Sunday, April 24, 2022

Wewe Gombel (1988)

... aka: Wewek Gombel

Directed by:
B.Z. Kadaryono

Many people find it tasteless to show graphic depictions of violence directed at young children and babies, which I've always found strange considering no one bats an eye at teenagers getting butchered in every other film! Not that young'un's don't ever die in movies and haven't been dying in movies ever since cinema began. Back in the day, they just usually died off-screen. Or subtly. Or bloodlessly. Or the death was implied. Actually showing their death with accompanying blood and gore used to be extremely taboo in much of world cinema. There have always been a few exceptions to this rule, though, starting with the obvious cases of children being evil, monstrous, inhuman or possessed. Remember, audiences as far back as the 1950s were certainly able to put their values aside to demand the death of Rhoda Penmark in the original version of The Bad Seed, so that film's ending was changed to suit their tastes. However, in audience eyes there's a big difference between an irredeemably evil child dying (would anyone have had a problem seeing Gregory Peck sink a dagger into Damien at the end of The Omen?) and an innocent child shown being graphically killed.

And then there's low budget outsider cinema that revels in bad taste and over-the-top attempts to shock and outrage. Andy Warhol's Bad, for instance, features a scene where a woman hires an assassin to kill her toddler, gets tired of waiting for her to show up and then simply chucks her infant out the window of her apartment building. It hits the pavement down below, splatters blood all over passing bystanders and then the mother angrily shouts at her boyfriend over the phone to get his ass over there or else she's gonna throw the rest of his crap out, too. A scene like that is, of course, going to ruffle some feathers, which is basically the entire point OF the film; a fact that even the most uptight and moralistic critics have to recognize. Not that they necessarily enjoy seeing such things or still won't sometimes complain, but they're usually backed into a corner of having to accept the scene in context to the rest of the film. Besides, is there really this big chasm of morality between simulated adult or teenager death and a simulated child or baby death? It's all fake!

Just like many European directors and audiences in the 60s, 70s and 80s didn't have the sexual hang-ups of, say, American or British filmmakers and audiences at the same time, many Asian countries apparently didn't let the kid killing hang-ups of much of the rest of the world get in their way of showing infanticide in all its gory glory. Everyone's apparently fair game there! I've seen little kids getting hacked and slashed, stew pots filled with baby parts, newborns tossed directly into crocodile mouths and a lot more kiddie carnage than what would typically be shown in films from other countries. Wewe Gombel (which the title card calls "Wewek Gombel" for some reason) is about a ghost that specifically targets babies and children and it too doesn't dilly dally around or try to be subtle about it. Unfortunately, that's probably the most positive thing I can say about this mess!

As the film opens, numerous babies disappear from a small village. A woman's sick baby is zapped right out of her hands as she goes to get help, and then the titular ghost / witch enters another woman's bedroom and snatches her infant right out of her hands. So, Wewe Gombel is a known figure in Indonesian folklore, but this film deviates from the legend considerably. For starters, the ghost's most distinctive physical attribute is her long, floppy, low-hanging breasts (see artwork above). And then there's the fact that the standard mythology states that, while Wewe may kidnap and hoard children, she does not typically harm them. In fact, the children she takes away tend to like her, especially seeing how she specifically sets out to save abused and neglected children from their awful parents. That's decidedly not how this film plays out.

Here, Wewe is more of an Elisabeth Bathory-type, whose beauty and youth are restored by feeding on the blood of babies and children. Otherwise, she's hideously ugly and deformed. Instead of running around topless with her mudflaps blowing in the breeze, she wears a red flowing gown and has a necklace made out of baby skulls. We get to see the unique way in which the ghost feeds (which I also don't think is in the original folk tale) in the very first scene. After retreating to her hideout (decorated with bloody infant parts, including baby heads) with her latest stolen newborn, Wewe pierces the baby's skull with her razor sharp claw and sucks the blood out through her syringe-like finger. The baby smolders and smokes as it's held and Wewe's ugly old face peels off like a snake shedding its skin to reveal an attractive woman underneath.

New to the haunted village because her insensitive and kind of asshole-ish hubby Budi (Jamal Jentak) has been requested there to help the locals improve their farming, pregnant Asih (Susana Aryani) has been spending most of her free time listening to the locals at an all-purpose watering hole where all of the haus frau gather to gossip, bathe, swim AND wash clothing... and all in front of a busy highway just a few feet away! Now Asih is scared and paranoid about Wewe Gombel, who all of the villagers fear. However, because they're from the big city and don't believe in such nonsense, Budi just brushes off her concerns and suggest she read the Koran and trust in Allah. Budi also claims to be out late at night working at the local mosque, but he may be having an affair with one of the women. Either that or I've just mistaken him for one of the other twenty men in here with the same haircut and thin mustache.

Wewe Gombel (mostly played by Sherly Sarita though the character does take many different forms) impersonates an old midwife to gain access to another pregnant woman. After kicking the men out of the room, she snatches the baby and kills the woman. That's enough to have Asih demanding to return to the city. Her husband actually agrees for a change and the two leave. Meanwhile, the villagers run amok (sometimes with torches) screaming "Wewe Gombel!" every few seconds. Some loony woman in a white dress who may or may not be one of the many forms of Wewe hitches a ride in the back of someone's car, climbs up in tree cackling like a maniac and peels a coconut with her bare hands and hits a guy over the head with it. Due to the sudden change to goofy music, I suppose these scenes are supposed to be funny.

And I'm not sure what to make of a scene where tattooed peeping tom / sleazebag Parman (Kamsul Chandrajaya) attacks a young mother named Mina (Joice Erna) after spying on her showering. She kicks him in the crotch and hits him with her purse, but he wrestles her to the ground and attempts to rape her until a passerby beats him off with a stick. Nothing is ever said about the attack afterward. Other random scenes seem thrown in just cuz. There's a succession of major WTF moments that start out with a thuggish man (Arthur Tobing) jumping another guy who seems to be the village leader and engaging in a horribly staged fist fight. That's followed by a brief scene where Parman strips down to yellow bikini briefs and has PG-rated under the covers sex with Wewe Gombel (who decides to use him to help her in her schemes). And that's followed by a scene of kids playing soccer in an overgrown field and an old woman coming over and yelling at a kid for watching them. Huh?

Because he couldn't get into Mina's pants the first time around, Parman uses a bloody magical cloth given to him by Wewe Gombel to transforms into her husband, Mas (Jamal Mirdad). He then pays frequent visits to her home to have his way with her, which causes some major confusion in the couple's marriage. However, his attempts to sneak the baby out of the home to offer up to Wewe are unsuccessful because Mina, for obvious reasons, is watching her first born like a hawk. Eventually the impostor husband is discovered when "both" husbands are in the same room at the same time. Every once in awhile, Wewe is kind enough to swoop back into her own hijacked story. Her head starts smoking when someone reads from the Koran, she's shown feeding live worms to her child captives in flashbacks and she detaches her head and arms, and starts breathing fire, during her confrontation with a priest at the very end.

This is an absolutely awful film, and not in a good way. It's cheap, slow, extremely talky, ineptly edited, poorly acted and directed, devoid of any interesting special effects, almost completely incoherent and has so many characters, so many characters impersonating other characters (and even played by different actors) and so many dead end plot lines stuffed into the mix that you can't tell anyone from Adam, nor what they're doing at any given time, nor what anyone's motivations are, nor why most of the cast behaves like complete idiots the entire time. It certainly doesn't help matters that the print quality (taken from a VCD as that's the only release) is terrible, but this would be nearly as difficult to sit through even in visually pristine form.

Santo y Blue Demon vs Drácula y el Hombre Lobo (1973)

... aka: Santo & Blue Demon vs. Dracula & the Wolf Man
... aka: Santo y Blue Demon Contra Drácula y el Hombre Lobo

Directed by:
Miguel M. Delgado

"Never trust a hideous monster from hell!"

Words to live by.

It's been seven sun eclipses and seven moon eclipses since monster hunter / alchemist Cristaldi put Count Dracula and the werewolf to rest and, since that whole eclipse business has now passed, the famed bloodsucker and his equally esteemed hairy pal are good for another resurrection and terror spree. Their scar-faced hunchback disciple Eric ([Alfredo] Wally Barrón) knows this and, using the Book of Kabbalah, pleads to Satan for their return. However, he first needs the blood of one of Cristaldi's descendants to complete the ritual. Soon after, the elderly Professor Luis Cristaldi (Jorge Mondragón) receives an anonymous letter threatening him with death and warning him that he and the rest of his family will soon have to pay back their debt. The letter brings to mind a passage in a 400-year-old book passed down from generation to generation in the professor's family. It tells of an unholy alliance between Dracula and the werewolf, who'd joined forces centuries earlier in order to "dominate humanity" along with their army of "beast men." Now, the professor, his daughter Laura (María Eugenia San Martín) and his nieces; teenager Lina (Nubia Martí) and the youngest, little Rosita (Lissy Fields), may all be in peril. The book also points out that the fiends won't be content with just killing them, but instead want to turn them all into zombie slaves.

You may be asking how Santo factors into all of this. Well, he just so happens to have dated into this family. No, silly, he's not dating the professor's daughter, Laura. Santo is a star after all, so he's instead hooked up with the teenage niece! Doing a little quick research, that pairs the 55 or 56-year-old "Saint" up with the 18 or 19-year-old Martí; a whopping age difference of 37 years! Santo also happens to be 18 years older than the actress playing the "middle-aged" daughter, who still looks just fine but is portrayed like some spinster who sits around knitting and bemoaning her lost youth and looks all the time.

Eric, who's descended from Transylvanians, chloroforms and kidnaps the professor, drags him back to his crypt hideout and then explains his plans. Already entrenched in the criminal underworld, Eric's basically hoping to get rich by having Dracula reveal the whereabouts of some gold. The professor warns there may be consequences to his actions but Eric proceeds with the ceremony, anyway. He hangs the professor upside down over the opened stone graves, cuts his throat and has him bleed all over the skeletal remains, which start smoking and regenerate. The debonair and well-dressed Dracula is played by Aldo Monti (who'd already played the count once before in SANTO IN THE TREASURE OF DRACULA), while the Werewolf, wearing a gold lamé pirate shirt and given the horrifying name Rufus Rex, is played by Agustín Martínez Solares of NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES fame.

The monsters quickly get to work kidnapping people and transforming them into vampires and werewolves. After all, if you plan on taking over the world, you're gonna need a little help, right? Due to the disappearance of the professor and others in the area, the police ask for Santo's help. He immediately gets into contact with Blue Demon, who's more than glad to assist his pal. Meanwhile, Rufus Rex transforms back into his handsome human form, gets cleaned up and buys some new duds in hopes of trying to seduce Laura. He makes a great first impression saving her during a (staged) attempted kidnapping using a couple of members of a bald mob bosses goon squad, but soon his true motives are revealed.

Colorful, breezy and (often intentionally!) humorous, this fun Santo horror adventures thankfully tosses out the wall-to-wall repetitive fight scene format of some of the other entries for a more straightforward Gothic horror story. With only small amounts of blood and no sexual content, this is something that can be enjoyed by kids of all ages. Well, granted the kids in question have a thing for schlock! We get lots of great turtlenecks, miniskirts, suits and over-sized sweaters in every color imaginable, rubber bats on strings, spear-wielding werewolves, giant telephones, vampire ladies in sheer red nightgowns, sacred daggers, secret passageways, precursors to Apple watches, zombies, flame-shooting golden bat heads and lots more. Our heroes have to fight a bunch of werewolves during the big finale, which is set around a giant spike-filled pit used to dispose of interlopers and traitors.

This is my tenth Santo film review so we're hitting a little milestone here at BPOH. Now just, er, eh, about 30 more to go until I finally have the legendary Mexican star's horror-ography under wraps! As per usual, there are several lengthy grappling matches squeezed in to please the wrestle-hungry Mexican public, with Santo (also one of the producers) squaring off against Angel Blanco, Blue facing Renato the Hippie (?) and Santo and Blue in a tag team match against Angel and Renato.

Unlike most other Santo offerings, this was given a U.S. VHS release by Million Dollar Video Corp. way back in 1987. A beautifully restored print with a brand new English dub is now being distributed by VCI Entertainment and Peter Hamilton Films.

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