Phili-fear cinema favorites: More treats than tricks

MANILA, Philippines - Halloween may not be that big of a deal on our tropical shores, but Philippine cinema has had its wealth of scary features in the last 50 years or so.

Sure, we have our unique superstitions, supernatural mythology and homegrown ghost stories; yet it is safe to presume that local moviegoers go for cinematic chills due to this universal fact: horror/suspense movies are downright entertaining, if in often perverse ways.

The alphabetical list below gathers just 10 of the more memorable Filipino films that are scary in varying degrees — some straight-up gory, others disturbing or creepy; some tacky, others funny; all generally reflecting a sense of moviemaking adventurism that has been lacking in Pinoy filmdom of the last decade or so.

The brief descriptions and explanations tailing the choices are culled from public online resources or fond memories, and given by this writer or the few others who pitched in their own picks. 

Many of these movies date as far back as the ’70s and the ’80s. Some, despite their invaluable worth, are unavailable in video stores. (Those that are available in the likes of Odyssey, Astrovision and SM department stores are indicated where applicable. Others might be available for rent from the priceless collection of the Quezon City shop named Video 48. All, especially the rare ones, are aching for public re-screening, even if only at the UP Film Center or on national TV.)

And to non-horror movie fans who may be wary of venturing further, here’s a wise quip off writer-director Wincy Aquino Ong’s atmospheric 2011 fare San Lazaro:

Huwag kayong matakot sa kadiliman. Kadiliman lang ’yan.” (“Do not fear the darkness. It is only darkness.”)

1. Alapaap (1984)

Of all of the entries in this short list, Alapaap has got to be the oddest — a skin flick and horror movie in one, with some wanton violence thrown in.

Helmed by where-is-he-now Tata Esteban for the 1984 Metro Manila Film Festival (!) and boasting of an ensemble cast that had William Martinez, Mark Gil, Michael De Mesa and Tanya Gomez, kids of the early ’80s might best remember this caper for its pièce de résistance: bold star Isadora playing a hapless victim of a possessed hairdryer that ends up feeding on her face.

“Genius and hallucinatory,” as poet-novelist-TV host Lourd de Veyra puts it. 

2. Haplos (1982)

Likewise an MMFF entry in its year of release, this Ricky Lee-scripted, Antonio Jose Perez-helmed drama is topbilled by Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon, a tandem whose prolific body of work together is, in the view of former Philippine Free Press contributing editor-writer Ricky Torre, “akin to the wealth of collaborations between Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The Vi-Boyet oeuvre ably tackled the nuances of human relationships.”

Haplos’ key players essentially form a love triangle (Rio Locsin plays the 3rd wheel) but, in the story’s traversing between its present time and the era of the Japanese occupation, it is also, as Torre muses, “a far-out take on the time-space continuum.”

The horror element in Haplos is also its twist, one best realized by the uninitiated by scoring it on video CD.

3. Kisapmata (1981)

An opus by Mike de Leon, Kisapmata also unspooled during the Directors’ Fortnight of the 1982 Cannes Film Festival — a tense, claustrophobic drama scripted by De Leon, Clodualdo del Mundo Jr. and Raquel N. Villavicencio, based on “The House on Zapote Street,” a 1968 article by Nick Joaquin.

The film’s dark-family-secret tale revolves around the quartet played by Charo Santos, Charito Solis, Jay Ilagan and, most memorably, Vic Silayan.

As Esquire Philippines editor in chief Erwin Romulo asserts, “The myriad bogeymen and monsters in Filipino cinema pale in comparison to Vic Silayan’s paternal ogre.”

Kisapmata can be glimpsed here:  

4. Mang Kepweng (1979)

It fell on comedian Chiquito’s shoulders to depict comic book writer Al Magat’s famous albularyo (faith healer) creation.

As realized on the big screen, the character drew both laughs and shrieks as the F. H. Constantino-directed Mang Kepweng — and at least 3 sequels — fused comedy and horror in vintage Pinoy-life’s-like-that fashion.

Indie filmmaker-actor-TV personality Rodolfo “Jun” Sabayton Jr. speaks fondly of the ’79 classic, which he saw as a kid in its “Piling-Piling Pelikula” rerun on Channel 13 and relished its freaky elements such as “Piling,” a deceased man who smiled for a group shot at his own funeral, and a bizarre bit involving a head growing out of a man’s back.

A chunk of Mang Kepweng can be seen here:  

5. Patayin Mo sa Sindak si Barbara (1974) 

Written and directed by the legendary Celso Ad. Castillo, this supernatural tale involving a vengeful spirit features Hitchcock-worthy acting from Susan Roces as the titular Barbara.

Ricky Torre cites this movie, especially over its 1995 remake starring Lorna Tolentino (and which dropped the “Mo” from the title), for its thrilling rawness, as opposed to the newer version’s sleek retooling.

Patayin Mo sa Sindak si Barbara is ripe for viewing here: 

6. Shake, Rattle & Roll (1984)

Rappler contributor Karl De Mesa is enthusiastic about this MMFF entry and mother of the three-stories-per-movie SRR series (which, as of last year’s Christmastime filmfest, is 13 installments old).

And why would we not be: the “Pridyider” segment alone (that got remade into a 2012 full-length feature) which was directed by the beloved Ishmael Bernal and cast Janice De Belen in the role of a lifetime, made for a highly memorable possessed-object tale than Christine author Stephen King could have imagined. (As De Mesa puts it, “Cannibal refrigerators rule!”)

Bookending that outlandish opus are the Emmanuel H. Borlaza-megged “Baso,” a spirit-of-the-glass scarer, and the Peque Gallaga-helmed “Manananggal,” a take on the infamous half-a-person female creature.

The raw yet ominous opening credits alone might put a sinister smile on Italian horror master Dario Argento’s face.

If you’d like to Shake up your day, click here:  

7. Shake, Rattle & Roll III (1991)

This trilogy, notes Palanca award-winning horror storyteller Yvette Tan, “contains one of the short stories that people love, that of the undin, a sea creature that will do anything to protect its brood,” translated into “Nanay” and starring Manilyn Reynes as the stereotypical Last Girl Standing.

“But the two tales preceding it,” Tan says, “are equally affecting: ‘Yaya’, a foreshadowing of Kris Aquino’s scream-queen career, is set in a house haunted by a baby-taking ghost played by Lilia Cuntapay and which director Peque Gallaga says was inspired by a true story about a still-standing house; and ‘Ate’, where Gina Alajar plays a dirt-eating Pinoy version of a zombie — not as a brainless, shambling creature but a pitiful being who just wants to let go.”

Tan sums up this 3rd SRR triumvirate as “not the most fright-inducing of the franchise but the one with the most heart.”

All of those 3 stories, all directed by Gallaga and Lore Reyes, “draw from emotion — be it love, fear or longing — using monsters to get us to face what scares us.”

8. Supergirl (1973)

Predating the Hollywood blockbuster of the same name by 11 years but inspired by the same DC Comics character, Supergirl is a spectacular oddity whose cheesiness may be laughable now but is a childhood treasure for many of us who were pre-teens shortly after the imposition of Martial Law.

It featured the now little-known Pinky Montinolla as the title’s heroine (her costume replete with the familiar “S” logo!), singer-matinee idol Walter Navarro, Ike Lozada as a villager holding on for dear life (and slippers!), Odette Khan as a mad scientist, a giant frog and zombies straight out of a nearby cemetery.

For a wham-bam Filipino-Catholic touch, the townsfolk lock themselves up in the church to evade the living dead. 

This unabashed extravaganza is deserving of 21st-century exposure both for its amusement and historical value, but this being an era of prompt lawsuits is apparently keeping its public replay at bay

9. Yanggaw (2011)

This entirely-in-Ilonggo effort from director-coscriptwriter Richard Somes is Yvette Tan’s favorite Pinoy film of any genre: “a horrific, heartbreaking tale of what happens to a barrio that finds itself attacked by an aswang.”

For a recent piece by Erwin Romulo for The Philippine Star, Tan mentions that Yanggaw stands out since “instead of being your usual monster-invades-isolated barrio film, it shows the setting from the inside out, drawing you into the lives of the characters and laying out the consequences” of their dilemma.

Those of us who missed its theatrical run have the golden opportunity to catch up via the widely-available home video. 

10. Zombadings 1: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington (2011) 

Gay zombies! A convincing Martin Escudero! Funny and freaky as hell!

Out on DVD! Award! - Rappler.com