18 Apr

Visit Indonesia! Sample the dark arts! Mystics In Bali.

Posted by Bryan White | Sunday April 18, 2010 | Reviews

Southeast Asia is weird, man.

I’ve seen some strange movies in my time. Of 25 years spent in pursuit of the world’s most baffling movies, I’ve seen more bugfuck crazy movies come out of Southeast Asia than any other region of the world. I can’t put my finger on why that is, either. The horror films tend to share a common thread of a tangible fear of black magic. To those of us in the West, this looks ridiculous but there are shitloads of under-developed nations around the world with thriving folk-religions even in these post-colonial times. Around the world, The French, The Dutch, The British brought Christianity to these countries and there was always a minor holdout in each civilization that carried a torch for the old path. In some of these cultures, the old path was a pretty dark place. Even today, right now, in Uganda, there is an epidemic of human sacrifice and kids are disappearing off the street left and right to serve the rituals of witch doctors for hire. Can you believe that shit?

In many of these nations surrounded by jungles or Pacific islands, superstition still rules the public ration of fear. For the same reasons that the Vatican sanctioned witch hunts across Europe, hanging lonely midwives and old-path healers for what was believed to be a blasphemous pact with Satan, the people of these parts share the very same fear and suspicion of similar women who fail to live up to public expectations of a woman’s place in their culture. Not to turn this into some kind of feminist study of third-world attitudes towards women, but that right there is some misogynistic bullcrap. So here I am rambling on and on about some very well worn concepts in horror. I really ought to get down to talking about a horror movie where a woman’s head detaches from her body and flies around eating fetuses. Read on!

American occult tourist, Cathy, is laying low in Jakarta with her foppish boo, Mahendra. Her plan is to write a book on the Leak (lee-ak), said to be the most powerful black magic in the world. After prowling around the Indonesian occult circle, presumably, Mahendra finds a Leak witch doctor who will meet Cathy and potentially train her in the ancient ways. It’s not long before Cathy is under the witch’s thrall, changing into a pig, spitting up a stomach full of mice and separating her body from her head, all relevant organs still attached and eating the fetuses (fetusi?) straight out of the coots of pregnant women. Naturally, it’s going to take some equally as spooky white magic to step in and put a stop to the madness before the Leak hag is granted limitless power and immortality.

Like other reviews I’ve done of such golden turkeys as Death Wish 3 (Review) and The Room (Review), pointing out the flaws of the movie is unfair as we’re all pretty cool in these parts and we all know that a movie like Mystics In Bali is going to be a very special kind of crazy. So rather than dwell on the obvious conclusions, allow me to illustrate the broad lapses in logic that make Mystics In Bali such a tremendous joy to watch.

A lot of exploitation pictures have this vibe about them and sometimes references to non-existent parts of the plot that suggest that the movie you’re watching started production as one thing and ended as someting else, entirely. Mystics In Bali has a million of these dead-end threads but not one of them seems like a genuine loose end. It’s just a buffet of bad ideas coexisting in the same movie, none of which coalesce into anything meaningful. The Leak witch is this cackling lunatic whose shape is constantly shifting. She’s at first a horrible, deformed old hag but in the next appearance she’s the longest forked tongue ever put to film, drawing a picture of demon on a woman’s thigh to indicate some kind of possession. The next she’s the hag again, turning into a pig and then not long after, she’s a beautiful young woman with the crazy eyes. It’s never clear if it’s the same actress or more to the point, if it’s the same forked tongue. There’s also the matter of a transformation into a fireball that fights another fireball in a filler scene that would leave Roger Corman feeling envious.

Cathy’s boyfriend, Mahendra, introduces her to this life and then repeatedly expresses concern that she’s in over her head before turning on his heels and insisting that she stick with her studies so that she can write her book. This advice to “hang in there baby” comes hot on the heels of a morning after Cathy transforms into a snake and then barfs up the mice she had for dinner the night before. This advice follows an evening of baby-eating where Cathy wakes up with blood all over her mouth. Mahendra, clearly a man afraid to make the hard decisions in life is constantly directing Cathy back to her doom with the Leak witch. Meanwhile,  he recruits his magical uncle and his chain smoking buddies to free Cathy and kill the witch. On more than one occasion I felt the urge to step into the movie and inform Mahendra that there are better excuses in life to hang out with his uncle. I’m told baseball is popular in Indonesia. Perhaps they could have opted to see a game together. It seems hardly appropriate to orchestrate the spiritual peril of your girl just to spend a little quality time with your uncle.

None of this discounts the enduring hilarity of Cathy’s head detaching from its body for a night on the town. The flying head is an actual piece of Southeastern Asian folklore, a sort of vampire tale that explained miscarriages and infant mortality in a time where no one understood that this sort of shit just happened. It was much easier to lay the emotional burden of a child’s death on the weird old lady making herbal remedies in the jungle. Don’t let interesting folklore stand in the way of the silly, though. This movie is packed to the rafters with crazt bullshit. To top it all off, we’re treated with the worst dubbing ever. Mahendra and the rest of the Indonesian cast all have at least a measurable ability to act but Cathy’s role seems to suggest that she was the only English speaking member of the cast, delivering her lines in English while everyone else stuck to what they knew. The end product of this unholy union is a flat dub job over Cathy’s flat affect. She either seems half asleep or her facial expressions suggest that she spent the night prior coked out of her mind on primo Indonesian fish scale.

Mystics In Bali is just crazy, people.

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