into the 90s more than earned the actress the nickname “The Queen of Indonesian Horror” before her retirement in the early 90s.

Suzzanna was also a tabloid fixture in her home country, with rumors circulating that she was able to maintain her good looks for so long because she had mystical powers or was a real-life witch. In 2003, she made headlines again when a feud over her estate resulted in her husband shooting her son-in-law and serving 4 months in jail for it. And this woman is almost completely unknown in Europe and here in America! That has to do entirely with the lack of availability of most of her films. Of all of her genre offerings, The Queen of Black Magic (distributed by both Lettuce and Twilight on VHS, and recipient of a 2008 DVD release through Mondo Macabro) appears to be the only one with anything resembling a decent release here.

According to the opening narration, those in Java believe that deep beneath the “Indonesian Ocean” (I think they meant Indian Ocean) lies a magical kingdom ruled over by a powerful and immortal woman named Queen Kidul (Ade Irawan). Living all by herself, the Queen yearned for a child to ease her loneliness. She prayed and meditated for days, asking the Gods to give her a baby. The Gods answered back, telling her to make a storm on the South Seas until a dragon's egg falls to the bottom. She was then to throw the egg into “The Cave of Secrets” so it could incubate and hatch into a beautiful woman with the soul of a serpent. And thus Queen Para, the Snake Queen, was born, as we see a bloody, fully-grown woman (Suzzanna, of course) bust out of a giant egg. Not content just ruling the underworld kingdom, Para also causes plenty of ruckus above ground. (Much of the mythology used in this film is from the South Seas Queen legend, which also factored into numerous other Indonesian films, like the amazing LADY TERMINATOR.)

Queen Para has managed to easily ensnare the greedy Mr. Cokro (Ratno Timoer) in more ways than one. For starters, she's already had him sacrifice his own wife and son in exchange for riches. Not content with just that, she now wants someone else who has enjoyed his money for at least one year to be killed. Cokro has her spare his last remaining child, daughter Sasti (Nena Rosier), and schemes to make Sasti's boyfriend Andika (Barry Prima) the next sacrifice. But first he has to ensure the two marry. Andika is a student and wanting to wait until after he graduates to wed, but Cokro convinces him otherwise by offering to pay for the wedding and a house, plus letting him run one of his many companies. Unbeknownst to Cokro, both Sasti and Andika suspect what he's up to and aren't easily going to fall into his trap. What no one seems to know is that the Snake Queen is also impersonating Cokro's new wife and calling herself Dewi.

Meanwhile, a young man named Johan (George Rudy), who's desperately in need of money or else he'll be killed by thugs he's indebted to, finds his way to the entrance of the Snake Queen's lair. There he encounters cackling old witch Gino (Ruth Pelupessy), who warns him of what's in store if he proceeds: “Queen Para will be in charge of your life forever!” Johan agrees to the arrangement and, after a long journey, finally makes it to the Cave of Secrets only to be greeted by a flying cobra and some beautiful young women who leap into the water when they see him. The Queen rises up out of a small pond on a platform, makes him cannibalize a baby (!) and tells him to build a special, hidden room onto his home and she'll visit him there “...next Wednesday.” Johan returns home to his wife Natri and the two are horrified to stumble upon a cat feasting on their baby girl's dismembered corpse (!) But the Queen does keep her appointment, arriving in a flying gold carriage and descending a flight of stairs, with each step lighting up as her foot touches it. She turns into a large snake during sex and kills both Johan and the wife.

Andika finally meets his future mother-in-law Dewi and falls for her. He's so smitten he ignores his fiancee, stops going to class and spends all of his time in his dorm room brooding. Believing a spell has been cast on him, Andika's roommate Norman (Dorman Borisman) decides to go see an old buck-toothed man (H.I.M. Damsyik) who teaches an aerobics class by day (!) but makes money on the side casting magic spells. They encounter a man with a flaming head whose legs and body detach and dance on their own. The figure then throws its head, which turns into the magician's head and then a snake before disappearing. What that has to do with anything else is beyond me but it happens nonetheless. As Andika and Dewi spend more time together, she also finds herself in love with him and is torn between her position as the Snake Queen and wanting to live a normal life. Her mother and handmaidens try to convince her to stay with them in the underworld, but can she have her cake and eat it to?

Pissed off at Andika, Sasti crashes her car through a store window and ends up in the hospital, where one of Para's handmaiden's disguised as a nurse leads her back to her palace. In some scenes very reminiscent of the Brazilian Coffin Joe movies, she watches a group of dancers do a long routine through a Vaseline-smeared lens while it snows and enters a colorful hell-like landscape filled with fire where she crosses over a bridge made out of moaning men. Her dead, pasty-faced mother makes an appearance and then Andika appears with a huge sword and slices her head. The Snake Queen appears, decked out in Medusa-like headpiece made of real snakes and now a giant snake from the waist down herself. She uses her wiggling tail to grab onto Sasti and pull her near. This was later stolen for the climax of Night of the Demons 2 (1994) of all things!

Sasti's night of horror turns out to just be a nightmare, but soon she finds herself possessed by the spirit of her mother. Her her face turns blue, her head spins around, she starts speaking in a chain-smoker's voice, levitates in her bed, walks (and does cartwheels!) on the ceiling and then delivers a message from hell about who Dewi really is before being driven out of the body by an exorcist. The finale has Sasti and her father (who finally comes to his senses about what he's doing) going to old sorceress Gino for help, which leads to a sorceress' battle involving flying (on highly visible wires), leaping, flipping, smoke, fireballs, a melting face, an explosive car crash and a moral to the whole story delivered by the Queen herself about how important it is to be honest and work hard. Wow!

Weird Asia fans certainly won't regret seeking this obscure fantasy / horror title out. It's bonkers, fast-moving, sometimes gruesome and packed with entertaining, surprising stuff from start to finish. The special effects and sets are undoubtedly cheap, but delightfully so, and often highly imaginative. As with many other Asian genre films from this time the continuity is, shall I say, loose, but this never goes into the realm of being utterly nonsensical. Suzzanna serves as a great grounding point for all the craziness, as she's very composed, graceful and regal as the Queen despite whatever nonsense is going on around her. Her presence carries with it a sort-of calming mystical vibe and she never goes over the top in the role.

Never released in the U.S. in any form, this Indonesian / Japanese co-production was actually the top-grossing film in Jakarta in 1982 and was popular enough to be followed by two sequels: Perkawinan nyi blorong (“The Snake Queen's Wedding) in 1983 and Petualangan cinta nyi blorong (“The Hungry Snake Woman”) in 1986. Both were from director Putra and starred Suzzanna. The print viewed here was the Greek VHS tape distributed by Joconda Video, which is dubbed into English with burnt-in Greek subtitles. It was also released in India under the title Theendum Mohini and dubbed into Tamil. I'd love to see this one get cleaned-up and remastered because the colorful visuals really suffer on the current muddy VHS print.

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