January 01, 2008

Mystics in Bali: Flying Head Vampires and Cheese

My last horror film for 2007, and hence my first review of 2008, turned out to be a little-known flick entitled Mystics in Bali (original title Leák). It's an oddity in that it's a product of Indonesian horror cinema, an early one at that, and shot on location in Bali. That's not something one gets to see very frequently in the US, so it's worth seeing for horror buffs for that reason alone. The horror films produced by any given culture draw heavily on that culture's myths, after all. Japanese supernatural horror looks and feels different from American horror; early German horror films are based on different stories than their Mexican counterparts, etc. Mystics in Bali gives us a taste of what's scary on the eponymous island.

The plot is rather simple. An American anthropologist who studies black magic has recently completed work in Africa and come to Bali to learn about an occult school called leyak. Somehow, her Indonesian boyfriend hooks the anthropologist up with the leyak queen, a hideous old woman who never appears the same way twice but generally looks like a decayed corpse when she hasn't changed form into a pig or snake or whatnot. Within a few days, the anthropologist has learned how to be a leyak, but that means that she's now under the control of the leyak queen who uses her to procure the blood of unborn children and such. To do this, the queen uses a spell that causes the head of the anthropologist to detach from her body and, along with her internal organs, fly through the air and do the queen's bidding. People start dying, naturally (or supernaturally).

The boyfriend has an uncle who happens to be a mystic who knows lots of powerful mantras. One of the high points of the film for me was hearing mantras I know from Sanskrit Tantra being recited with a Balinese accent, and I can attest that the mantras used in the film are authentic. The uncle's uncle, moreover, previously did battle with the leyak queen and lost, but he did manage to pass on the magical formulas needed to defeat her. In order to defeat the vampiric anthropologist, it is necessary to stop her head from reuniting with her body until the sun has risen. The boyfriend and his uncle find the headless body, bury it, and stand guard. The queen and the anthropologist (who inexplicably has both head and body at this point) show up, the uncle dies, the uncle's uncle returns, and there's a final battle.

As interesting as all this might sound, and as much of a glimpse into Indonesian horror myth as the flick might give us, as a film Mystics in Bali is laughably terrible. The acting is practically non-existent and the special effects are unbelievably cheesy. It doesn't seem like there was much effort toward continuity at all. There are at least two scenes in which a character is wearing one outfit, the camera cuts away toward the other participant in a conversation, and when it cuts back the first character is wearing an entirely different outfit. Scenes cut out early, too, so that we see the set-up for some horrific happening and suddenly the scene changes and the dialog goes on as if we're supposed to know what happened in that previous scene. This gives the film a jerky, incoherent feel and makes it hard to keep track of what's going on throughout most of its run time. Characters simply drop into the movie with no set-up, too, especially toward the end of the flick. It's a terrible mess, but it is unintentionally funny in numerous places.

This isn't a film that most casual horror-watchers are going to like. If you're interested in comparative horror, as it were, then this might be a good one for you to check out. Those with an interest in Asian culture in general might find something interesting here as well. The depiction of the vampire is uniquely Asian, and if I'm not mistaken unique to extreme southeast Asia; the only other place I've seen a "flying head-n-guts" vampire shown graphically was, I believe, in a drawing in the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, so finding one in a film was a hoot for me. I suspect that people without interests like these, who just want a fright film, aren't going to like this one too much. The leyak queen's cackling gets old very quickly, as does the wooden acting and oh-so-terrible editing.

Nonetheless, here's a clip comprising what is probably the best scene in the movie. If you thoroughly enjoy this, you might take a gamble on spending some time with Mystics in Bali:

One last note; the extras on the DVD include instructions on how the viewer can become a leyak herself. This comes complete with a "we don't endorse this and don't try it at home" warning that makes it just a bit cute in that special "flying heads that suck the fetuses out of pregnant wombs" sort of way. You know what I mean, right?

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