Philippine episode of HBO's 'Folklore' turns spotlight on mangkukulam

HBO's horror anthology series Folklore is featuring the Philippines in an upcoming episode that explores the lesser-known stories of the mangkukulam.

Directed by veteran filmmaker Erik Matti, the episode 7 Days of Hell tells the story of Lourdes, a cop racing against time to save her son Eugene from a mysterious illness set upon him by a mangkukulam (witch).

In Filipino folklore, the mangkukulam is a powerful human who makes use of spiritual and supernatural connections to cast curses on victims.

The mangkukulam is hardly explored on screen but is a presence, however perfunctory, in the everyday life of many Filipinos – especially those who live outside of big cities.

Matti said at a press conference on November 23 that he was drawn to the mangkukulam for this episode precisely because there aren't many films that explore how the mangkukulam works, and how they see the world.

As the director said, the fact that so little is known about them adds to the horror.

"The thing we explored in 7 Days of Hell is how fear could build up with something that you don't really understand," he said.

"I think right now, not just because of the pandemic, but generally how the world functions is there's a lot of fear that goes around that you can't totally explain. The inexplicable is the one fuelling the fear itself," he said.

Actress Dolly de Leon, who plays Lourdes, pointed out that mangkukulam are people who actually exist, which makes the concept even scarier.

The episode itself, written by award-winning screenwriter Michiko Yamamoto, is based on actual accounts of black magic attacks.

"For me personally why it's really scary is because it's not just a myth. Pangkukulam (black magic) is actually a reality for a lot of Filipinos. It is a known phenomenon of healing and destruction, so 'yun ang maganda dun, kasi may katotohanan siya, so puwede siya mangyari sa kahit sino (that's what's good about it, there's truth to it, so it can happen to anyone)," she said.

For Dolly, humans are more terrifying than actual supernatural beings.

"Tao talaga ang nakakatakot (Humans are the ones who are really scary), because spirits, you know, some spirits are powerful but the problem is with people, you really can't control them or their presence in your life," she said.

"I think that's the value here in 7 Days of Hell – it's about navigating the new world of people who have twisted values and trying to survive and making sense of everything despite 'yung katiwalian ng mga tao (the corruption of people)," she added.

7 Days of Hell premieres on December 5 as the fourth episode of Folklore season 2. Previous episodes of the series have featured stories from Taiwan and Japan.

The show can be viewed on HBO, or streamed on HBO Go. –

Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.