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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

10 Horror Films To Stream For Filipino American History Month

Asian horror has a reputation for doling out macabre masterpieces, but when we think of these films, Japan and South Korea are the ones who sweep the best-of lists: Ju-On. Ringu. Audition. The Wailing. The Eye. Train to Busan. South of their islands sits the Philippines, a country oft-overlooked and brimming with a wealth of creepy folklore. Guillermo del Toro affectionately expressed the shared mythologies of Mexico and the Philippines: “There is a Pinoy spirit that is in Mexico. They will connect with the romantic, the crazy and the savage.”

If horror is a form of healing, Filipinos are experts in the matter. The anatomy of their films are rooted in trauma: three hundred years of superstition in religion, dishonesty, cultural disorder, cruelty, and political corruption. When asked why Filipinos enjoy horror films, Tiyanak director Lore Reyes replied, “They need entertainment like this because life is so hard.” Co-director Peque Gallaga added, “We live in a world of horror where the political situation is horrific. You cannot do anything about it, and that’s a horror film in itself.” 

With such a history to pull from and a nearly universal love of the genre from its people, why has the Philippines remained an underdog in the Asian horror arena? According to Seklusyon director Erik Matti, the country’s film landscape is on autopilot. “Is it the audience whose gauge on a good film is based on the polished look of a Hollywood western film?” He believes the majority of filmmakers avoid experimenting in fear of alienating the audience, opting to stick to formula. However, there are a number of Filipino directors who have been gaining traction in America, notably Mikhail Red, Yam Laranas and Bradley Liew, who are being praised for using horror as cultural commentary unique to the Philippines. 

The underappreciated beauty of Fil-Horror is how rich they are with imaginative entities that are unknown in Western culture: tree demons, the aswang, the manananggal and the white lady, to name a few. It’s an interesting observation of what is thought to lurk in Metro Manila or the provinces.

Filipino American History Month is recognized in October, a perfect time to expose oneself to a Filipino horror flick. In recent months, streaming services such as Amazon Prime have increased their numbers of Filipino horror films. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a launching point…

Eerie (2018)

Director: Mikhail Red

Upon distribution on Netflix, this Catholic ghost story received attention from media outlets for being “too scary.” It’s set at Sta. Lucia Academy for Girls, following a clairvoyant guidance counselor (Bea Alonzo) who helps students cope with a suicide and uncovers the school’s sinister history. It is filled with lush cinematography and an Exorcist aura. Alonzo was named by Variety as one of Asia’s biggest stars poised for international stardom in 2019, and it is worth noting that Red’s second feature, Birdshot, was selected as the Filipino entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards. 

The Debutantes (2017)

Director: Prime Cruz

Carrie meets Premonition in this teen horror where a shy and friendless student, Kate (Sue Ramirez), is cursed with the ability to foresee her classmates’ deaths as they turn eighteen. The Sue Snell to her Carrie is Lara (Miles Ocampo) who does her best to include Kate into their circle of brutally mean girls. Wrapped in a Suspiria inspired color palette, the film plays with the Philippine culture of the “debut,” an event that celebrates the rite of passage of transitioning from a girl to a woman. It streams on Amazon Prime.

Aurora (2018)

Director: Yam Laranas

The aftermath of a shipwreck threatens the business of a local innkeeper named Leana (Anne Curtis). A couple pleads with her to keep the inn open, offering her big cash for finding any bodies that may float ashore. She accepts, but soon discovers the ship, the Aurora, is harboring a painful secret. Laranas, known as “the James Wan of the Philippines,” was both the cinematographer and director for this atmospheric and CGI filled tale. His 2008 film Sigaw was given an American remake (re-titled as The Echo) and starred Jesse Bradford (Swimfan). Aurora streams on Netflix.

Feng Shui (2004)

Director: Chito S. Roño

When Joy (Kris Aquino) finds a Bagua mirror on a bus, her life suspiciously fills with good fortune. Her loved ones suffer mysterious deaths that point towards their Chinese zodiac symbols: a man whose birthday falls under “Year of the Snake” died by a venomous bite, and so on. This was the highest-grossing film in the Philippines in 2004 to critical and commercial acclaim. It gave way for a sequel, Feng Shui 2, which continued from the ending. It later became the first Filipino film to be rendered in 4D. It streams on Amazon Prime.

Impakto (1996)

Director: Don Escudero

Doray (Gelli de Belen) accepts a gig as a nanny for a strange family, and quickly gathers that something is extremely off about the baby. Escudero was an award winning production designer, and in Impakto, one can clearly see why. Every space creates an unsettling yet beautiful atmosphere for its inhabitants. There are moments of relatable comic relief, romance and the film uses restraint in how and when the child is revealed. It streams on Amazon Prime.

The Blood Drinkers (1964)

Director: Gerardo de Leon

The first “color” film to be produced in the Philippines, The Blood Drinkers is about a vampire, Dr. Marco, (Ronald Remy) on a mission to save his sweetheart’s life by obtaining the heart of her twin sister (both portrayed by Amalia Fuentes). Many scenes were filmed in black and white and used blue or red tinting to aid its colorful visual storytelling. The setting is not your typical expectation of Transylvania, but the villages of the Philippines. Dr. Marco’s sidekick Basra the bat adds hilarity when it appears, as it’s so clearly made of rubber. It streams on Fandor.

Shake, Rattle and Roll (1984 – 2014)

Directors: Various

Shake, Rattle and Roll is the most successful franchise in the Philippines, with an astounding 15-film run that started in 1984. It is an anthology series with three self-contained episodes in each film. They are known as popcorn movies that are beloved for being scary, campy, and with the latter sequels leaning on being purposely bad. It presents the mythologies, fears and ghouls unique to Philippine culture such as the aswang, manananggal, the white lady ghost and more. The films stream on Amazon Prime.

Sukob (2006)

Director: Chito S. Roño

Another from the director of Feng Shui is Sukob, which surrounds the Filipino wedding superstition that marriage should not take place within a year of the death of an immediate relative. Sandy (Kris Aquino) disrespects the curse and faces the consequences after her wedding. As her family members die one-by-one, she tries to break the curse. The film became the highest grossing Filipino film of all time and has one of the more franchise-friendly plots, however did not receive a sequel. It streams on Netflix.

Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings (2011)

Director: Jade Castro

The title Zombading plays on the words “Zombie” and “Bading” (the Tagalog word for gay), ultimately translating into “Gay Zombie.” It opens with a homophobic child named Remington who finds joy in accusing others of being gay. When he insults a drag queen, she curses him to a life of homosexuality when he turns 21. Years later, it becomes true. Remington (Martin Escudero) is possessed by flamboyant urges and attraction to men. I include this film with a grain of salt because it plays on stereotypes, and could have done better to weave a tale of identity and intolerance. It’s billed as horror, but it’s more of a comedy. It streams on Tubi.

Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay (2011)

Director: Antoinette H. Jadaone

The film opens by asking its interviewees, “Do you know who Lilia Cuntapay is?” We all absolutely should. This is a charming ode to what it is to be an underappreciated horror extra. This pseudo documentary is about Lilia Cuntapay, an actress who was known as the “Queen of Philippine Horror Movies.” She portrays a version of herself that is incredibly endearing, funny and loveable. We follow her journey from her nomination as Best Supporting Actress to the final awards ceremony. You don’t have to be familiar with her work to enjoy this. It’s a portrait of resilience, and anyone who has a dream will surely appreciate it. It streams on YouTube.


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