Friday, April 5, 2024

Santet (1988)

... aka: Black Magic
... aka: Black Magic: Bringer of Death
... aka: Black Magic: The Science of Destroying Lives
... aka: Santet (Ilmu Pelebur Nyawa)
... aka: Witchcraft

Directed by:
Sisworo Gautama Putra

Mondo Macabro can't do it all by themselves, so let's take a second to thank Vinegar Syndrome for now also stepping into the ring to help fill in another Indonesian horror gap. This is the very first time this previously seldom-viewed title has been available in English here in America, and their 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative looks fantastic. It looks especially fantastic if you're anything like me and have already sat through countless awful-looking, non-subtitled VHS and VCD versions of similar films. While there's still a long ways to go when it comes to rescuing and restoring older Southeast Asian horror films, let's hope there are more releases just like this one in somebody's pipeline.

Santet ("Black Magic") is another collaborations between prolific director Sisworo Gautama Putra and horror queen Suzzanna, whose working relationship proved extremely fruitful throughout the 80s. How fruitful? Well, they also paired up for SUNDELBOLONG (1981), THE SNAKE QUEEN (1982), Sangkuriang (1982), Nyi Ageng, the Decoy Queen (1983), The Snake Queen's Wedding (1983), LAKE EERIE (1984), Awakening of the South Seas Queen (1985), Calon Arang, the Powerful Queen (1985), The Hungry Snake Woman (1986), The Night of Kliwon Friday (1986), Satu Suro Night (1988), Death-Spreading Heirloom (1990), Incarnation of the Snake Goddess (1990), Pact with the Forces of Darkness (1991) and The Queen of the South Sea (1991). Count this one and its sequel (yes, there was a sequel the following year, also now available from Vinegar Syndrome for the first time), and that gives us an impressive 17 horror films in just ten years. And that's not even counting a few other non-genre films they did, like their take on the legend of Samson and Delilah (1985), which may even be partially horror from the sounds of it, and the coming of age drama The Age of Turmoil (1986).

There potentially may have been even more than that had Putra not passed away at a relatively young age (54) in 1993. His passing also seemed to coincide with Suzzanna's semi-retirement, as she'd only appear in one other film afterward (2008's Hantu Ambulance), but that probably has more to do with the Indonesian film industry self-destructing in the 90s than Putra's departure. Suzzanna apparently also did some TV work here and there, including a soap opera in the early 2000s.

The setting is an isolated village called Karang Setan ("Satan's Coral"), where a lack of proper law enforcement means corruption is the order of the day. Bisman (I. Gusti Jagat Karana) is a fat, bumpy-and-cracked faced criminal who runs a gambling den / brothel / bar where all of the local hooligans like to hang out. His wife Parmi is always sick and thus cramping his style, so he decides to speed along her demise by tricking her into drinking pesticide, claiming it's medicine. Soon after, she has seizures, pukes up blood and falls over dead. To cover his tracks, Bisman falsely claims that local cleric Sarma (Novie Chandra), whose wife he covets, has cast a black magic spell on her. He gathers a posse of torch-carrying villagers and decides to go pay him a visit.

In actuality, Sarma is a kindly, moralistic and devout sort who runs a school with his wife, Katemi (Suzzanna), and condemns the use of black magic. Nevertheless, the men beat him up, drag him into the woods, cover him with gasoline and set him ablaze. Forced to watch her innocent husband being murdered, Katemi is then pulled into a hut and almost raped by Bisman. She manages to fight him off by squeezing his crotch from behind (!) and then flees into the jungle, where she spends the night. The following morning she follows a blackbird into some caves filled with giant mushrooms and runs across a crocodile with a human head, who announces herself as Nyi Angker (Joice Erna - BLACK MAGIC ANNIHILATION). She's the self-professed "Queen of Black Magic" and wants to recruit her visitor as an apprentice / heir.

Katemi is resistant at first. After all, she's Muslim and black magic is frowned upon, but Nyi Angker (who sheds her crocodile skin and takes on a normal human look at certain times of the month) can be quite persuasive. There are three steps Katemi must complete to become a powerful black magic practitioner. First, she has to find and then eat a placenta from a newborn baby. Second, she has to spend all night bathing and meditating in a pond with crocodiles and avoid getting eaten. Finally, she has to strip naked and walk through her village during a full moon. As she's working on step #2, two of Bisman's goons end up getting eaten by crocodiles while trying to capture her, which only further puts her on Bisman's bad side.

As Katemi is doing her training, Bisman keeps busy sex trafficking kidnapping virgins and conspiring to overthrow the current leader, Chief Markum (K. Arief Raduma), who he already pays off under the table. Potentially throwing a wrench into their plan is the arrival of Markum's pious son, Achmad Pramuja (Jeffry "Daniel" [Waworuntu]), from his studies in the city. However, a couple of Bisman's henchmen (Karsiman Gada, Belkiez Rachman) are able to get to him first and trick Markum into drinking poisoned coffee. Bisman again blames the death on black magic, frames both Katemi and Nyi Angker as the responsible parties and uses it as an excuse to appoint himself as the new village chief; promising to make it a priority to hunt down and execute the two witches.

While this black magic romp isn't all smooth sailing, it mostly makes up for that by featuring all kinds of insane things you're not likely to see anywhere else. A large frog causes a man's crotch to burst, a snake enters a mouth, gives birth and causes a stomach to explode with spurting blood and baby snakes, eels break their way out of legs and are pulled out of ears and a breast is ripped off and squirts milk in someone's face! There's also a werewolf, numerous people getting burned alive, a super-stretchy long tongue, fireballs and perhaps the strangest and least erotic "erotic" scene in recent memory; a Vaseline smeared Adam and Eve garden fantasy with cardboard flowers, a papier-mâché volcano, fog, bubbles and neck stroking that ends with a nipple getting bitten off (!!) After plenty of violence and gore, plus some some sleaze / nudity (courtesy of a single body double used for both female stars), this then tries to justify itself with a religious / moral message about the power of prayer and Allah at the very end!

Not surprisingly, there's also plenty of humor along the way, or should I say attempts at humor. Skinny, giraffe-necked H.I.M. Damsyik is featured in a single scene as a con artist trying to sell evil-repelling trinkets to naïve, superstitious villagers. Getting more screen time are a pair of bumbling, inept security guards named Bokir (played by Bokir) and Dorman (Dorman Borisman), who are the closest thing this village has to police, which certainly explains a lot. Bokir has a couple of cute / silly scenes with his basket weaver wife Siti (Bu Siti) and performs an entire song wearing an over-sized pair of underwear during a 5-minute-long random musical interlude that erupts into a village dance party where someone carries around a sign that says "Bokir: Rambo IV (Rambutan Bogor)" and then Bokir transforms into Rambo (!?) There appears to be some kind of inside joke here that went right over my head. 

What harms this film most is the under-utilization of the Nyi Angker character. She's off-screen a lot, and for long periods of time, while this focuses mostly on the scummy misdeeds of Bisman and his men. They're shown in such a bad light that Nyi Angker, who's mostly around to facilitate Katemi's revenge, actually comes off as not so bad in the process. That results in an unsatisfying finale when she's brought back in the last few minutes and treated like the final boss. Even worse, Suzzanna doesn't even really factor into the finale of her own film and has to be white knighted by the boring, unlikable and self-righteous Pramuja (who's played about as blandly and woodenly as possible by Waworuntu). I ended up rooting for Nyi Angker.

The director also made the non-Suzzanna PRIMITIVES (1980), SATAN'S SLAVE (1980), THE WARRIOR (1981) and WOLF (1981). Prior to the new Blu-ray, I found only an Indonesian VCD and a Malaysian VHS release for this title but nothing else, so I doubt even most folks in Asia had access to this one.

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