Pocong vs. Kuntilanak (David Purnomo, 2008)
[note: review originally published 7Mar2011]
If you’re as much of a horror fan as I am, especially one who’s been less than impressed with the quality of the big-budget Hollywood releases, in the main, for the past decade or so, then you probably hear the words “Asian horror” and start salivating. Well, here’s the thing: we always selectively edit that in our heads. There are certain Asian markets where horror has been not just pushing the envelope, but annihilating it; Hong Kong and Japan originally gave us the extreme horror movement, what we know as “torture porn” today, back in the late eighties, and it was Japan again, along with Korea and to a lesser extent Thailand, who gave us the movement I’ve always referred to as Japanese New Horror, a response to the extreme horror movement that focused on atmosphere rather than gore (and has since given us dozens of movies with scary long-haired young women). While there are certainly awful horror films coming from all those countries (especially Hong Kong), in general, you pick up a random horror flick from one of them, especially made between 1985 and 2005 or thereabouts, and you’re guaranteed a good time. But oh, the Asian film market is so much bigger than Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, and Thailand. Obviously, China is missing from that list, and there’s a good reason for that. (If you’ve seen 1985’s A Chinese Ghost Story, the most popular horror film in Chinese history, you’ll know why.) And then there’s Bollywood, the Indian film machine that dwarfs Hollywood in every way. Have you ever seen a Bollywood horror film? Let me put it this way: everything that comes out of Bollywood is a musical. EVERYTHING. Nuff said. The Phillippines have an interesting film industry, though I’ve never seen a Filipino horror film (unless you want to count the bomba classic Silip, which is about as much a “horror” film as is Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals).
And then there’s Indonesia. I’ve seen a handful of Indonesian horror flicks, and they’re all micro-budget affairs with bad actors, crazy bad lighting, and nutzoid storylines. And thus, we come to Pocong vs. Kuntilanak, which despite being the cheesiest movie I watched tonight by far, still has a certain charm to it that makes me not want to tell you to avoid it. And no, it’s not just because the actress who plays Fanny (as is often the case, actor names are not matched to character names on IMDB for this shindig) looks spectacular in a pair of spectacles.
Plot: okay, I can’t give you a plot. Do you really need one in an Indonesian Freddy vs. Jason-style monster-fest, anyway? There are a bunch of young-and-beautifuls who patronize an Indonesian tattoo parlor, Black Ink. Two are tattoo artists, Big and Sa, and there’s the owner of the shop, Marcel. (To give you an idea of the level of thought put into the names, Big’s a fat guy.) And then there are the three seriously hot chicks, Fanny, Nu, and Bi (short for Ruby, as it turns out). And, of course, we have the two monsters. For those not up on their Indonesian mythology—and I admit, I had to look these up, too—Kuntilanak is a specific kind of vampire, a woman who died in childbirth and comes back from the dead. Pocong is used here in two different ways. First off, according to my reading, it’s a kind of Muslim burial shroud left on the body for forty days after death. But the Pocong is also a ghost that appears when the strings are not loosed after those forty days. Since it’s tied around the feet, the pocong is a hopping ghost. Yes, this guy has popped up in a few other movies I’ve reviewed, but he’s never gone head-to-head with a vampire who died in childbirth before. Rockin’! In any case, for most of the movie, Kuntilanak (who’s called up by Fanny’s crazy mother, “the family witch” as Marcel calls her at one point, because she feels Marcel is disrespecting the family) and Pocong (who we meet at the very beginning of the film while he’s still alive, but I couldn’t quite figure out how he fit into everything) simply go around killing off the characters. But given the title of the movie, you know there’s going to be a big face-off at the climax, right? Kinda nifty how it happens, though it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.
It’s stupid, but I have to admit, it’s sometimes the little things that make all the difference. For instance, the sound mixing in this movie is bloody phenomenal at times (put on the headphones and listen close during the scene in the woods right after Big has tried to banish Pocong). It’s almost enough to balance out the hysteria-inducing subtitles. I’m still laughing at a few of them (there’s a great scene where Nu and Fanny are lounging around talking on the bed, and Fanny makes some sort of silly remark. Nu’s response, per the subtitles: “You appliance!”). Pocong vs. Kuntilanak isn’t a great movie by any means. It’s not even a good movie. But if someone re-releases it with way, way better subtitles, it may well be worth a watch if you like ghost stories. **