Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, I would sometimes spend weekends at my grandparents’ home, staying up late with my late grandma to watch whatever schlock was on RTM2, and more often than not, it was horror. All kinds of monsters and devil cults were featured back then, and looking back I’m surprised not more of those were cut to ribbons by the censors. Some of those films were incredibly bad, but there was just something about the atmosphere of staying up in a dark, creaky kampung house, with the incessant ticking of a pendulum in the background as some unnamed horror terrorises the hapless citizens of smalltown Italy/USA that I look back on those days fondly.
Even today, in my 40s, watching horror movies is an important part of family time. Before the pandemic, I’d have my siblings over often. We’d choose something scary-looking, and end up curled on the sofa, hiding behind frayed cushions, grinning like idiots at every jump scare.
One thing I’ve always tried to do is to observe my very own Halloween traditions (yes, we don’t celebrate it here, I know). It’s a simple one – I just try and watch a different horror movie every day in October until Halloween. I don’t always succeed, but that’s not the point. The journey, in this case, is more important than the destination.
Where in the 80s, access was restricted to whatever the local VHS shop had on hand, in the age of streaming services and VPNs, the only limit is time. I won’t let that stop me, though. So here goes, 2021’s attempt.
Ratu Ilmu Hitam, 1981 (aka Queen of Black Magic, Netflix)
It was incredibly exciting to see this in my Netflix queue. Suzanna, who was, for most of the 80s, the queen of Indonesian horror cinema, plays Murni, a village maiden who is tricked and spurned by her lover, then accused of practicing black magic. Captured by the villagepeople and literally thrown into a ravine, she survives and begins her tutelage to a real witch doctor. She then takes her revenge on the village, but the arrival of a stranger who seems to have ties to her family complicates matters.
Nothing too surprising to fans of 70s and 80s Indonesian horror here: tons of gore, slight nudity, and a throwaway plot. It works: some of the gore effects are among the best for their time, and the dialog is hilarious. Recommended. ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Sundelbolong, 1981 (aka Devil Woman, Netflix)
Arguably the role that made her infamously the face of horror in South East Asia, Suzanna is Alisa, an ex-prostitute who rebuilds her life with a respectable ship captain (Barry Prima, another Indonesian film staple). Sadly, her past catches up with her and she is abducted and assaulted. While she survives, the law fails to prosecute the perpetrators and she ends up taking her own life. She returns as the Sundelbolong, a vengeful spirit whose entire goal is to torture and kill those who wronged her. More humor than I remember, incredibly funny at times, and satisfying to watch. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Nobody Gets Out Alive, 2021 (Netflix)
An undocumented Mexican girl succeeds in getting a job in Ohio, but struggles to pay her rent. The prospect of cheap lodging appeals to her, even if it’s located in a creepy-looking house where she hears crying and moaning sounds at night. Her landlord is scarily intense, she gets conned out of her earnings by a fellow immigrant, and she finally realises the happenings in the house aren’t all in her mind. Mostly competent, atmospheric, but a tad dark (as in I had trouble making out what was going on) it’s not bad, although the angle of experiencing horror as an already traumatised immigrant could have been explored further. ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Coming up next: Underwater, As The Gods Will and more!