Four Halloween Watch Party Additions Featuring Southeast Asian Supernatural Beings
With every other celebration and party giving this year a miss, Halloween may feel a little more muted than usual this time around. Still, the spookiest day of the year remains the perfect excuse to terrify both ourselves and our friends with some horror films.
Sure, there are the horror classics that could be leaned on – but we say an exceptional year calls for an exceptional selection of films. Be it from the West or the East, we have become so accustomed to what scares foreigners that we often forget the folklores and mythologies closer to home.
When we think of supernatural beings that keep us up at night, our mind may first wonder towards Pazuzu or the equally sinister apparition Casper. Even in the darkest nights, very rarely are our fears occupied by our region’s supernatural folklore.
While there are no supernatural beings exceptional to our little red dot, Singapore being at close cultural and geographical proximity to most of Southeast Asia has made it relatively easy – and even necessary – to understand the region’s culture through their folklore. The region’s horror films have seen an increasing depth of Westernisation in its styles and themes but for most, traditional mythical beings remain their starring attractions.
So gather your friends (in groups no larger than five) and learn something new about our neighbours in between the scares with these four last-minute additions to your Halloween watch party.
‘Suzzanna: Buried Alive’ – Featuring the Sundel Bolong
While similar in appearance to the pontianak, the sundel bolong is said to be even more malicious. Her name carries a derogatory connotation, with “sundel” translating to “prostitute” and “bolong” translating to “hole”. What separates sundel bolongs and pontianaks is exactly that: a large hole on her back concealed by her long, jet black hair.
Explanations for her appearances vary. Some stories claim that the Sundel Bolong died from stabs on her back after getting raped. Other explanations see her as the soul of a woman who died while she was pregnant outside of marriage, with the large hole being how the baby was birthed.
Southeast Asian folklore is filled with spirits of similar origins: of women who were victims of sexual assault and/or died while pregnant. One explanation for the emergence of these legends is with how their origins are shockingly relevant to those in the region with its high maternal mortality rates and prevalence of sexual assault.
2018’s Suzzanna: Buried Alive, the year’s second most-viewed local film in Indonesia, continues the Sundel Bolong mythology. Pregnant with her first child, Suzzanna (Luna Maya) is accidentally impaled by a bamboo pole during a tussle with burglars. Believing her dead, the burglars begin burying her body – finding out that she is still alive only prompts them to shovel faster. All the dirt ultimately fails to cover their sins with Suzzanna returning as a white-clad apparition, seeking vengeance on her murderers.
The film deviates from the mythology’s traditional retellings to etch its own. While the establishment of its unique rules to contribute to the film’s scare factor, this does sap away the weight of deep-rooted societal issues that shaped the mythology in the first place. Still, with its palpable atmosphere, over-the-top performances and incredible make-up work, it is hard to deny that Suzzanna: Buried Alive is an entertaining horror film perfect for any party.
A sequel is reportedly in the works as well, with Luna Maya once again reprising her role as the vengeful spirit.
Catch Suzzanna: Buried Alive:
‘Manananggal in Manila’ – Featuring the Manananggal
Native to the Philippines is a vampiric creature that would make even the scariest vampires from Transylvania look like Count Chocula. Often depicted as female, the Manananggal is indistinguishable from everyone else during the day – that is until night comes.
The “aswang”, or evil spirit, can jettison the lower half of her body, transforming her arms into bat-like wings to soar into the twilight as a man-eating creature. The Manananggal is known to use its long, snaking tongue to puncture and suck out the organs of its victims, with pregnant women and their fetuses believed to be its preferred targets.
With sightings dating back to the 16th century, the myth of the Manananggal is perhaps one of the most well-known folklores throughout the archipelago. The creature was also the subject of the first Filipino horror movie, a silent film by pioneering Filippino director José Nepomuceno made in 1927. Since then, the Manananggal has been featured in countless films, books, and television series, including in the popular Shake, Rattle & Roll horror series.
Despite its widespread popularity, it is unfortunate that not much is readily available online – at least those that truly capture the horror of the folklore. Still, for those looking for a fun, campy B-movie based on an enduring legend will be delightfully satisfied with 1997’s Manananggal in Manila.
The film follows the exploits of a century-old Mananggal in modern Manila, seducing her helpless victims in the city’s after-hours. Despite its clear lack of budget, it is apparent that there is a lot of heart and ambition present to make the best of what its limitations. Further contributing to the film’s charm is the absolutely bizarre directions the plot takes. Manananggal in Manila will inevitably be hit-or-miss, with mileage varying based on the enjoyment from its trailer.
Manananggal in Manila is available for rental streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
‘Inhuman Kiss’ – Featuring the Krasue
Perhaps even more horrifying than the Mananggal in the category of flying mythological creatures is the Krasue. Like the Mananggal, the Krasue is said to take the form of young women. However, instead of taking a bat-like form, the creature ominously hovers around as a head with its entrails, spine and internal organs all hanging down from its neck.
The legend of the Krasue is known in Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, leading to various takes on its origins. A common retelling describes the Krasue as once being a witch forced to turn into the creature as punishment. It floats around at night with an insatiable hunger, mainly feeding on cattle, blood, feces, fetuses and pregnant women (noticing a theme here?). By far its most terrifying quality is with how anyone who consumes the saliva of a Krasue will be turned into one.
Depictions of the Krasue in media take on many forms. Thailand, Cambodia and Laos have all translated the creature’s terror into chilling tales for both film and television. The Krasue is also often featured in romance films – and not just as a malevolent being. Most surprising is with how the horrifying creature is often played up for laughs in comedies, even appearing in an advertisement for light bulbs.
2019’s Inhuman Kiss packs all these depictions of the Krasue into one. Equal parts scary, romantic, and comedic, the creature is seen as a curse more so than the product of bad decisions. At the heart of the film is a bizarre love triangle between Sai, the Krasue trying her best maintain her humanity, and two boys part of a hunting party determined to kill the creature. Moments of light humour and romance are peppered in between the scares before Inhuman Kiss goes all out with an intense last third of devilish proportions.
Catch Inhuman Kiss:
‘HBO Folklore: Toyol’ – Featuring the Toyol
Uncomfortably close to home is the mythology of the toyol, with folklore about the undead infant permeating throughout Southeast Asia. Across these cultures, stories surrounding the goblin-like creature are eerily similar. The toyol is said to be a dead baby brought back to life by a Bomoh, or shaman. It is hidden away until it is needed – be it by the shaman or an opportunistic buyer. Its use is mainly based on the whims of their owners, be it for petty crimes such as theft or something heinous such as murder.
Depictions of the toyol in media widely vary. It is usually seen to be green or grey with pointed ears, sharp teeth and eyes with demonic hues. In traditional horror films, their visage is usually distorted, reflecting the belief that they are the spirits of stillborn or aborted babies. Other times mainly in comedies, toyols take on cartoonish appearances similar to goblins. Regardless, the mythological spirit is often used in stories as a device to highlight the hubris of its greedy owners.
Each episode of HBO horror series Folklore is based on Asia’s mythological beings. Its fifth episode, directed by Malaysian director Ho Yuhang, demonstrates just how terrifying the toyol folklore can be. In it, a politician desperate to hold onto power engages the help of a femme fatale. Through her shamanistic powers, she does solve the politician’s issues and the pair even falls in love – but all of this is revealed to come at a dire price.
While the episode is named after the undead being, the toyols take a backseat, with the mysterious women slowly revealing her ploy to destroy the politician’s life. In fact, the supernatural elements are probably the least unsettling parts of the episode, with its twisted plot claiming that accolade. Its horror elements truly excel with its construction of atmosphere and through the leading performances of Bront Palarae and Nabila Huda.
Perhaps most terrifying is with how its plot – particularly with politicians engaging the help of black magic – may not seem far fetched at all, with the grim story of Mona Fandey being the most infamous example.
Folklore is now streaming on HBO GO.
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