Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cinemanila International Film Festival

This year's Lifetime Achievement Awardee: the master of giallo, Dario Argento.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pinoy Film Focus: Patayin Mo sa Sindak si Barbara (1974)

(Kill Barbara with Panic)

Director: Celso Ad. Castillo

Writers: Celso Ad. Castillo, Mike Relon Makiling

Cast: Susan Roces, Dante Rivero, Rosanna Ortiz, Beth Manlongat, Mary Walter

Runtime: 96 minutes

It bears easily one of the best titles of all Filipino films, invoking a sense of unstoppable supernatural fear. There are many good reasons why Patayin Mo sa Sindak si Barbara is one of many Filipinos' favorite local horror films of all time. Not even the glaring flaws of the film as a whole can take that away.

Barbara (played by Susan Roces, at one time the scream queen a la Jamie Lee Curtis of the Philippines), comes back to her childhood home for the burial of her sister Ruth (Rosanna Ortiz), who has committed suicide out of jealous rage over husband Fritz's (Dante Rivero) supposed infidelities. Barbara also takes care of Ruth's daughter, Karen (Beth Manlongat), whose behavior toward her father has turned drastically cold since her mother's suicide. A flashback reveals chilling truths: Ruth stabs herself repeated in the torso with a large shard of broken glass, and when she is about to die she transfers her spirit to Karen's doll. This sets off a series of genuinely creepy scenes involving said doll: its eyes glow menacingly, it walks, it appears bloodied and decapitated, and, best (worst?) of all, it calls Fritz from another room and says repeatedly through the phone: "I hate you. I want to kill you." The maniacal glee with which director and story writer Celso Ad. Castillo uses the doll as a tool of terror anticipates the American horror-comedy flick Child's Play by a good 14 years, but it's even more effective here in providing the right chills. The film also takes a page out of the Japanese trope of long-haired vengeance-driven spirits in white robes. Decades before world cinema began to churn out imitations of Ringu's Sadako, Patayin's Ruth was haunting cemeteries, mansions, and rest-houses.

The film as a whole, unfortunately, is a large mess. The editing woes that plague many Filipino movies past and present are quite evident, with choppy sequences and rough transitions. Even the acting by the quite stellar cast is not very impressive, with the exception of the diabolical brilliance of Ortiz as spurned Ruth (ok, Roces screams quite well). The ending is also disappointing and senselessly empty. But as earlier stated, these cannot remove the power of those individual scenes that ultimately make Patayin such an effective story of vengeance from beyond the grave. With an appropriately repetitive, chilling score in the background, the sequences that are supposed to be terrifying truly are, and at the end that is what really matters in a horror movie. As Barbara fends off attacks by the restless spirit, waving her bloody arms in defense, she screams at her sister that this is no longer her world and that she must leave. The relentlessness of the spiritual assaults makes both impatient and appreciative viewers share Barbara's sentiments. As the title suggests, the film wears down, both with its technical travesties and its terror, but thankfully more so with the latter.

Image from Video 48

Pinoy Film Focus: Kulay Dugo ang Gabi (1964)

(Blood is the Color of the Night / The Blood Drinkers)

Director: Gerardo de Leon

Writers: Cesar Amigo, Rico Bello Omagap

Cast: Amalia Fuentes, Eddie Fernandez, Ronald Remy, Mary Walter, Celia Rodriguez

Runtime: 88 minutes

In the history of Philippine cinema, the name of the great Gerardo de Leon is enshrined for his invaluable contributions as early as the 1930s. These include several adaptations of the works of national hero Jose Rizal (Noli me Tangere, El Filibusterismo, and Sisa), as well as award-winning gems like Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo (Python at the Old Dome), The Moises Padilla Story, and Banaue.

Like most of the major international film auteurs, de Leon has dabbled in that genre enjoyed by many but scoffed at by many high-brow cineastes: horror. In the 1960s and 1970s, he joined fellow Filipinos Eddie Romero and Cirio Santiago in bringing Filipino films, co-produced by Americans and dubbed in English, to drive-in theaters and grindhouses. Many of these were cheap-looking horror films that nevertheless intrigued foreign movie-goers and showcased the talents of Filipino filmmakers. De Leon's Terror is a Man is probably the most famous and well regarded of these, but his "Blood Collection" merits special attention, if only for their very interesting take on vampires.

Kulay Dugo ang Gabi (Blood is the Color of the Night, really, but released with the more sensationalized title The Blood Drinkers) features Ronald Remy as the brooding vampire Dr. Marco, whose true love Katrina (Amalia Fuentes) has died. He attempts to resurrect her with lots of human blood and a new heart. He intends to get the heart from Katrina's twin sister, Charito, also played by Fuentes (presumably because, as a doctor of sorts, he knows that any other heart would likely be rejected by Katrina's body...or perhaps it's for a purely supernatural nonsensical reason). Despite phasing and hypnotic powers, hunchback and dwarf henchmen, and a bat familiar named Basrah, his attempts are continually thwarted, ultimately with a flare gun and the strong religious faith of a Catholic priest.

It is not supposed to work, what with Basrah being quite obviously a pathetic stuffed toy hanging by a string and with the heavy-handed, preachy speeches about faith in Jesus Christ saving everyone from evil. But it does. It's mainly because of the cinematography--the fog and the red tint to evil evenings that gives the film its name--and the vampire caricature played with gusto by Remy, but the small flourishes also work. The phasing powers, the ingenious use of flare guns, Dr. Marco himself using a gun (a vampire with a gun!), the unrequited right-hand woman (alluring Celia Rodriguez in her prime)... It all makes for a fascinating entry in the annals of vampire cinema that should be watched and appreciated by a whole new generation of horror and Filipino film enthusiasts. Certainly de Leon has produced much better films in his ouvre. But few are as deliriously fun to watch as The Blood Drinkers.

Image from Video 48

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pinoy Film Focus: Itim (1976)

(Black / Rites of May)

Director: Mike de Leon

Writers: Clodualdo del Mundo Jr., Gil Quito

Cast: Tommy Abuel, Charo Santos, Mario Montenegro, Mona Lisa

Runtime: 105 minutes

When regular Filipino moviegoers are asked what they think is the best Filipino horror film ever made, they often mention such classics as Shake Rattle & Roll and Tiyanak, alongside modern box-office hits like Feng Shui and Sukob. Few, if any at all, mention Itim, the first full-length film of highly acclaimed filmmaker and player in Philippine cinema's Second Golden Era, Mike de Leon. Notwithstanding the fact that most modern moviegoers are sadly ignorant of de Leon's oeuvre, more so his first film, Itim is not commonly lumped together with the horror films that the local industry has healthily churned out because of the subtlety of its horrific elements, which is perhaps its greatest strength.

But a horror film it is, and such an effective one at that! Where most horror films, local and otherwise, have gone the way of jolts and shocks to scare their audience, Itim goes for atmosphere. The chills here are genuine, aided to a great extent by the sparse scoring and the low-key lighting. Itim, which in English means "black," is pervasive throughout the film, from its cinematography to its story.

The film begins with a seance, immediately setting the dark, other-wordly chills that would permeate throughout. Manila-based photojournalist Jun (Tommy Abuel) returns to his hometown in Bulacan to visit his ailing father and document the Holy Week rites. He thereafter moves through a world of religious icons, lust-driven murder, and possessions by restless spirits. The latter two are effective, though low-key, taking a backseat to the rather unique Filipino horror of Catholic rites and fanaticism. If there is anything that Filipino horror filmmakers could play upon to distinguish our horror cinema from those of our Asian neighbors, it would be that religious fervor and the dependence on santos (depictions, usually statues, of religious icons). Itim does it in spades; a particularly chilling scene here is where Jun has a nightmare of a roomful of santos coming to life and attacking him. Perhaps no other film has used this tool since Itim, or at least nowhere near as effectively.

Itim would be the first of Mike de Leon's cinematic jewels. That he started with a horror film is interesting, given how most other auteurs would make theirs after they have established their careers with the more usual genres. He would later re-visit the genre with the brilliant Kisapmata (In Just the Wink of an Eye; 1981), which is a story of familial violence and sadism that many critics consider to be even more of a horror film than Itim. Nevertheless, Itim gives us an early indication of the artistry and mastery of the craft that de Leon, formerly a cinematographer to revered Lino Brocka, is well loved for by cineastes.
Itim is easily a top-caliber ghost story and an excellent example of Filipino film overall.