15 movies over 30 years. Three forty-minute short films in each movie, for a total of 45 individual, self-contained episodes. That's the legacy of the Shake Rattle and Roll series, a set of horror anthology movies that featured at the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) between 1984 and 2014. With such a long history, it's easy to dismiss the series as the ultimate in formula horror — commercial cinema running an idea straight into the ground for as long as the public would pay to see it. The truth is a little more complicated than that.
The original Shake Rattle and Roll was undertaken as a serious horror movie, and nobody at the time could have foreseen it kick-starting a whole cottage industry. When the series did get under way, a few years after the release of the original, the first three sequels provided two of the Philippines' most talented and dedicated film-makers with a sort of laboratory in which to refine their craft. And though the series would eventually find itself in periods of creative slump — what series can go for 15 installments without one? — almost every film has at least one episode that's worth watching. And watching the whole series in order can be very educational: the stories, particularly in the earlier films, are so deeply rooted in the concerns of Philippine history, tradition and daily life that they provide a fascinating snapshot of the country over time.
SHAKE RATTLE AND ROLL (1984)The original Shake Rattle and Roll is an anthology horror movie, but it doesn't fit into the familiar Amicus formula of a series of stories linked by a framing device. According to some Philippine critics, it was inspired by the film Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa ("Three, Two, One", 1974) directed by Lino Brocka, one of the Philippines best-known and respected directors. Like Brocka's film, Shake Rattle and Roll is made up of three episodes, and the episodes are self-contained.
The three directors chosen to film the individual stories were among the best in the contemporary Philippine industry. Emmanuel Borlaza was a film-maker with a long, solid history — according to his IMDb listing (and who can we trust if not the IMDb?), Borlaza directed his first film two years before he was born; if that doesn't demonstrate a commitment to Philippine cinema, I don't know what does. Ishmael Bernal was one of the most promising young directors in the generation that included Lino Brocka; his Manila By Night (1980) is frequently mentioned in "best of" lists for Pinoy film. And Peque Gallaga, though he was just getting his start moving over to directing from writing and production design, had already made one of the most highly-regarded films in Philippine history: Oro, Mata, Plata (1982). Though Shake Rattle and Roll was produced by a small independent company, it had an impressive pedigree.
EPISODE 1: BASO (THE GLASS)
Synopsis: Two young people, Paolo and his girlfriend Girlie, go out to an old abandoned house owned by Paolo's family to hold a seance. As the old caretaker lets them in, Paolo tells Girlie that there are eerie stories connected with the house... but he can't remember exactly what they are, since he has never really paid attention to anything his grandparents ever told him. Soon they're joined by their friend Johnny, the necessary third person in the "spirit of the glass" ritual... though it's clear from asides Johnny makes to Girlie that there is some history between the two of them, and that Johnny is still carrying a torch for Girlie.
The three teens sit down at their home-made Ouija board and attempt to capture the house's wandering spirit in the glass. They get more than they bargained for... when they ask who's moving the glass, the board spells out not one but three names: Isabel, Ibarra and Juanito. All at once, the three young people find themselves possessed by the spirits. Girlie/Isabel pleads with her two lovers, Paolo/Ibarra and Johnny/Juanito, as the ghosts play out a love triangle revenge story from beyond the grave.
A flashback takes us to the days of the Philippine Revolution in the late 19th century, as Isabel bids a tender farewell to Juanito, who is going off to fight on behalf of the people...
Baso — Borlaza's entry — is the weakest episode of the original Shake Rattle and Roll movie, and it's a good thing it comes first. If it had been placed anywhere else in the sequence, it would have stopped the momentum of the picture dead in its tracks. The flashback that takes up most of the story is languid to the point of being torpid, as we get to see the soap opera romance play out between Juanito, Ibarra and Isabel. Ibarra is the favored suitor to Isabel's parents, but Isabel's heart belongs to the young freedom fighter Juanito. Alas, one day the news comes back from the battlefield that Juanito is dead — or so Isabel is told, by a man who claims to have buried him himself. Heartbroken (but not too heartbroken, if you get my drift), Isabel agrees to marry Ibarra.
But before all the melodrama can get too soppy (and not a moment too soon), the episode seems to remember it's supposed to be part of a horror anthology, and gives us a few refreshing shocks. Juanito was presumed dead, and was really buried by the man who carried the news back to Isabel... but he's been buried alive. We get to see him clawing his way back out of the mass grave he'd been thrown into. The night of Isabel's wedding to Ibarra, he shows up again: driven mad by his experience, covered with suppurating wounds, and wielding a machete, he's come to take revenge on the man who took his place at the altar.
EPISODE 2: PRIDYIDER (THE REFRIGERATOR)
Synopsis: Young Virgie and her mother move into a new house. Virgie's father is off in Saudi Arabia as a contract worker, struggling to earn them a living; the new house is surprisingly spacious and comfortable for the price, but Virgie and her mother are too happy with the bargain to wonder why the rent is quite so low.
Also living in the new house are the housekeeper Nelia and Virgie's older cousin Dodong. Virgie's father had suggested Dodong come and stay with them, so there would be a man in the house to take care of them. But Dodong is absolutely the wrong choice for a protector: he's a pervert who has the hots for Virgie... and since he can't have his cousin, he's been busy molesting the housekeeper.
Add to the mix Virgie's boyfriend Max, who's always trying to get the virginal Virgie to have sex with him, and you've got all the ingredients for another melodramatic soap opera like the first episode. But what nobody realizes is that the house they're in was once the home of a cannibalistic rapist/murderer, who cut up his victims and stored them in his refrigerator. Though the murderer was caught and executed ten years ago, his spirit is still in the house — specifically haunting the fridge. Stalks of ginger suddenly turn into severed fingers... heads of cabbage become heads of a much different kind. What starts as a series of ghastly hallucinations gradually turns real, and the fridge begins to collect body parts once again!
Typically, the middle installment of a horror anthology is reserved for the comic relief, and Bernal's Pridyider — pronounced, roughly, "Frigidaire" — seems to have all the ingredients of a farce. The idea of a haunted refrigerator is really pretty ridiculous, and the scenes of the fridge's victims throwing themselves into its, er, "clutches" are as silly as you'd expect them to be. Tongue-in-cheek commentary is also provided by the radio, tuned to 66.6 FM, which is continually playing supernaturally-themed (and unlicensed) songs like Michael Jackson's "Thriller" or the Eagles' "Hotel California". As for how they finally manage to deal with the menace, well... how would you cope with a malfunctioning appliance? You'd unplug it, of course... and that's exactly what our heroes do. Not much of a climax. Add to this some sloppy storytelling and oddly abrupt editing, and you might be tempted to write off this middle episode as a failure.
And yet, all that being said, Pridyider works surprisingly well.
There is no Virgie — only Zuul!
EPISODE 3: MANANANGGAL
Synopsis: Douglas is a boy who lives in a forest, outside of town, with his grandmother and two younger brothers. His mother and father have both gone off to the big city to try to make enough money for them to live on, leaving Douglas — a shy, insecure 15-year-old — as the man of the house.
Douglas is experiencing his first serious crush, on a girl who apparently lives alone even deeper in the forest. Her name is Anita, and as the episode begins, Douglas is rehearsing the sentimental song he plans to sing that night under her window. He's even spent 20 scarce pesos to hire a village musician to back him up... the normal price is one peso, but this is Holy Week (Maundy Thursday, to be precise), and Kadyo the guitar player feels the whole thing is extremely inappropriate.
Kadyo gets an even more uncomfortable feeling when the pair of them go out to Anita's house at dusk. He hadn't realized the house was quite that remote. Poor love-struck Douglas is completely oblivious to the creepy atmosphere, and is taken aback when Kadyo hastily gives him his money back and runs for home. Oh, well: Douglas fumbles his way through his serenade, and Anita (who really is very pretty) appears at her window to watch him.
Douglas is paralyzed with indecision about what to do next. Should he go see her? Should he run home? While he argues with himself, Anita apparently assumes he's run away, for she comes out of her house, picks up a flask of oil, and walks into the forest. Douglas creeps after her, trying to work up the nerve to talk to her... but he loses his nerve at the last minute, and starts running home. As he stumbles on his way, he starts to hear strange, terrifying noises coming from the darkness around him. All at once he steps on something that trips him up with a clang: it's a guitar. A few feet away, he finds the bloody corpse of Kadyo the street musician, whose throat has been torn out...
Douglas has brought himself to the attention of a manananggal — a vampire whose upper half detaches from its lower half, and flies through the night searching for victims.
This is by far the standout episode of the anthology. Sure, it features inconsistent day-for-night effects and cheap special effects — the manananggal is represented by a cartoon in one shot, and the flapping wings of the creature in the live shots are pretty clearly a couple of stagehands working a canvas backdrop. But these problems don't detract from the movie's effectiveness nearly as much as you might think. This episode derives its power not only from the fact it's effectively paced and skillfully edited, but also from its disturbing subtext. Manananggal is suffused with adolescent sexual panic. You don't have to look very far to find folktales from all parts of the world that represent a child's awakening sexual identity as something monstrous and terrifying, but few of them do so as bluntly as Manananggal.
When the manananggal does eventually attack Douglas and his little brothers, the sex-as-horror symbolism is pretty stark. Her transformation is extremely graphic and suggestive: first, Anita takes off all her clothes, and then she smears herself with some sort of oil. She seems to be transported with pleasure... but the pleasure soon turns to pain, as the entire top half of her body tears itself free from the bottom half. Massive wings sprout from her shoulders, and she flies off into the night, screaming. Here, then, is a predatory female whose body trails off in a bleeding wound — you don't have to be Dr. Freud to guess the symbolism. To prevent the manananggal from eating his family, Douglas must beat the monster off with his long, thin, appropriately-phallic palaspás (a Holy Week decoration made of palm leaves). When the Anita-monster tries to pin him to the floor, and she rolls on top of him trying to gnaw open his neck, it looks like a ghastly parody of the make-out session Douglas was no doubt hoping for the previous night. And what's the way you put a manananggal out of commission? You destroy her "lower half". The whole episode seems to be inspired by a mortal fear of women's bodies, and of the power of sexual attraction. The legend of the manananggal gets stripped to its raw bones here, and the result is a successfully frightening horror flick.
Still more appealing than balut.
Shortly before the release of the original Shake Rattle and Roll at Christmas, 1984, Peque Gallaga, the director of the Manananggal episode, suffered a devastating heart attack. Nevertheless, he managed to drag himself from his hospital bed to begin work on a new project called Scorpio Nights. The film details the mutually exploitative sexual relationship that forms between a young student and the wife of his neighbor, a security guard... which comes to an even more brutal and horrific end than you might expect. On its surface a bomba, a Philippine softcore sex movie, Scorpio Nights not only pushed the boundaries of what sort of eroticism could be shown on Philippine screens; it also served as a not-so-cryptic metaphor for conditions in the waning days of the Marcos dictatorship.
Gallaga threw himself into the project, realizing it could well be his last. Among his innovations was his idea to approach the sexual encounters between his doomed protagonists as though they were action-movie set pieces. But he realized that in his weakened condition, he was not going to be able to make the film he felt Scorpio Nights could and should be — he wasn't even allowed to stay for more than a few moments in the tiny apartments that constituted the main locations of the movie, since the constant cigarette smoke in the building threatened his health. Gallaga turned for help to his production manager, Lorenzo ("Lore") Reyes, and found that not only was Reyes whip-smart and technically proficient, but was also an ideal creative partner.
Gallaga fought very hard to keep his disturbing and subversive film out of the hands of the Marcos government's censors, and as a result Scorpio Nights became a local phenomenon. The movie still pops up in lists of the best and most influential Philippine films. Scorpio Nights marked the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership for Gallaga and Reyes as co-directors. The two men are united in their commitment to making honest movies: films made to the best of their abilities, which resonate with a local audience... regardless of their subject, or genre, or assumed "importance". For example: their most recent collaborations have included the critically-acclaimed drama Sonata (2013) — about an opera singer forced to re-evaluate her life after losing her voice — and a remake of their 80's killer-baby movie T'yanak (2014). So while a movie like Scorpio Nights might have assured Gallaga and Reyes of their place in the film history books, they were equally passionate about projects other directors might have scorned, such as...
SHAKE RATTLE AND ROLL II (1990)The original Shake Rattle and Roll had been produced by a company called Athena Films, but Athena only managed to put out one more movie before going out of business in 1985 (interestingly enough, their second movie, Company of Women, also starred Irma Alegre). Shake Rattle and Roll might very well have faded into obscurity, were it not for the involvement of "Mother" Lily Monteverde's Regal Entertainment production company.
Regal had noted the success of a rival company's TV show called "Pinoy Thrillers" — a series that concentrated on ghosts and other supernatural creatures — and had come up with a series of their own called "Regal Shocker", which featured more explicitly gruesome horror. To help gain the edge over their rival, Regal released Regal Shocker: The Movie in 1989. Regal Shocker: The Movie had a very familiar format: it was an anthology of three short horror films, focusing on young people. However, both "Pinoy Thrillers" and "Regal Shocker" were reaching the end of their run on TV, so rather than continue to put out anthology horrors under the Regal Shocker label, Regal decided to resurrect the Shake Rattle and Roll title, with some of the same cast members and even one of its directors: Peque Gallaga. They also seized on the gimmick of releasing their movie, and each successive installment of the series, on Christmas Day.
Shake Rattle and Roll II was released on December 25, 1990, six years after the first film. It brought back Janice de Belen from the original, and marked the first appearance in a SR&R film for actress Manilyn Reynes, who would go on to become even more of a fixture in Philippine horror than de Belen. Also appearing in the sequel were two of the stars of Regal Shocker: The Movie — Ana Roces and Carmina Villaroel. In this film, each of the three stories was explicitly identified in the credits as the "Shake", "Rattle" or "Roll" episode.
EPISODE 1: MULTO (THE GHOST)
Synopsis: Newlyweds Mari and Cathy (Janice de Belen) are on their honeymoon. They've rented a little cottage in a remote location. It would be idyllic, except that the lonely old woman who takes care of the property seems to resent their intrusion.
During the night, Cathy has a terrible dream: she sees a schoolgirl come running into the bedroom, pursued by a sinister man. The strange man forces the girl to come with him into a room the caretaker had said was locked and off-limits. Cathy watches in horror as the man enters the forbidden room, revealing a gynaecologist's exam room. The man straps the girl into the stirrups and proceeds to do some things to her that would not be approved of by the local medical board.
In the morning, Cathy tries to convince herself it was all just a dream. Unfortunately for her, the voices in her head won't let her do that... they lead her to that locked room, which is now open. The room is exactly as she dreamed it — and there, on the wall, she sees a portrait of the same man she saw in the nightmare!
Ever the concerned husband, Mari sends Cathy out for a nice relaxing walk, in the company of the caretaker. The old woman reveals to her what her dream really meant: years ago, the house had belonged to the mad Dr. Corpus, who had raped and mutilated several young girls before murdering his own niece, Consuelo, and committing suicide in remorse. Now his spirit is rumored to walk in the house...
In the meantime, Mari has searched the mysterious locked room. He finds Dr. Corpus's signet ring — the same ring Cathy saw on the doctor's hand during her dream, which the murderous OB/GYN even kept on under his rubber gloves — and decides for some reason to put it on. This turns out to have been a very bad decision...
In its opening minutes, SR&R II is likely to inspire a sense of déa vu — not only because of the title, the format, the Christmas release date and the reappearance of Janice de Belen, but also because this installment opens with another soap opera. Admittedly, Philippine cinema thrives on melodrama. Still, way too much time is spent during the early part of Multo watching the loving couple smooch and stare lovingly into each others' eyes; and even when the ghost story itself starts to unfold, the action grinds to a halt again through the overuse of slow motion.
Multo, with its speculum-wielding killer, almost succeeds in being as cringe-inducingly uncomfortable as the first installment's Pridyider episode. But in spite of the return of Janice de Belen as Cathy, Multo hardy bears comparison to Pridyider. In fact, it never even rises to the level of Baso, which at least had its blackly humorous twist ending to liven it up.
EPISODE 2: KULAM (THE SPELL)
Synopsis: Bogart is a young man in the hospital, recovering from multiple broken limbs. He is under the care of an imposing middle-aged woman doctor named Kalivaryo, and seems to have formed quite an attachment to her. Actually, Dr. Kalivaryo is a practitioner of the Black Arts, and she has cast a voodoo spell on Bogart to make him fall in love with her. Unfortunately, the love charm seems to have worked a little too well, because its effects have rubbed off on Bogart's sexy nurse, Melanie. While Dr. Kalivaryo is attending to other patients, Nurse Melanie disrobes and throws herself on top of the helpless patient...
Dr. Kalivaryo comes back unexpectedly and discovers Melanie in bed with Bogart. Furious, she throws the nearly-naked nurse out into the crowded hallway. Then she rounds on Bogart: "Traitor!" she snarls. Using a lock of his hair, she creates a voodoo doll, and begins to threaten some very sensitive parts of his anatomy.
And here it is: the comic relief. Depending on your level of tolerance for this sort of broad slapstick, you'll either find this episode mildly entertaining or extremely grating, because it's little more than a 45-minute live-action cartoon. Low points include: Dr. Kalivaryo prodding the groin of a voodoo doll, while Bogart writhes in pain; and the scene in which Bogart falls down multiple flights of stairs on a skateboard, accompanied by John Williams's theme from Superman. Relative high points include the attack of the puppet tiyanaks; the scene in which an oblivious Bogart completely fails to notice the corpses coming to life all around him (he whistles a happy tune as it happens, and the happy tune he whistles turns out to be "I Whistle a Happy Tune" from The King and I)... and the ending, in which Tiffany's purloined hairbrush allows Nurse Melanie to get a delightfully cruel revenge on Dr. Kalivaryo.
Janice de Belen makes an unexpected appearance in this episode as one of the morgue zombies.
EPISODE 3: ASWANG
Synopsis: Portia (Manilyn Reynes) has been invited by her school friend Monica to come home with her to her native village. There is a special festival being held in the village, and Monica is particularly anxious that Portia should come be a part of it. Portia is more than happy to oblige, but immediately begins to notice that the locals are treating her strangely. While they seem welcoming and genuinely happy to see her, they always seem to be watching her. Hungrily, one might say.
One of the villagers actually goes so far as to pull her aside and warn her to flee back to the city as quickly as she can. Monica laughs off Portia's concerns... but that particular villager disappears afterwards.
Portia can't help but start worrying again when she notices the locals like their meat extremely rare. Unfortunately for her, she's asleep when Monica's mother leans through the window that night to whisper to her daughter: it's not just the sinister undertones of their conversation she might find troubling. It's the fact that Monica's mother is hovering ten feet off the ground...
The next day, Portia and Monica go for a walk outside the village. There they run into a pair of school friends, Ricky and Milo, who've followed them from the city and are camping out in the nearby forest. Ricky and Milo are concerned about the girls, because they've heard rumors that the village is inhabited by aswangs — vampires who seem normal by day, but who transform at night into monsters who eat the flesh of unborn babies and virgins.
Ricky and Milo are right.
Justly celebrated as one of the high points of the entire series, Aswang treads some familiar ground with a light and energetic step. It turns out these villagers take their "Feast of the Virgin" so literally it would've made Robert Bloch weep for joy.
Portia, to her credit, stops listening to the objections of her rational side as soon as things begin to get seriously weird. Forced at short notice to save her own life, Portia comes up with a plan that she clearly hates having to put into play. Then, having committed herself to this terrible plan, she finds herself incapable of fleeing to safety without staying to watch the effect of what she's done. When the aswang village realizes what's happened, they discover Portia hiding and confront her... and we have a remarkable moment in which Portia realizes that these vampires see her as the monster.
Sure, there are some familiar aspects to the story, and sure, the ending is about 30 seconds too long for its own good. But the Boss Monster at the end is fun to watch, and there's a surprisingly graphic dismemberment that's likely to come as a bit of a shock. And any film that forces the crucifix-wielding Final Girl to see things through the eyes of the vampires, even momentarily, is clearly a film to be cherished.
SHAKE RATTLE AND ROLL III (1991)Gallaga and Reyes returned for the third installment of the series, this time basing all three stories on the theme of family, and the horror of losing a beloved family member.
During the filming of the Aswang segment of SR&R II, Gallaga and Reyes both noticed a particular extra who was playing one of the vampire villagers. She was an elderly woman with wild white hair... and she so looked the part of an aswang that the directors vowed to use her in another movie, not as an extra but as the featured creature. This decision launched the late-career triumph of Lilia Cuntapay, who went on to become a fixture of Philippine horror movies (including several more SR&R episodes) before her death in 2016. Cuntapay also starred in the mockumentary Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay. That film purported to tell the story of Cuntapay, after a lifetime of bit parts and uncredited walk-ons, suddenly finding herself in the running for a Best Supporting Actress award, in competition with an assortment of beautiful and glamorous young starlets. Fittingly enough, Cuntapay won a real Best Actress award for her performance.
EPISODE 1: YAYA ("Nanny")
Synopsis: Tanya (Kris Aquino, daughter of assassinated Philippine ex-President Benigno Aquino and Corazon Aquino, who was President at the time of filming) is a young mother trying to cope not only with the demands of a new baby, but also with her husband leaving her for five years to work in America. Though her mother Lydia wishes she would come home to stay with her, Tanya has just recently moved into an economical new house. She's not completely on her own: even though she, like many Philippine families at the time, is struggling financially, a live-in nanny is a necessary expense.
During one of the city's rolling blackouts, Tanya hears a disturbance coming from the infant Jane's room. When she gets there, she's horrified to see that Jane is no longer in her crib. When she tries to find out whatever happened to baby Jane, she discovers nanny Virgie cowering in the closet, clutching Jane to her body, so terrified she refuses to let go.
Clearly something is terribly wrong with Virgie, so Tanya has no choice but to find another nanny. So preoccupied is Tanya with her domestic troubles that she fails to notice the shadowy figure of a black-veiled woman that starts appearing just at the periphery of her vision. However, when she goes to interview a woman for the nanny position, she's left discomfited when the older women tells her she can't take the position after all. Once she's introduced to baby Jane, she realizes that Jane already has a nanny — a ghostly one, that wants to take the child away with her forever.
With one exception, all the Shake Rattle and Roll films were released on Christmas Day, but this episode is the first one to feature a Christmas setting. This gives us the surprisingly entertaining spectacle of exploding Christmas trees, and lights & ornaments displaying some sinister behavior. Tanya, like Portia in the Aswang episode, knows when to suspend her disbelief: once she sees her house self-destructing around her, and gets a good look at Lilia Cuntapay stalking the halls of her otherwise thoroughly-normal suburban house, she decides to take her family and get the hell out of there.
But even when Tanya takes Jane to her mother's house she is not free from the baleful influence of her ghost nanny. She sends her brother back into her ruined house to get her necessities, while she waits in the car, thinking she will be safe. Much to her surprise, she's attacked by the spectral old woman in broad daylight: the hag tries to force her way into the car. Her brother mistakes her frantic honking of the car horn for impatience, and takes his time responding. By the time he gets back, poor Tanya is scared out of her wits, and maybe a little too anxious to get out of the car she's been trapped in... as she helps her brother load her belongings into the trunk, she fails to notice an invisible something getting into the car. Tragedy ensues.
If you check on the internet, you'll find that this is one of the SR&R episodes that people tend to remember most fondly and most vividly — not just from this particular installment, but from the series as a whole. This is particularly remarkable in that, at about 25 minutes, Yaya is also one of the shortest installments in the series. Aside from its downbeat ending, the most memorable part of the episode is probably the appearance of Lilia Cuntapay as the nanny. Personally, I don't find her appearance to be particularly threatening here: in later films, she would be made up, shot and lit with much greater effectiveness; but in Yaya, she looks to me like a perfectly ordinary old woman. For sheer memorable spookiness, this opening act doesn't hold a candle to...
EPISODE 2: ATE ("Sister")
Synopsis: Roselyn (Janice de Belen) is a high school teacher who is summoned one afternoon to her principal's office. The local priest, Father Salazar, has entrusted him with a message for her, which he received under strange circumstances from Roselyn's sister Rowena. The note is scrawled in wild, childish handwriting, as though Rowena has lost control of her own hands, and it reads very much like a suicide note. SO HARD SO HARD I CAN'T TAKE IT ANY MORE I WANT TO DIE, reads the note. The principal tells Roselyn that Father Salazar has not heard anything from Rowena since he got the message. Though he tried to visit several times, Rowena's in-laws had refused to let him see her.
The Redoblados somewhat reluctantly allow Roselyn to stay with them for a while, at least until she is satisfied that her sister is being cared for properly. They resist her attempts to help feed Rowena: it seems she is on a very restricted diet. No salt, for instance. Roselyn notes this diet does not seem to be agreeing with her: not only does Rowena go into convulsions at the dinner table; Roselyn also finds her desperately eating dirt out of the flowerpots. Why is she behaving so strangely? Why do the Redoblados chain her in her room at night? Why is she starting to smell like rotten meat? By the time Roselyn finds her brother-in-law hiding in the attic, terrified of his own family, we have a pretty good idea what is really going on.
This episode is laden with foreshadowing: in the very beginning, Roselyn is sitting with some of the other teachers in her school, watching a talk show on which a woman claims to be able to raise the dead. The mystic complains that when she tried to bring a corpse onto the show to demonstrate, the security guard wouldn't let her bring it in... and in fact, he called the police on her; sad face. It's at that point that Roselyn is summoned to the principal's office with the bad news about her sister. On the wall of the principal's office, we see a very large painting depicting Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Bad omens, to say the least. Also, Roselyn's sister's name "Rowena" is almost certainly taken from Poe's story "Ligeia", in which the narrator's second wife Rowena may or may not come back to life as his first wife Ligeia after her death.
(Once again, though, the harsh realities of Philippine life intrude on the fantasy: as Roselyn arrives at the office, the principal is disciplining one of the students for bringing a loaded gun to school. What else is he supposed to do? complains the student. His father was a victim of political violence. Everybody, even the children, needs to protect themselves... especially when the kid sitting across from you is a member of the family that's killing yours. Mind you, the fact that this little vignette ends up being played for laughs tells us a lot about the mood of the moment.)
Ate takes its time unfolding a story whose details the audience has guessed right away. But the point is not to reveal the secret to us as slowly as it's revealed to Roselyn. Rather, the movie wants us to suffer along with the increasingly gruesome revelations, as Roselyn gradually realizes her sister is the Walking Dead. The long, long shots of Rowena shoveling handfuls of dirt into her mouth are harrowing. Probably the most uncomfortable bit of all is when Roselyn's brother-in-law convinces her, very much against her better instincts, to try to end the curse by murdering the elder Redoblados. This leads to a dinner scene in which it becomes clear that the Redoblados know exactly what she's up to, and intend to turn the tables on her just as slowly and painfully as they can.
EPISODE 3: NANAY ("Mother")
Synopsis: Maloy (Manilyn Reynes) is a student at the Santa Neptunia Academy. Maloy is a shy girl with a pronounced stutter, and her timidity both exasperates her teachers and makes her a target for her classmates.
When Maloy and her fellow students go off on a class trip, to collect biological specimens at a nearby lake, some of the boys take the opportunity to wave slimy specimens in her face and slap a rude sign on her back. Her friend Sally comes to her rescue, and shows Maloy the odd things she's found under the water offshore: five gelatinous sacs ("Eggs of Unknown Animal", she labels them). When Sally holds one of them up to inspect it, she accidentally ruptures it. At that moment, a weird, echoing cry seems to come from the lake. Maloy and Sally look around, but are unable to figure out where the strange noise might have come from.
This tragic "accident" puts an immediate end to the school trip. But while everyone is struggling to save poor Sally, something climbs quietly out of the lake and hides itself in one of the specimen containers.
Maloy happens to bring that particular specimen container back to her dormitory, along with the bag of unidentified sea-eggs Sally had collected. Before she can do anything with them, she's accosted by the other girls in the dorm, led by chief Mean Girl Dezzi Rae (comedian Ai-Ai de las Alas, at her broadest and most abrasive). Dezzi Rae and her friends take special pleasure in tormenting Maloy, who is completely unable to defend herself. The arrival of the dorm's landlady Eva doesn't help much: Maloy's come home after curfew, and she's so upset by everything that's happened that she can't even manage to stammer out her story. Exasperated, Eva shepherds her into the kitchen with her filthy, dripping coolers, and insists she explain herself.
Maloy suddenly realizes what Sally's samples must have been. She tries to explain to Eva, but once she's made it clear that Sally is dead — really, truly, actually dead — Eva starts to backtrack. She was just pulling Maloy's leg, trying to get a rise out of her by telling her an old bedtime story of her grandmother's grandmother's grandmother. There's no such thing as monsters! Maloy, Eva says, is just too gullible.
Once Eva has left her alone in the kitchen, Maloy is surprised when one of her coolers knocks itself over. When she goes to find out what's happened, she's attacked by the Undin. She throws the creature off and runs to find the bag of eggs, hoping she can give them back. The Undin watches her warily from behind some water jugs, and ducks out of sight. Maloy creeps slowly across the floor, holding up the bag and making gentle cooing noises, trying to coax the creature back out. instead of the Undin, though, she runs into Eva, Dezzi Rae and the other girls, watching her as though she's lost her mind.
For the rest of the episode, Maloy must try to get the remaining eggs back to the Undin. Unfortunately, she also has to contend with the fact that Dezzi Rae and her friends have invited their boyfriends to the dorm for a dance party. And to make matters worse, Dezzi Rae has thought up a fun new party game: find out whatever it is that annoying little wretch Maloy is so anxious about — fish eggs, is it? — and take it from her. Hide it from her. Maybe even... destroy it. What's the worst that could happen?
Though it became routine for SR&R to bring back popular actors in later installments, those actors were rarely cast twice in the same kind of role. Here the lovely Manilyn Reynes, who played the heroine in Part II's Aswang episode, plays a different kind of heroine altogether. There's no disguising the fact that Ms. Reynes is an attractive young woman made up and placed behind glasses to seem like a plain girl, but the way she carries herself makes us believe that her character thinks she's as unappealing as the other characters say she is.
Pissed-off heroine Manilyn
The puppet used for the Undin is least effective when it's in motion or attacking. Or... you know... vomiting toxic slime on its victims. In quieter moments, we get to appreciate its artistry a little bit more: its eyes move; its nostrils flare; it shifts from side to side like a real crouching animal. It may not be terribly convincing, but it does have character. Nevertheless, as it swims away under the lake with its partner in what I suppose is a happy ending, I can't help but wonder: what is Maloy going to tell the police?
SHAKE RATTLE AND ROLL IV (1992)The motivating force behind the continuing SR&R series was, of course, money. From Regal Productions's standpoint, it was a matter of giving the public what they wanted. But Gallaga and Reyes had taken advantage of these purely commercial movies to practice their craft. They used the horror anthology format to experiment, and if their experiments were not all equally successful, they found the end results satisfactory as a whole. In interviews celebrating the anniversary DVD release of Gallaga's Oro, Mata, Plata — considered a landmark in Philippine cinema — Gallaga would look back and admit that there were moments in the Shake Rattle and Roll movies that he felt represented better film-making.
Part IV would be the last Shake Rattle and Roll installment directed by Gallaga and Reyes. After making nine brief, concentrated movies together in three separate anthologies — ten in four, for Gallaga personally — who could blame them for wanting to move on?
Like Part III, all the stories of Part IV would share a common theme. This time, the central idea of all three episodes would be the deceptive nature of appearances: who do you trust, and why? That sinister-looking thing lurking in the shadows: is it lurking there because it wants to eat us? Or is it simply terrified of us normal people in the sunlit world, and the things we're capable of? And what about the people in whom we place our implicit trust? Behind their uniforms... behind their lofty positions, or privileged places in the community... even behind their beautiful faces, might there not lurk the most dangerous monsters of all?
(OK, so maybe that's not the most profound of messages. But profundity isn't really the point!)
EPISODE 1: ANG GURO ("The Teacher")
Synopsis: It's the day of Jodie's wedding, and for Jodie it's a dream come true. Everything is perfect: the church is beautifully decorated; the pews are filled with friends and family, all (except one) dressed in immaculate white; her father is overwhelmed, with tears streaming from his face. And then there's her groom: Jodie's dream-man. He's handsome; he's strapping; he's her chemistry teacher; he's... uhh...
Wait a minute.
Apparently this is literally Jodie's dream wedding. Back in the real world, she's sitting in the middle of her science class, totally oblivious to her surroundings. She's just getting to the good part of her dream, in which her handsome classmate Mabu (Aljon Jimenez) — still wearing his school clothes — stands up and challenges the groom for Jodie's love. Ah, romance! How sweet it is to be alive! And that's the point at which her "dream-man", Mr. Zerrudo, drags her out of her reverie... much to the class's amusement.
As for the real-life Mabu, he's been taking advantage of the class's distraction to modify the current experiment a little. He's managed to turn a simple chemistry lab exercise into a dangerous toy, which nearly ends up killing the principal as she walks by outside the classroom. As the hallway smolders and the classroom begins to fill with smoke, Jodie and Mabu both find themselves assigned detention until well after dark.
There are several annoying things about this situation: first, obviously, this was not the sort of Mabu-Zerrudo triangle Jodie had imagined. Next, after-dark is especially dark these days... Once again the difficulties of current Philippine life have intruded into escapist entertainment: the school is subject to periodic blackouts due to problems with the municipal power supply.
When Jodie falls into her daydream again during the next science class, things have gone strangely awry: now she imagines she's struggling to get to her own wedding, stumbling across a field in the dead of night in her wedding dress. All her friends are standing outside the church waiting for her, but the joyful mood is gone: they're all wearing their normal street clothes, and they're watching Jodie's struggles as though she were a disappointing dish that was late arriving at the table. As she stands next to Mr. Zerrudo at the altar, she's horrified to see him transform into a vampire. When she screams and tries to run away, she gets tripped up by the wedding decorations, while her school friends do nothing to help her...
Zerrudo has not been expecting company — in fact, he'd been working on some sort of experiment involving bubbling cone-shaped flasks, and had just-that-moment sipped some colored liquid out of one. Gretch isn't put off in the slightest when Zerrudo tells her to go away, even though his voice seems much gruffer than usual. She picks up the flask he's just been swigging from and raises it playfully to her lips — and is taken aback by Zerrudo's violent reaction. Gretch simply assumes he's overcome with emotion, and is having a hard time restraining his manly urges. When he staggers off and hunches over in the corner, Gretch sends a smug thumbs-up to Jodie, who is still hiding near the door. But she's considerably less happy to see her teacher when he finally turns around: he's turned into a bald, melty-faced creature whose muscles have burst through his shirt. As he rounds on Gretch, throws her around like a rag-doll (which [cough] is precisely what she is at that point), and starts tearing her throat out with his teeth, Jodie can't help but scream. Monster Zerrudo looks up from his grisly feast as Jodie runs off in terror... but Zerrudo does not run after her. Instead, he reaches for a flask of different-colored liquid.
Questionable fashion choice...
Just then, as Mr. Zerrudo is taking Jodie off to the chemistry lab, Mabu gets dragged into the principal's office, too: it seems he's nearly blown up yet another member of the faculty. Looks like he'll be having a late study session of his own. As the principal prepares to take Mabu to a different room, the school suffers another one of its blackouts. Now Jodie's alone, in the dark, with a man who turns into a monster. Can Mabu find her and rescue her before it's too late?
Manilyn Reynes comes back for yet another episode, this time playing a giddy high school girl. Here she is matched with another returning actor, Aljon Jimenez, who co-starred with Reynes in the Aswang episode of Shake Rattle and Roll II, as well as in the 1992 movie Aswang (unrelated to the SR&R episode, but also directed by Gallaga and Reyes). This was hardly their last collaboration: Manilyn Reynes and Aljon Jimenez were married in 1996.
Almost all the previous episodes of SR&R — except, I suppose, the ones involving ghosts, which are pretty much universal — had had some clear connection to local tradition, history or mythology. This story is the exception. It's the first so far to rely on a stock monster from outside the Philippines: (Dr. Jekyll and) Mr. Hyde. This seems like a bit of a cop-out. Though the episode is entertaining enough, and as well-made as any of the others in the series, by comparison to the Aswang or Ate episodes it seems trivial to the point of merely marking time before the next story.
The very idea of somebody using a public school chemistry classroom to conduct weird Jekyll-and-Hyde experiments is a little strange: how did the request for those particular chemicals look on the annual science department budget request? And what was the point? Was it so that he could create an alter-ego that could finally lay grubby paws on the adolescent girls that kept throwing themselves at him? That unsavory scheme might have worked for the original Dr. Jekyll, in the teeming city of London... but in the restricted environment of a high school, it seems far-fetched to think he'd get away with it. After all, he'd still be wearing his own clothes, if anybody should see him; and he'd have a heck of a time disposing of the bodies afterwards. Come to think of it, we never do find out what he did with Gretch...
Although it touches on inappropriate student-teacher relations, and involves Mabu nearly killing his instructors twice (and actually killing one at the end — once again, I feel like asking: what in the world is he going to say to the police?), Guro is Shake Rattle and Roll IV's comic episode. This is not to say that it's particularly funny, but it does work slightly better with its tongue in its cheek than it would have as a straight horror-story. The best part of the episode is undoubtedly the thrice-repeated dream sequence, which tricks us for a moment into thinking that maybe it's not a dream the third time around, when Mabu's taken Zerrudo's place at the altar. As a device for leading into the "it's over but it's not over" conclusion, it's pretty successful, and our knowledge that Reynes and Jimenez really did get married a few years later just makes it funnier in hindsight.
EPISODE 2: ANG KAMPITBAHAY ("The Neighbor")
Synopsis: Little Nikkie (Aiza Seguerra) is miserable at home: her father, the self-important "Architect Rod Mallari" (as he's even referred to in the credits) is constantly battling with Nikkie's mom, and the strain is more than a little girl should have to bear. The family is moving to a new neighborhood for Architect Rod Mallari's work, and Nikkie really doesn't want to go and leave all her friends behind. To make things worse, the family is going to be split up during the move: Nikkie is going to be left behind with her Nanny in the nearly-empty old house.
To take her mind off her unhappiness, her parents have engaged the services of a child-minder named Tising (Janice de Belen). She's been hired to take Nikkie out to the local park, while they and Nanny pack up the house. The local park seems to be exactly the sort of place for a little girl to relax and play: it's got swing sets and slides and all sorts of amusements. In fact, the park is undergoing an expansion to make it even more fun for the neighborhood kids. Work crews are even now cutting down the few remaining trees to make room for more play equipment.
The first thing to go wrong? Well, it turns out that Tising is absolutely terrible at her job. She frequently leaves her charges unattended, or even in the care of total strangers. Once in the park, she lets all the kids get separated too far apart, so that she can't keep her eye on all of them. She does take note of an irritatingly yappy little dog who's tied under one of the park's few remaining trees; and she notices enough to be startled with the dog suddenly disappears, leaving its collar still tied to the tree. But she's unable to follow up, because somebody's kid is beating up one of her kids... and it's all so confusing that she forgets all about the dog, and pushes the stroller of her youngest client under the same tree for shade.
Nobody is watching the tree as Tising goes to break up the fight. Nobody, that is, except Nikkie. She doesn't seem to be watching, but in fact she is using the same make-up mirror she uses to surreptitiously monitor her parents when they argue. But it's precisely because she doesn't seem to be watching that she actually witnesses what happens next: something that looks like a living shadow drops down out of the tree, and before anyone realizes what's happened it's jumped back up into the foliage... carrying the infant.
So it is that Nikkie ends up alone with her Nanny in her house at night. And the creature — who now knows Nikkie is the only one who saw it — has decided to come pay a visit. And the creature is not alone: Tising — who really is just awful at child care — also realizes that Nikkie is her only hope for rescuing her reputation. So, while something dark and lithe is prowling outside the nearly-empty house, Tising is breaking in, too, to force Nikkie at knife-point to climb up into that tree and find what's happened to the missing children...
Now it's up to Nikkie to rescue the kids, and try to make peace between the witawit and the increasingly-distraught community.
Aiza Seguerra was a talented child star who got started in the entertainment business at the age of three. Seguerra grew up to achieve notable successes as a musician, an actress and — after self-identifying as a transgender man in recent years — an actor. Seguerra has yet to make any more horror films after assuming his new identity, but I look forward to the day that he becomes one of the few people to play both heroines and heroes in a genre that is often criticized for its stereotyping of gender.
Seguerra would go on to appear in one other SR&R installment — Part 6 in 1997. Seguerra's co-star Janice de Belen would also appear only once more in the series, in Part 14; but it's important to note that de Belen had appeared in every one of the previous SR&R films, including the original back in 1984. Her departure from the series may even have been a more momentous change than Gallaga's and Reyes's. In Ang Kampitbahay, de Belen is cast in another entirely different role from any of the roles she'd played in the series so far; and it's a little disturbing to see the same actress who played the innocent Virgie in Pridyider now threatening a very young child with a knife. But this is one of the secrets that kept SR&R going through fifteen films: bring familiar faces back, yes, but do something new with them each time they appear.
EPISODE 3: ANG MADRE ("The Nun")
Synopsis: Puri (Gina Alajar) has fallen on hard times. Homeless, she now lives in pushcart that she shares with her four-year-old son Teks (IC Mendoza) and her sister Astrude (Ai-Ai de las Alas); they've just arrived in a shanty town outside the capital. It's a terrible place to try to raise a fatherless son: in addition to the filthy conditions, the scarce food, and the whorehouse down the block, there's also the recent spate of dismemberment-murders that have been terrorizing the makeshift neighborhood. The family in the lean-to next door insists that the murders are the work of a manananggal — hey, remember the manananggal from SR&R 1? yeah; that manananggal! A bloodthirsty winged creature that lives like a normal human being by day, but by night detaches its upper body from its lower body, grows wings, and flies off looking for victims to devour.
That night, Teks glimpses an old woman named Aling Iya (Lilia Cuntapay) moving stealthily from house to house. Not long after she disappears, there comes a terrible noise from the shack next door. As Puri and her family cower in terror inside their cart, something awful with leathery wings makes short work of the man and two children living next door... the ones that had warned Teks about the manananggal.
The shanty town residents are understandably upset by these most recent murders, in spite of the attempts by the kind young doctor at the local clinic (and his assistant, the nun Sister Mary John) to convince them that the manananggal is pure superstition. During an argument about the manananggal at the clinic, old Aling Iya wanders in with a gift for the doctor, and the whole room falls silent. The residents watch the old woman warily as she gives the doctor the package and runs away in haste.
That night, Teks is terrified when he catches sight of Aling Iya again wandering the neighborhood. When Puri and Astrude jump out of the cart to investigate, they catch sight of something up on the roof of a nearby shack: it's the manananggal, tangled up in the mess of jury-rigged television aerials on the roof. Teks misses all that: intent on trying to see where Aling Iya has gone, he accidentally stumbles across the monster's bottom half, waiting for the top to fly home. Teks creeps out again at dawn, and discovers who the monster really is: it's none other than Sister Mary John! The devoted clinic assistant, whom everybody knows and respects, is actually the one who is killing the locals and eating them!
In the meantime, Sister Mary John looks on impassively from the sidelines. Slowly she raises little Teks's blood sample to her lips and gives it a good long lick...
Casting Ai-Ai de las Alas as a loudmouthed bully in Part III's Nanay had been overkill. Shake Rattle and Roll III came early in her career, so it might have seemed like a good idea at the time, both to the film-makers and to the comedian. But it had been too much: her on-screen persona is already exaggerated to the point of cartoonishness, and in Nanay she'd gone completely over-the-top. Casting de las Alas in a sympathetic role in Part IV, where her essential good nature conflicted with her abrasive manner, was a much better choice. In Ang Madre she got the chance to prove she had many different levels of grit to her sandpaper.
In general, the tone of the Shake Rattle and Roll movies up to this point has been horror-lite: even when the subjects have been a little troubling — for instance, the sleazy sexual undertones of Pridyider, or the murderous ghostly gynaecologist in Multo — the movies don't generally stop to examine these things very carefully. The point is entertainment, rather than real discomfort. But the murder of Aling Iya is different: it's a moment of genuine horror. The camera takes the POV of the unfortunate woman as the fists and clubs descend on her head; we're spun from face to leering face, as Aling Iya is dragged through the street and beaten... until the camera finally releases us, and we see her falling, covered in blood. Gallaga and Reyes seized on Lilia Cuntapay as a regular in their series because they thought she truly looked the part of an aswang; now here they are, cruelly turning the tables on us (and themselves) by having their other characters jump to the same conclusion.
We've had hints of the local economic problems with the frequent power outages in the first episode, and in the job-related stress that threatens to break up "Architect Rod Mallori"'s family in the second. But now, in Ang Madre, we're confronted with a cast of characters who cling to the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. Granted, this is not a realistic, documentary-style depiction of life among the homeless. Still, Gina Alajar (who'd played the zombified sister in Ate) plays a character who is dirty and sick at the beginning of the movie, and remains dirty and sick at the end; there is no romantic lead to come pull her and her son out of poverty at the finale (though we might hope that her sister's new career might gradually pull the family out of homelessness). Once the manananggal is defeated, there's no guaranteed happy ending for any of them: instead, it's back to the normal, everyday horrors of life in the streets.
The identity of the monster adds another layer of cruelty. Sister Mary John is someone the locals have counted on to bring them both physical and spiritual comfort, and it turns out she's simply been exploiting them — to death.
It may be too much to try to find a broader lesson in this — if you're a conservative, you might want to see it as a parable about the evils of socialism; or, if you're a lefty like me, you might point to the fact that some of the world's wealthiest philanthropists derive their profits from the very system that forces people into poverty in the first place. But we have to bear in mind this movie was made exclusively for a Philippine audience in the immediate aftermath of the Marcos regime, so its intended social or political subtext — if any — is most likely quite specific, and quite different.
Nevertheless, the revelation of the monster's identity really brings home the theme all three of this film's episodes have tried to establish. In Ang Guro, we saw a trusted and respected teacher turn himself into a monster and kill a student. In Ang Kampitbahay, we saw a scary-looking creature show kindness and compassion, while a professional child-minder attacked a little girl with a knife. Ang Madre drives the lesson home most brutally: what appears to us as monstrous (like Aling Iya) may in fact be beautiful; what we perceive to be noble and beautiful (like Sister Mary John) may be something worse than monstrous under the surface. Ang Madre has an even nastier twist to reveal: after Teks has found a way to dispose of the manananggal — HINT: it involves using hot sauce in place of holy water, a plan I think would make churchgoing much more entertaining if it catches on — his mother remembers that she saw the creature tangled up in the television antennas at the same time one of the murders was being committed. That's right: there are two vampire creatures, and by this point it would probably not surprise you to find out who the second one is.
Eventually I hope to get around to reviewing all of the Shake Rattle and Roll movies; I'm ending the first set of reviews here, because the first four films of the series form an interconnected group. Peque Gallaga himself bridges the gap between the first, stand-alone entry and the following three movies, and the Gallaga-Reyes partnership unites the sequels. However, after the departure of Gallaga and Reyes, the series did not continue in quite such an orderly fashion. There would be only two more installments before the end of the 20th century, and after Part VI it would be eight years before another Shake Rattle and Roll movie got off the ground.
One of the most interesting things about these movies — not just the first four installments, but all of them — is the fact they were made strictly for local consumption. Obviously, this means that most of the individual episodes were based on local legends that are unfamiliar outside the islands — which, paradoxically, makes them particularly appealing for horror fans world-wide. But because the movies were targeted exclusively at a local audience, many of their stories give us little unvarnished glimpses of what people were actually concerned about at that time and place. Aspects of contemporary Philippine life we probably would not have been aware of are shown to us without explanation or undue emphasis. For instance, several stories show us families broken up by the need of one or more members to go somewhere else for employment — often leaving the country entirely. A "serious" movie might have made this its central focus. But in this case, it's simply taken as a part of the background. For another example, we foreigners are likely to be amazed at the way struggling families — even those missing family members abroad, who are wondering how they'll be able to pay the rent — insist on retaining hired help: a nanny for the children, for instance, or a houseboy for cleaning, or even both... It's apparently so much a part of the social and economic structure that the expense isn't even questioned.
Consequently, one of the most interesting things about following the series into the 21st century, up to the final 30th Anniversary installment in 2014, is seeing the changes in the background details. The Philippine economy started getting stronger and more resilient, and this was reflected in the kinds of stories the anthologies told, and the lives and attitudes of the characters they portrayed. Most interesting of all were those episodes late in the series that harkened back to the earlier movies, and suggested that for all the improvements, there were aspects of Philippine life that remained as harsh as they'd been all those years ago.
We'll get to all that in time.
Let me conclude the Story So Far with a caveat: these first four SR&R flicks are getting harder to find. I watched most of the series on Amazon's streaming service; Parts I and II were not available there, probably because of licensing issues with the music in the Pridyider and Kulam episodes. I had to look (ahem) elsewhere to find them. But recently (as I discovered when I went to double-check my review), Part IV has disappeared from the Amazon site... and Amazon is listing used copies of the DVD of Part IV for nearly $500. Don't spend $500 on the DVD, folks. As you can probably see from the screenshots, even Amazon's streaming versions of the pre-millennial installments are taken from deteriorating VHS tapes. If you're anxious to see any of these movies, and your only recourse seems to be a dodgy YouTube channel with no subtitles, don't despair: the official release wasn't that much better.