The Wheel and Axle

Aswangan, Part 4: The Good, The Bad, and The Unseen

by on Nov.12, 2012, under Film & TV, Travel & Culture

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Continued From:

Aswangan, Part 3: Don’t Tick Off The Tiktiks!

The release of Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles, along with a review by Jessica Zafra, made me think what my favorite (and not-so-favorite) aswang movies are. Being a horror fanatic, I’ve always enjoyed aswang cinema and had not realized I’d watched so many across the years.

In these lists, I included the manananggal because, although I think them slightly distinct if not altogether different, many consider them under the “aswang” category. Besides, I’m not sure I could come up with enough manananggal movies separate from aswang movies, hee.

Aswang-dering: Films Unseen. Let me begin with aswang movies that I’ve never seen. Some of these I still want to watch, though at least one of these I’m sure I won’t bother with. In a few of them, I’ve read up on the plot (thanks, internet) and some reviews.

Aswang (1994). Definitely not Alma Moreno.

1. Aswang (1994). Not to be confused with the 1992 Alma Moreno film, this is actually an American production of the B-movie kind. It is set in the USA as well. Reviews range from “awesome cult classic” to “awful trash,” so I cannot gauge if I want to attempt looking for it or not.

2. Manananggal In Manila (1997). I barely recall this Alma Concepcion starrer, but it has Eric Fructuoso and Poppo Lontoc. Therefore, I must find a copy.

Gallaga and Reyes apparently have an aswang fetish.

3. Sa Piling Ng Aswang (1999). I missed this Maricel Soriano movie when it first came out. It also stars Gina Alajar, Gardo Versoza, a very fetching young Cogie Domingo, and Manilyn Reynes. Wow, Manilyn sure loves being in aswang movies, doesn’t she? That’s why I love her. This being a Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes film (the tandem that brought us so many good horror films, including several aswang features), it’s a must that I see this. I recently saw it posted online and will soon take the time to view.

4. Ang Darling Kong Aswang (2009). Vic Sotto comedy. ‘Nuff said. I’m passing on this one.

Oh, Derek!

5. Surviving Evil (2009). Another American production, this time with Billy Zane and our own Joel Torre in the mix. Set in the Philippines, a fictional TV crew film a survival special in the jungles and get more than they bargained for. I recently obtained a copy but haven’t had a chance to watch it.

Corazon: possibly the neatest, freshest, most hygienic aswang in the history of ever.

6. Corazon: Ang Unang Aswang (2012). Directed by Richard Somes (LihimYanggaw), this film earned mixed reviews around plot and production values. I’m intrigued enough to plan on watching it (given that Somes helmed two of my other favorite aswang movies), but it has one major point against it: it’s set post-WWII, implying that the aswang has 20th century origins and ignoring its folkloric roots from pre-Hispanic times. We’ll see if that impression is wrong when I watch it.

 

Aswangit: The Hall of Shame. Here are, in my opinion, some of the fails of the aswang genre. Perhaps “shame” might be too strong a word; most aren’t too good, but they’re not downright despicable. It’s interesting that most of them are episodes from the “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” (SRR) trilogy series, which has generally been mediocre since its 2000s comeback except for a random episode here and there (yet I still watch it year in, year out – go figure).

The late Miguel Rodriguez: rare specimen indeed.

Still, out of these four, I’d watch three of the films again even if they’re not very good – if only for Miguel Rodriguez, Wendell Ramos, and Paulo Avelino.

Not blood, but hot sauce. Seriously.

1. Madre, SRR IV (1992). Miguel Rodriguez with Aiko Melendez as manananggals had promise since male manananggal specimens are rarely depicted. Then a young, sorta-straight IC Mendoza defeated them with hot effin’ sauce. This idiotic feat won’t be topped for another twenty years when, in 2012’s Tiktik, a kid gets armed with Boy Bawang.

2. Yaya, SRR 8 (2006). Aside from re-using the title of an SRR classic (from SRR III), this story about a yaya after her young charge is basically a rip-off of said episode, except it’s an aswang instead of a spirit. What also ruined this are the un-scary costumes. Not even Iza Calzado, of whom I am a huge fan, and TJ Trinidad, an underrated great actor, can save this drek.

Wendell: bringing sexy to the beast.
(What, only female aswang can be sexy?)

3. Emergency, SRR X (2008). This preceded Patient X by a year and had a similar premise: aswang woman in a hospital, aswang husband to the rescue, hospital siege. However, it suffered because of Jan Lapus’ misplaced comedy, poor production values, and the unnecessary human love sub-plot. It’s a shame because Mylene Dizon is one of our best character actresses whose talent was wasted here, and I’ve always liked Wendell Ramos.

The only reason I’d watch again.
(No, not Lovi Poe)

4. Aswang (2011). Again not to be confused with the 1992 Alma Moreno film (they just get creative with titles, don’t they?), I did think it was a remake of the Alma movie at the start: family massacre leaves children as witnesses on the run who end up in a town besieged by aswang. After that, it went downhill as a gumbo of various movies. Aside from Alma’s movie, others vaguely or blatantly ripped off were Vampira, SRR II’s Aswang, and the deplorable Twilight series. It doesn’t help that the irritating Lovi Poe is the lead. I could watch Paulo Avelino over and over, but he wasn’t sufficient to keep this thing alive. The climax was a non-climax, and who didn’t see the ending coming?

 

Awe-swang: Favorite Frights. My top ten aswang movies, in a semblance of order from good to best (but ranking may change occasionally depending on my mood), are as follows.

She’s beauty AND the beast.

10. Impaktita (1989). I barely recall seeing this and had to research its plot, but I clearly remember how terrified I was of this movie. For a movie I hardly recall to elicit a memory of fear – that solidifies a position on my list. I remember one horrifying image: that of a taxi driver, mauled and all bloody in his cab, a growing crowd of curious onlookers around. Jean Garcia is the title monster, and both Aga Muhlach and Richard Gomez were apparently in this movie. Also, for 1989, the transformation effects were fairly seamless.

Sid’s great, but Odette Khan doesn’t need to act to be scary.

9. Punerarya, SRR 12 (2010). As mentioned above, recent SRR movies have been mediocre, but they produce an occasional gem. There are probably only four really good episodes since 2005, two of which are aswang-themed*. This 2010 episode is one of those two. Not your typical aswang story, it had Sid Lucero turning in a scary yet nuanced performance. Carla Abellana and the rest of the cast also shone, including Mart Escudero in a short role. I did not see that twist ending coming, but that’s testament to a well-made film that still had unpredictable surprises.

* The other two, non-aswang-themed SRR episodes of the new millennium that I think are good are SRR 8’s LRT (despite a stilted ending) and SRR X’s Nieves (which was a deliberately-funny Pinoy take on the awesome Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Lesson learned: don’t hold ’em hostage.

8. Patient X (2009). Part of me was disappointed by this, mainly because I’m a huge fan of Yam Laranas’ work on Sigaw and probably had my hopes up too high. Plus, Richard Gutierrez was unintentionally hilariously hysterical, although the rest of the cast did well. I was also expecting a big flashy aswang horde besieging a crowded hospital, but it was only a handful of villains stalking a few remaining people in a post-evacuation hospital. Despite all that, the premise was engaging, the atmosphere was good, and the production values were high. Laranas, as a filmmaker, is pretty solid. At the very least, this is a very beautifully-filmed movie that is worth watching if only for that.

Alma Moreno: effective when not given any lines.

7. Aswang (1992). The first act of this Alma Moreno classic, riding on the early 90s manananggal scare, frightened me as a kid. It lost a bit of edge towards the end when the criminals started being picked off, one by one, by the aswang in snake form. I came to watch an aswang, darnit, not Anaconda! Still, despite that rather hokey sequence, most of the movie stood well on its own and had some genuinely scary moments. Even the child was not annoying, as her character was painted realistically and she did not become an action star. Manilyn Reynes screamed beautifully, as usual, and a still-adorable Aiza Seguerra delivered the goods. To this day, this film is still so embedded in my and my friends’ psyches that we would at random, occasionally, just recite aloud, “Maganda… Pangit… Maganda… Pangit…!” Oh, yes, it was a meme before memes were ever in fashion.

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

6. Lihim, SRR 2K5 (2005). After an eight-year hiatus, SRR returned with two dismal initial episodes, but the sleek final feature with Mark Anthony Fernandez and Tanya Garcia saved it. Also called Lihim ng San Joaquin, this is the other 2000s’ SRR aswang narrative that is an exception to recent SRR mediocrity. A vague revision of SRR II’s Aswang, with a husband and pregnant wife settling in a town that turns out to be Aswangville, this Richard Somes film is made great by aesthetics and disquieting horror. Instead of expensive effects and fake-looking prosthetics, Somes relied on basic costuming, lighting, and mood. The film stock was blue-grayish and sepia, giving it a disturbing feel. Somes also masterfully crafted suspense; for example, a light being turned on gives a subtle clue to the true nature of a neighbor in a “Did I see that or not?” moment. This feature proved that good horror shows less, not more. An effective piece, it boasts of a distinguished supporting cast with Noni Buencamino, Ronnie Lazaro, and a creepy Elizabeth Oropesa.

Welcome to San Joaquin. We’d love to have you.

Concluded In:

Aswangan, Part 5: The Final Fearsome Five

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