I wish I had seen the Indonesian horror classic Mystics in Bali (1981) when it came out. I was a teenager then and would have appreciated it more -- certainly wouldn't have noticed the cheesy special effects as much, and would have just reveled in the craziness. Coming to it late now, especially after reading about it in Pete Tombs' Mondo Macabro and elsewhere, and having imagined the big scene where the girl's head detaches from her body and flies around with vital organs in tow, well frankly it's a let-down. They achieved the effect in two ways: first, the separation itself, a very primitive optical printer job with the actress's real head, and then a prop head w/guts on a wire. The latter was by far the better effect; you couldn't see it very well and it zipped through the night air with a flair -- much like the real thing, one would imagine.
And make no mistake, out in the provinces, those villagers really do believe in that stuff. Some go so far as to place thorns around their windows so as to snag on the hanging entrails, should one of these floating monstrosities ever try to venture in. The most shocking scene in the film involves just such a home invasion, the head making a meal of a newborn baby as it's coming out! Of course we only get a mother's-eye view which, if you didn't know better, looks rather like a bit of disembodied head cunnilingus.
And whose head is this, anyway? It belongs to pretty Cathy Kean (Ilona Agathe Bastian), a writer from the US who's in Bali doing research on the practice of leak (pronounced LEE-AK), supposedly the world's most powerful form of black magic. With the help of the suave Mahendra (Yos Santo), she meets the leak queen and gets more schooling than she bargained for. And, of course, she becomes the evil queen's slave.
I realize it's ridiculous to complain about the special effects (as well as the crap acting and general cheapness of the production). I'm sure, considering the state of Indonesian cinema at the time, Mystics in Bali was probably considered fairly cutting-edge. I'm obviously reacting out of self-hype, that process where you build something up in your head to the point where nothing can come close to it. In fact, the film has a funky charm and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to venture beyond the realm of good taste and proper production values and get down and dirty with some jungle sorcery. Certainly the scenes where women transform into snakes and pigs are a scream -- at one point the leak queen gets stuck halfway, jumping around and fighting as a pig-woman with pendulous pig tits! Yes, it's a unique film experience, there's no denying it -- just make sure to keep you expectations set on "low."
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