Mystics in Bali
In the traditional Indonesian gamelan music, there is no set tuning system. When the musicians make their instruments, they are instructed to "tune to their hearts"; that is, they should rely on their ears and their instincts, and on the hints provided by the instrument itself as it takes shape. This is not to say that they just do whatever they want: they use their knowledge of the gamelan tradition, so that the sounds of the instruments they create, however individually crafted, will sound well in a full gamelan orchestra.
I bring this up because the approach seems similar to the method used by Indonesian director H. Tjut Djalil to create his horror film Mystics in Bali. The film bears just enough resemblance to a conventional horror film to be recognizeable as such, but its structure is entirely its own. Djalil films whatever he thinks he needs to convey his story, whether it makes sense in a conventional, narrative way or not. There are almost no attempts at graceful transitions between scenes or ideas. If we don't need to see it, we don't see it, even if the transitions would make it easier to understand what's going on.
Cathy Keene is an American anthropology student whose special interest is primitive black magic. Her theory is that to truly understand the traditions of black magic, she must study them herself as though she were a real initiate. She has already been to Africa studying voodoo first-hand, and now she has come to Indonesia to find out about the local form of witchcraft called leyak.
Cathy has some help in her quest from a local man named Mahendra, or Hendra for short. Cathy and Hendra had met just a short time before, but already they've become close enough for Hendra to leave his girlfriend for Cathy. We don't actually learn about Hendra's ex-girlfriend until the last five minutes of the film, but I felt it was worth mentioning because it illustrates what a complete schmuck this Hendra is. As the movie progresses, we will see that practically everything that goes bad can be directly or indirectly traced to Hendra. In fact, if he hadn't done such great comedy over the years with Christopher Guest, I wouldn't even mention him at all.
Anyway, Cathy enlists Hendra's help finding a leyak master who will take her as a student. Hendra is more than happy to oblige. This is a little like Hendra coming to, say, New Gretna, New Jersey and announcing to Cathy that he'd like to study Satanism, and asking if she knew of anyone who might help him out. And if Cathy did put him in touch with some rabid local warlock, we'd know very well who to blame when Hendra turned into a pea-soup-vomiting killing machine in the third act, wouldn't we? Yet Hendra's complicity is worse, because except for occasional appearances by the Jersey Devil, New Gretna, New Jersey doesn't really have a strong tradition of Satanism and demonic possession; while the leyak, according to Cathy, are among the most primitive and powerful of black magicians.
The powers of the leyak include the ability to transform into other things -- people, animals, or plants. They're also very tricky creatures, because they almost never appear in the same form more than once. When we see for a moment what appears to be a tree with a human face in it, we think that perhaps the leyak had found out about Cathy's interest. Actually, it's Hendra's ex spying on the couple, though again I must explain that we won't realize this until the very end of the picture.
Hendra takes Cathy to a cemetery, where Cathy sniffs a skull and remarks how it doesn't smell... clearly a sign of magic. As Hendra and Cathy make casual conversation, the camera pans restlessly across the landscape of skulls and bones. We get the sudden feeling that Cathy's research isn't going to go as well as she hopes.
The pair go to meet the leyak in the middle of the night, on a lonely stretch of countryside. A sudden thunderstorm warns them of the witch's approach; then, in the distance, they see a dim figure moving towrads them in crazy spirals. A ghastly cackle rends the air, a laugh Hendra identifies with the very vilest sect of leyak. Soon, a huddled shape appears in front of them: it's an old crone with wild hair and long, hideous, Coffin Joe-like talons. The old woman, who claims to be the Queen of leyak and the most powerful wizard in the world, agrees to take Cathy as her disciple. The lessons will start the following night.
"But how will we know you?" asks Hendra; after all, they can't see her clearly.
"You want to see my face?" purrs the old woman. "You won't soon forget it!" She pulls aside her hair to reveal the ravaged ruin where her face once was, and cackles again at their horrified reactions. This is her real face, she tells them, but she will look different every time they see her.
Before they part, the old woman remarks that she's heard that Western people seal their bargains by shaking hands. She offers her ghastly claw to Cathy, and runs away laughing when Cathy accepts the handshake. Cathy is nauseated to discover the old crone has left her hand behind, still clutching hers. When Cathy throws down the limb in disgust, it scrabbles off to join its owner...
(The more I think about it, the more it occurs to me that this scene offers a better metaphor for the movie than my gamelan image. "Well," says Djalil; "you want a Western-style horror movie? Fine. Put 'er there, pal... MWA-HA-HA-HAAA!")
And suddenly it's the next night, and the old woman comes to greet them. It's difficult to tell at first that a whole day has passed, and if the witch didn't helpfully mention that it was the next night, we'd be even more confused. The leyak, after all, looks different (as she said she would), so it takes us a moment to comprehend who the heck she is and what she's doing there (though her lunatic laugh helps us identify her). There's also been no intervening daylight scene to prepare us for the second night's scene -- there was nothing important to show during the day, so Djalil didn't waste film on it. Until the witch tells us, the only clue we have to the timeframe is that Cathy and Hendra are wearing different clothes... and even this is no solid clue: in a lapse of continuity later in the film, Hendra changes T-shirts in mid-scene.
So how different does the leyak look? It's hard to say, because all we get to see is her tongue. All thirty feet of it. The leyak licks some jewels off Cathy's hands as an offering of trust; then she drinks several bottles of blood which Cathy and Hendra have brought with them. When she's satisfied with the offering — "Mmm, good blood!" she gurgles — she demands that Cathy take off her skirt. Hendra is appalled, but the old woman (or at least her tongue) insists. The leyak's tongue then tattoos mystical designs on Cathy's inner thigh, "where no one will see them."
(Ancient evil is a little old-fashioned in some respects.)
But someone -- namely, Hendra -- does end up seeing them. Cathy invites Hendra back to her room, where she strips down to a bikini and asks him to come closer -- closer -- and take a good, long look at her thigh. The invitation turns Hendra into an even bigger dope than usual: he just has no idea what the form is for a situation like this. Their whole relationship so far seems to be very pre-junior-high-school, consisting mainly of holding hands and babbling variations on the theme of "Gee, you're cute!" So when Cathy, in her expressionless sort of way, seems to be turning on the heat, Hendra is completely lost. "Well? What do you see?" she asks. Yeah, Hendra; what do you see? London? France? Hendra tries to decipher some of the writing he finds... there's a le, followed by a yak... Hmmmm. It must have something to do with French talk radio. This may be too difficult for our nominal hero.
Just as Hendra seems to be warming to his task, perhaps finally figuring out what Cathy's really asking him to do, Cathy says, "OK, that's enough," and goes to get dressed for her next lesson in magic.
This time we cut directly from the middle of the midnight lesson to the next day, as Cathy tells Hendra what went on. No sooner have we had time to register that it's the next morning when we're plunged via flashback into the scene we've just left! Cathy and the leyak begin to swell up and change shape, and quicker than you can say "Larry Talbot" the two of them have changed into pigs (Djalil has evidently decided that we needed to know that Cathy told Hendra about her experience, but didn't want to repeat anything needlessly... so he's merely jumped ahead to the explanation, and then gone back to finish the scene).
But the magic lessons are beginning to worry Cathy, especially when Hendra tries to make sense of the images she brings back from her transformations. According to Hendra, some of the visions she's experienced are Indonesian symbols of death. Cathy is aghast to think she might have killed someone in her leyak trance, but Hendra (grinning idiot that he is) tries to reassure her: after all, it wasn't really her fault.
That's right, you moron: it's yours, to be perfectly clear about it.
In another "lesson", and one of the most impressive, Cathy and the leyak take the form of floating balls of fire. Suddenly, they are attacked by a third ball of fire, a rival leyak. Cathy is dashed to the ground, where she resumes her human form in a cloud of smoke. The two leyak masters begin a dramatic midair battle, until Cathy's leyak throws down her opponent into a lake. Up from the smoking water rises the other wizard's charred corpse.
On yet another night, Hendra (who has been banned from the sessions as an unwanted visitor) watches from his hiding place as the two women transform into snakes and crawl away. Cathy remembers this experience as being taken to a magnificent banquet where she got to feast on wonderful delicacies. She awakens the next morning as Hendra tries to kiss her while she's still asleep (are you beginning to dislike this creep as much as I do?); all at once she jumps out of bed, gagging, and runs to the bathroom. Hendra doesn't seem too surprised by her reaction, and frankly, Hendra's reaction doesn't surprise me -- back in my dating days that's the sort of thing I came to expect when I tried to kiss a girl... but I digress. Hendra is a little surprised by what happens next: Cathy starts vomiting live mice, worms and insects. At this point she tells Hendra about her dream of the feast, and muses that perhaps the "food" upset her stomach. Hendra just nods and grins, as usual, though you'd hope he's merely humoring her. Either that or Indonesan food is just a tad more exotic than I've been led to believe.
Finally, the night comes for Cathy's last lesson, after which she plans to go back to being the "old Cathy" Hendra knew. She hasn't been feeling very well lately -- there's been a burning sensation in her stomach, and she's felt tired and woozy -- but the leyak has assured her it's to be expected, and that she will be cured that very night. Hendra congratulates her, but Cathy insists, "It's all because of you, Hendra!"
Everybody sees what's coming next, right?
Cathy meets with her teacher to bid her farewell, but no sooner has she left when the old woman goes into one of her cackling fits. "Catherine!" she calls, even though the girl has passed out of earshot, "I gave you invaluable lessons in the Black Arts. And now, it is time for you to pay!"
And suddenly, it's the next night, again with no transition and no chance for us to get our bearings. Cathy has been summoned back, whether she wanted to come or not, and the leyak takes her first "payment" from her. She makes some mystical gestures, and Cathy's head and entrails separate from her body and float off into the night. She has become a penanggalan, a traditional Indonesian vampire, sent out to gather the blood of newborns so that she might feed the leyak.
And this is the point where the metaphorical gamelan orchestra suddenly breaks out kazoos, krummhorns and electric guitars and starts wailing. If you've found the movie so far to be bizarre, there are far, far stanger things in store.
A local woman is struggling with a long and difficult labor, while her husband and family wait outside. Suddenly, Cathy's head 'n' guts sail through the window: she lands between the expectant mother's thighs and begins to feed. We can see the woman's belly deflating as she does so... hearing the disturbance, the midwife runs to see what's the matter, only to be knocked through a wall by the departing head.
Cathy, needless to say, has no memories of her existence as a penanggalan, even though she sometimes wakes up with blood dripping from her lips. Hendra, in the meantime, has been consulting with his Uncle, who is a sort of holy man (Bali, unlike much of Indonesia, is not Islamic). His Uncle tells him there are several simple spells and prayers which are effective against leyak, some of which have been in the family since Uncle's own uncle stole them from a powerful witch. Note, please, that Hendra does not confide his misgivings directly to Cathy; nor does he reveal to her any of the protective magic he's been told about by his Uncle. Instead, he keeps up his goofy junior-high-school relationship, even as the girl he "loves" turns into a bloodsucking monster.
On Cathy's second rampage, the girl who is yet to be identified as Hendra's ex sees the hideous noggin floating out the window, and runs off to tell Uncle. After two nights of terror, Uncle and the village elders decide they must do something to fight the floating-head vampire. While Uncle prepares his spells, the leyak comes to Cathy in the form of a young woman (I think that this actress is the same one who plays the leyak in all her stages; if so, she's wonderful. She's one of the most convincing old/young women I've ever seen in a horror movie, and she gives a whole-hearted and convincing performance as the evil spirit). She demands payment from Cathy, who misunderstands and asks: how much? But the leyak has no desire for money. What she wants is life and youth, and to get that she needs Cathy's head one more time.
Uncle follows the signs of spiritul disturbance to Cathy's house. Entering, he finds her headless body leaning against her closet door. Uncle sticks three long spikes into her empty neck, so that the head cannot rejoin the trunk. When the head returns, having been thwarted in its final mission by torch-bearing villagers, it attempts to pull out the spikes with its teeth; but it fails to finish before sunrise. With a howl of fury, the head flies off, and the body falls lifeless to the floor.
Hendra's been off working aboard a ship while all this is going on — and a good thing, too — so he's a little shocked to find his girlfriend lying decapitated on the floor. Uncle explains to him that Cathy's ordeal is not yet over: if her head is allowed to rejoin her body in the tomb, she will rise again as a vampire and be nearly unstoppable.
"This is all my fault!" gushes Hendra. (Yes, it is.)
Uncle pats him on he shoulder and tells him to look on the bright side; he shouldn't let it get him down; he has his whole life blah blah blah; and holy man or no holy man, you start wanting to smack Uncle around a little, too. This is all Hendra's fault, and the little twerp should feel absolutely miserable for the rest of his life.
So the two men go off to perform a vigil over Cathy's grave (Djalil killed the heroine! Djalil killed the heroine! Three cheers for Djalil!). And sure enough, at nightfall the leyak comes with Cathy's floating head close behind. Cathy's body stands up in its grave, and the head floats over to join it. In the meantime, Uncle and the leyak get into a fight to see whose Balinese mystical kung-fu is stronger. Uncle holds his own for a while, deflecting the leyak's lightning bolts and floating around in a green haze; but he is distracted for a moment when that dolt Hendra starts falling for the old "please-don't-kill-me-I-may-be-dead-but-I'm-your-girlfriend" routine, and the witch tears his throat out.
Then suddenly Hendra's ex comes leaping out of the forest to save him — only to be shredded by the old witch's magic (how many people have to die on this idiot's behalf?). Hendra crouches over her mangled body (and this is where we finally find out who this character really is, and that her name is Maya. Hi, Maya!). The dying Maya tells Hendra she did it because she (sob) still loves him; while in the meantime, we can imagine the offscreen leyak is tapping her foot impatiently and waiting for the director's permission to resume the ass-kicking. We sympathize.
Just as it seems Hendra is about to get what he so richly deserves — ahem — just as it seems evil is about to triumph, who should happen to show up but... uhhhh... someone we've never seen or heard of before! It's Hendra's other Uncle, a portly man in a head-scarf and, um, bath-towel thingy, whose spiritual kung-fu makes deceased Uncle's look like, oh, I don't know: bad special effects, or something.
The leyak recognizes the newcomer, even if we don't: "Iki Oka, the greatest one of all!" she cries. The leyak suffers the worst of it in the ensuing battle, and reverts to her disfigured-old-crone guise. Snarling that the world will hear from her again, she tries to slink off with her pet vampire in tow... and for a moment it seems as though Oka is going to let her escape. But Oka is really just biding his time, for reasons that will become apparent later.
When Oka does catch up with the leyak, an even more furious fight breaks out. The witch assumes a bewildering variety of forms, including a leering masked spectre and — most memorably — a fat, naked, bipedal pig with huge pendulous breasts. Once again it seems like the Good Guy has met his match, but just as things look bleakest, the sun pops up like a spring-loaded cat. The leyak melts in cartoon fire; Cathy falls over on Hendra and dies permanently; and the movie, having nothing more to say, ends immediately. No epilog, no credits, no final summing up — that's it.
I want to stress that the bizarre structure of the film (overlooking one or two easily-forgiveable continuity errors) does not come from lack of talent or lack of training. Djalil and his crew seem to know exactly what they're doing. They seem to be making a film that falls somewhere between the expectations of local and export audiences. True, they have a lousy male lead character, but that's the norm for movies like this. True, they have a less-than-stellar actress as Cathy, but when we find out that she was really not an actress at all, but a European tourist the filmmakers chose at random, you really have to be impressed that she did as well as she did. She gave an admirable performance in a film whose bizarre nature would have thrown many seasoned professionals off their guard.
Mystics in Bali lives up to its hype: it really is unlike any other film a Western horror aficionado is likely to have seen. In spite of its extremely irregular structure, its deliberate lack of balance, its sometimes ghastly tastelessness and its reliance on myths which are totally unfamiliar to most Western audiences, the movie is never anything less than fun. There is a vivid imagination at work creating the action and shock sequences, and in spite of the fractious narrative and relatively crude special effects, the technique on display is really very solid.
In 1988, seven years after making Mystics in Bali, H. Tjut Djalil made what is probably the most controversial film of his career: Lady Terminator. He released it under the pseudonym "Jalil Jackson", which gives the unfortunate impression that he's another member of show business's most embarrassing family. Lady Terminator was so completely over-the-top with its depictions of sex and violence that it staggered South Asian audiences: banned in one place, it would pop in in another, doing remarkable business through word-of-mouth until it was shut down yet again.
By Western standards its content was routine: lots of gunfire, colorful explosions, great splashes of blood, occasional glimpses of boob. Perhaps its language was a little coarse for the time; thinking back on it, I can't seem to remember at what point the word "blowjob" became acceptable in a non-X-rated movie. In any case, it isn't so much the actual content that seems remarkable, even by today's standards, but rather the sheer misguided enthusiasm with which the film tries to imitate its Hollywood models. Have you ever seen a Japanese businessman in a karaoke bar, singing with feverish intensity in what he thinks is English? A better analogy might be me singing along to Chinese pop tunes, but I know you've never seen or heard that. And you never will. Where was I? Oh, yeah. It's an amazing spectacle, but you get the feeling that on a fundamental level, something has gone awry.
Here's the first thing I discovered while watching Lady Terminator: there are stretches of the Indonesian coast that are so dramatic that all you need to do to create compelling cinema is point a camera at them. There's little else in the rest of the movie, in spite of all the explosions and special effects, that can match the sheer spectacle of the waves crashing into the rocky shore.
I would have been perfectly happy to watch the ocean for eighty minutes, but unfortunately there's more to the movie. A voiceover (who is never identified) helpfully provides us with the Moral of the Story before we've even started:
"Sometimes the past should be left to memory; to gather dust between the covers of recorded time."
Actually, in this case, the domain that's being tampered with isn't God's, but rather that of the South Sea Queen, who lives in a forced-perspective model of a castle on a stretch of desolate coast. When we meet her, the South Sea Queen is busy having, er, sweaty snugglebunnies with her 99th lover. Just as the poor guy is starting to enjoy himself, he starts screaming in agony, as a jet of blood springs up from his groin. The Queen dismounts from the corpse (and we get to see that people apparently have sex in their underpants in Indonesia). "Is there any man who can satisfy me?" she asks rhetorically, as she nuzzles a handful of grapes.
One jump-cut later, we have an answer for her: into the palace steps a dignified man whom we'll later find out is named Ilias. Without a word of introduction, Ilias and the Queen hop into bed. This time, though, the Queen's mate is too smart for her: he reaches down and pulls from between her legs a snake, the secret of her deadly lovin'. With a gesture, Ilias transforms the snake into a curved knife, called a kris. The Queen demands Ilias return her snake, but he insists that she is his wife now, and must stop the killing. Rather than submit to the man who outwitted her, the Queen decides to stalk off to the bottom of the ocean, to live with the Evil Spirits.
"In 100 years," she tells Ilias as she departs, "I will have my revenge on your great-grand-daughter!" That's an oddly specific threat for her to make, but perhaps there's a Union regulation or something: a stolen kris demands one great-grand-daughter in compensation, payable in 100 years. Anyway, the Queen's threat is accompanied by a weird edit, as we suddenly see lightning flashing over water, and a dark shape rising from the sea. We barely have time to make sense of this image when the action jumps back to the Queen's bedchamber, where Ilias is left alone with his kris.
The opening credits roll, and just as we're preparing ourselves for the movie proper to begin, we suddenly find ourselves somewhere in the middle: a heavily-armed woman we've never seen before is shooting up a bar. Other people who are total strangers to us appear to be running away from her, while still others pop up with weapons of their own and are quickly mowed down. It seems the flash-forward overshot the hundred-year mark by a few hours. Perhaps realizing its mistake, the movie halts the action and gives us the title-screen, accompanied by the sound of machine gun fire.
Resuming the narrative, we meet Tania Wilson. It will take us a little while to realize that Tania is not the grand-daughter we've been promised, but is rather an American anthropology student on the trail of the legendary South Sea Queen. Tania shows up at a University library looking for a book on the Queen. The sinister elderly librarian hands her a dusty but otherwise normal-looking trade hardcover. As though to make up for the mundane appearance of the book, the librarian draws it back from her grasp, muttering warnings about screwing around with the unknown.
"C'mon!" says Tania. "In this day and age, you speak of legends? I'm an anthropologist, huh?"
But the librarian continues with his arcane warnings; the scene is punctuated by sudden cuts to a painting of the South Sea Queen that just happens to be hanging on the wall. Tania is if anything made more determined by the librarian's reluctance to give her the book, and in no time she's hired a boat to look for the undersea ruins of the Queen's castle.
Of course, the boat's two-man crew is as unhappy about Tania's goal as the librarian was. "Are you out of your mind, lady?" blusters the captain. "Will you stop calling me 'lady'?" says Tania. "I'm not a lady, I'm an anthropologist!"
"You read too much," the captain replies.
Tania is intent on finding the legendary kris that was stolen from the Queen. The captain tries to discourage her by insisting the story is only a legend. Tanya, who was dismissive of legend only a scene ago, insists that the legend is true and prepares for her dive.
No sooner has the bikini-clad Tania begun her dive when the sky turns orange, and an enormous wave comes down on the boat like a fist. This moment is obviously fake, relying on editing to convince us that a normal wave is really huge, and that the wave and the boat are in the same place at the same time. However, it's one of the very few instances in the movie where the editing actually works: where the frequent cross-cuts not only accomplish the effect the director wanted to create, but also make sense in the narrative.
Meanwhile, Tania has been drawn down mysteriously into the Queen's lair. The same painting of the Queen that was hanging in the library is also on the wall of the chamber. Tania finds herself tied to a petal-strewn bed by bed-trimmings with minds of their own. Quicker than you cans say "Sam Raimi", her legs are pried apart, and even though she's still wearing her bikini, an animated snake forces its way up her naughty bits. Hey — that's what happens to women in horror movies who "read too much". Lightning strikes over the bed, and even though we thought this was happening during the day, clouds spread slowly over the moon.
Oh; wait a minute — the moon is supposed to be a transition, telling us that it's later that night. Lightning strikes again over the water, and a dark shape emerges from the s— wait another minute. Now at least we know what the earlier flash-forward was referring to. Anyway: out from the water steps Tania, nude and walking stiffly (like a bad actor pretending to be a cyborg or something). On the beach she runs into two drunken boys, one of whom is merrily pissing on everything like a crazed baby and calling out for women. When the boys see a naked woman walking toward them, they can hardly believe their luck. Tania takes one of them off to his car; the remaining kid mistakes his friend's escalating screams for cries of pleasure. And soon it's his turn...
Now dressed in one of the boys' leather jacket, Tania goes back to her apartment. There over the bed is yet another copy of the painting of the Queen. Let me take this opportunity to mention as well that the painting bears little resemblance to the actress who played the Queen in the prologue. As Tania stands under the painting, everything starts to go crazy (especially the editing) — the room begins to shake, lights explode, the television (which is playing some music video featuring a young Indonesian singer) explodes as well; bolts of energy fly out of Tania, as clips of previous scenes flash across the screen. The disturbance is such that the building security guard comes to investigate. Stopping to check his sub-machine gun — security guards take their jobs seriously in Indonesia, I suppose — he goes to knock on Tania's door. Imagine his surprise when the nude girl yanks open the door and pulls the guard through...
From here, the action shifts to a bar, where an off-duty policeman saves a pretty young girl from the unwanted attentions of some laughably overacting thugs. After the meet-cute, the cop (whose name is Max) leaves his friends Snake(!) and Tough(!!) and takes the girl back home. As we dissolve to Max's reflection in a glass-framed photograph, we realize this has all been flashback. Max is one of those Cops with a Tragic Past. He's done what these kind of cops always seem to do: he's moved to Indonesia and immersed himself in his work, rather than Learn How to Love Again.
Max is taken out of his reverie by the arrival of two colleagues. They have a nasty set of murders to investigate. I'd probably better let the detectives speak for themselves here; I should probably apologize to impressionable readers about the explicit language and the explicit stupidity in the excerpted dialog:
Max: "We have three very dead bodies here..."
Detective 1: "...all three of these guys died with their cocks bitten off. Could be a small animal."
(Good grief. What animal?? The notorious Indonesian trouser weasel?)
Detective 2: "The report says an eel. An eel? On dry land? I've heard of the ultimate blowjob, but, uh... this is too much."
Max: "Obviously done by the same person [sic]. But why? What's his or her motive?"
Detective 1: "How can a human being do this?"
Detective 2: "Oh, very easily... first, you take their pants off..."
Meanwhile, it's time for us to be introduced to Ilias's great-grand-daughter. Her name is Erika, and she's the girl who was featured in the music video that was playing in Tania's apartment the night before. Erika's on the verge of stardom, thanks to her TV music show... though we're told it won't begin airing until that very night (in that case, what was Tania watching last night?). As Erika and her friend leave their exercise class, we overhear a telling comment:
"Arnold Schwartzeneggar you're not."
"That's an authentic reproduction..."
Max and his detective friend Jack decide to unwind after investigating the castration-murders by going to a bar, where (as fate would have it) Erika is taping her Big Show. Max is not too busy admiring Erika and her performance to notice that a woman in the audience is pulling out some heavy weaponry. Max dives across the stage to save Erika from the barrage of bullets that come flying across the stage. Immediately the bouncers and the bartenders start whipping out their guns — everybody in this town is packing assault weapons — and a bar-room free-for-all starts which is likely to remind you of a certain other movie.
"Come with me if you want to live," cries Max — I think I've heard that somewhere before, too. Jack is killed trying to help them escape, but Max manages to get to his car. Max pulls his handy machine gun out of the back seat (so tell me: where do you keep yours?); he blows up a nearby vehicle just as Tania walks by it. I guess they're as unconcerned about property damage in Indonesia as they are with casual firearms-use. Tania's unfazed by the fireball, though, and soon Max and Erika are fleeing Tania in a highway car-chase/firefight. Both Max and Tania manage to shoot the living crap out of each other's cars without hurting each other or anyone else.
Max and Erika seek shelter at the police station while a small army of cops go looking for the unstoppable psychopath who's leaving such a horrendous swath of carnage in her wake. Max takes the opportunity to call his friends Snake and Tough back in the United States. He tells them about Tania's rampage, and begs them to call their friend Joe. "Tell him: I... need... help!", he shatners; we my hope that Joe's his acting coach, but somehow I doubt that's the case.
Strangely enough, Erika has a visitor waiting for her in the station: her mystical Uncle Rabu, who has foreseen the danger and come to do what little he can. He explains to her and the incredulous policemen the story of the South Sea Queen, and her reasons for coming after Erika. He also takes from her the necklace, giving her in exchange Ilias's kris.
All at once the lights in the building go out, and the emergency horns start blaring. Tania's driven a car straight into the building, and is working her way from room to room, floor to floor, killing everybody (haven't we seen this before somewhere, too?). She has a habit of shooting her victims in the groin. Much to Max's amazement, Uncle Rabu walks calmly in front of Tania's blazing gun. Holding up the necklace, he blows on it; and it sails across the room and embeds itself in Tania's eye. Tania is thrown back and lands on the ground, inert.
But then, of course, she sits back up again. As she shoots Uncle Rabu in the crotch, Max runs to rescue Erika and get the hell out of there.
After they've put a comfortable distance between themselves and Tania, the car they've "borrowed" gives up on them. Huddling together for warmth in the cold, wet night, they start to get all mawkish with each other. Max tells Erika the story of his wife, who was raped and murdered by a reently-released criminal. Erika tells Max her own sad story of abandonment and bad luck. "It'll look better in the morning," says the man who's just seen most of his friends and co-workers turned to a fine red mist by a killer who's still on their trail. Erika reacts to his comment more or less the way we would, and for a moment it looks like she's going to gain our wholehearted sympathy by tearing Max's face off... but naturally, three and a half seconds later she's locking lips with him, and they're shedding their clothing.
In the meantime, Tania's gone to cheap hotel to do some impromptu eyeball surgery. Popping out her eye, she fishes the necklace out of her skull; then she pops the eyeball back in. Good as new! A pudgy waiter from Room Service shows up with a tray, but when he sees the nude girl beckoning him from the bed, he can't tear off his clothes fast enough. Exit one waiter.
Several relentlessly brutal chase sequences later, Tania and the fugitives end up on the site of an abandoned airport. Suddenly, who should show up but... Snake! Tough! Joe! And they've manages to bring with them onto Indonesian soil a whole array of tanks and helicopters and rocket launchers and more heavy artillery (and all this without a trace of jet-lag). Hey, if it's one thing we've learned from the A-Team, it's that wacky American mercenaries are always welcome in other countries, especially if they come prepared to make the designated Bad Guys go Boom in colorful ways.
So the South Sea Queen faces twentieth century military technology, and we discover that not only is she immune to heavy weaponry, but so is the car she's driving. I suppose it's similar to the situation with Dracula's evening dress, or the Hulk's trousers: if it's attached to the monster, it has certain magical attributes it inherits.
Several really expensive explosions later, after the SSQ has defeated armored vehicles and even taken down a helicopter (which curiously enough remains suspended in the air after it blows up), she is finally pinned in a wreck by Snake. Sanke escapes just as the whole mass of metal and ammunition goes up in a spectacular fireball. The survivors clap each other on the backs, the way the heros always do before the Bad Guy comes stalking out of the flaming wreck to kick some more ass. Which she does.
This time, though, Tania Terminator has a new attribute: she can kill people just by looking at them. She demonstrates by offing the mullet-headed Snake. She mows down all the other mercenaries with her eyeball-rays, leaving her face-to-face with Max and Erika. Needless to say, when confronting the hero, she completely forgets the powers that have enabled her to melt tanks and kill people from a distance. Instead, she picks up Max and tosses him aside, where he lands stunned but essentially unhurt. The situation gets even sillier with Erika, her arch-rival: rather than complete her mission the easy way, she chases the helpless girl up the abandoned air traffic control tower so she can kill her with her bare hands.
And it's just at this point that Erika remembers the kris she's been carrying all this time.
Why is it that every time someone hands a horror/action movie heroine a weapon which is the one and only way to kill the monster, the heroine always forgets about it until half the cast has died trying to save her? I'm not even going to tell you what happens next. If you haven't figured it out by now... then you must be Erika herself; so get back into the movie and leave me the hell alone.
I suppose somebody had to do it: make a film that demonstrates exactly how movies should not be edited.
By comparison to Mystics in Bali, Lady Terminator resembles a Western-style action movie more closely, and is all the worse for it. Mystics was lean — if anything, a little too lean in its pared-down presentation of only the information it thought we needed to see. Lady Terminator takes the opposite approach, bombarding us with images in a way that seems to look forward to the irritating music-video/videogame-style transitions that are now so fashionable.
Rather than gain strength from its idiosyncratic structure, Lady Terminator just seems like a palimpsest, a bad copy of the junk cinema that filled up the video stores in the 1980s (movies which were themselves poor imitations of the big-budget action potboilers of the Reagan era). The energy of Mystics in Bali is still there through most of the movie, but the imagination and the sense of conviction that made the earlier film memorable are almost completely absent. The only specifically Indonesian aspect of Lady Terminator, the revenge of the South Sea Queen, is pure pretext: she could as well have been an alien invader, or a time-travelling cyborg. In fact, I suspect it might have been better if they'd avoided the Indonesian folklore altogether: it may not have been the best idea to have a beautiful spirit with a man-eating snake up her quim turn into an unstoppable robot killer shooting up shopping malls. These legendary supernatural figures don't need modern weapons: Count Dracula may be scary, but Count Dracula with a chainsaw or a machine gun is just plain stupid.
Still, the movie does manage to out-do its American models in at least one respect: immaturity. With its emphasis on castrating sex-goddesses, and bonding between guys who curse a lot and carry phallic heavy weaponry, Lady Terminator may be the perfect movie for the fourteen-year-old boy in every man.
However, if you're a guy, and you're not comfortable with that particularly unlovely side of yourself, you may not want to watch the film after all... because you're likely to enjoy it much more than you'd care to admit. The movie is stupid, derivative and unimagineably callous in its disregard for human life, but for a movie with such a high body count it's surprisingly good-natured. Even when he's working with such hackneyed material, Djalil still knows how to make a fun movie; though it may be jaw-droppingly tasteless for most of its running time, it's much too goofy and entertaining to be offensive.
Still, it's strange to think that this juvenile fantasy, with its ubiquitous firearms and free-wheeling violence, was made in Suharto's Indonesia. I am forced to think of the imprisonment of the Indonesian writer Pramoediya Ananta Toer, and the subsequent decades-long ban on all his writing until the dictator Suharto was deposed only a few years ago. Read anything by Pramoediya Ananta Toer, and you'll be struck by the sheer humanity of his writing... and yet his ideas were considered too dangerous to be read. Lady Terminator is diametrically opposed to such art; yet there is a place even for crap cinema like this in the struggle against censorship. Though the authorities did try to suppress the film after its release, its enormous popularity made it difficult to get rid of. In its own way, it may have helped break down a few walls and force open a few doors in the Indonesian conscience... though to be frank, I'm probably kidding myself here, hallucinating some value into a piece of total claptrap.
Before we end the movie, we get one final word from our voice-over, who returns to clarify the Moral of the Story for us:
"The struggle within our souls is never-ending; the life of man, short and brutal, torn between good and evil. Of the eternity around us, we know nothing. The stars look on: they had been here long before mankind appeared on our small planet, and will be here long after we are no more."
"Well, I give up. This absolutely wasn't the movie I thought it was going to be when it started. In fact, I really don't know what the hell this was; I stopped paying attention about half an hour ago. So I'm just going to say something that sounds meaningful, in a deep and soothing voice; then we'll all go for a beer and forget this ever happened, 'kay?"
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