New streaming on SHUDDER!
THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC (RATU ILMU HITAM, 1981)
aka BLACK MAGIC QUEEN, BLACK MAGIC, BLACK MAGIC III, BLACK MAGIC TERROR
Directed and written by Liliek Sudjio
Starring Suzzanna, W.D. Mochtar, Teddy Purba, Sofia W.D., Alan Nuary, Siska Widowati, Dorman Borisman, Jufri Sardan, Doddy Sukma, Mien Brodjo, Mien Brojo, Tizar Purbaya, Gordon Subandono, H.I.M. Damsyik, Adang Mansyur, Belkiez Rachman, Ali Albar, Jafarpree York, Ibu Subekto, Jufri Bardan, Soendoro, Joie Vejjajiva
Shudder is releasing both the Joko Anwar written and produced retelling of THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC as well as the original and being the OCD person that I am, I watched both to try to compare and contrast the two. I reviewed the remake on my Youtube page, MLMillerFrights, so be sure to click over to that one when you finish reading this review.
In a small Indonesian village, a woman named Murni (Suzzanna) is accused of being a witch after a local member of the upper class sleeps with her and takes her virginity after promising to marry her. When he decides to marry another woman, Murni confronts him at his wedding ceremony. When she is labeled a witch, the townsfolk gather together and toss her over a cliff to her death. But she falls into the arms of an evil wizard who nurses her back to health and teaches her the art of dark magic. One she is well and trained, Murni returns to the town and unleashes an unholy vengeance upon those who wronged her.
THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC 1981 works as a sort of prequel to Joko Anwar’s modern tale. Both involve a woman named Murni who is accused of some misdeed and returns as a spirit of vengeance to gorily do away with her victims with supernatural spells that usually involve centipedes, beetles, worms, or some other kinds of insects. That’s pretty much where the similarities between the two films end.
For the most part, the story follows the typical tale of vengeance. It’s a woman wronged and a series of scenes loosely laced together that end with a wonderfully schlocky bit of horror effects that feels to be quite evolved for its time. Most likely, if you’ve heard of THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC, you know about these effects sequences. Most of them feature all sorts of creepy, crawly insects writhing and squirming all over hideously lumpy faces. What makes these effects work so well is that it seems these insects used are real and very much alive, despite the fact that they are all over the faces and in and out of the mouths and noses of the poor actors. I understand that most likely, many a bug perished during this film, but man does it make for some scenes that work really well in making the viewer unsettled and downright nauseous. Each compelling scene of vengeance seems to want to top the next one. There’s even a death by exploding veins resulting in an exploding head that feels as if it were ripped straight from SCANNERS. But Cronenberg’s SCANNERS was released in the same year as THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC, so it’s either a wonderful coincidence or one film got an early copy of the other.
The over the top fight scenes are quite hilarious at times. There’s a scene where one of Murni’s victims rips his own head off and it floats around biting others. It’s wonderfully and maniacally entertaining. There’s another unintentionally hilarious scene where a man is praying while the evil sorcerer is attempting to kill him from his own lair. The house falls apart around him, but the praying man is unfazed amidst the falling tiles. The finale feels like a template for MORTAL COMBAT as Murni tosses fireballs, utilizes voo doo dolls, and flips and contorts her body into all sorts of goofy shapes as she takes on her final foes. It all ends abruptly, dripping with melodrama.
The actress who plays Murni known simply as Suzanna is quite the stunner. Sure her acting is over the top and drenched in melodrama, but she still offers up an iconic performance as the scorned sorceress. No one will be getting any acting awards from this film, but still, she is a compelling actress to watch. The fact that she can deliver the line, “You are my brother, and my lover.” with a straight face deserves some kind of credit.
It’s interesting that Joko Anwar was able to twist and morph this story into the much more complex modern nightmare with the same title. Both films have their appeal. The modern one delivers sophisticated thrills, effects, and haunting imagery. The original does as well, but the story is much more streamlined and serves much more as a drive-in no-brainer than some kind of film that might haunt you long afterwards. Watching both the original and the modern remake makes for a wonderful double feature with both being different enough while sharing themes. THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC 1981 ended up being a goofy and grindhousey mix of kung fu and morbid mysticism, yet undeniably entertaining.