Saturday, August 13, 2011

Aswang (1994)

The vampire, in spite of what popular media might tell you, actually has a rich history dating centuries. From African tradition (the Asanbosam), China (the Jiang Shi) and medieval European lore (the Norse Draugr), the list goes on when it comes to the history and past of the vampire. Another one is the Aswang, a Philippines legend that uses it's tongue to consume unborn children, and is the subject of the movie of the same name.

A pregnant, unwed woman named Katrina (Tina Ona Paukstelis) is given the offer to marry the rich Peter Null (Norman Moses) and live in his estate with his dying mother, her daughter, and Cupid the caretaker (Mildred Nierras.) Of course, they have plans for that baby, and what's with the guy who keeps finding strange, cocoon like things and skulls of unborn children?

The history of "Aswang" is an interesting one. Premiering at Sundance (the first horror movie to be shown there in fact), it was picked up for distribution from Prisim, who cut a few seconds of gore from the movie. To make things worst, I couldn't find it in any of the VHS rentals back in the day, as they thought it's subject matter was too disgusting and offensive (ironic, considering they sold porn, soft core flicks, hentai and movies with titles like "Rape Squad" without batting an eye.) Fortunately, Mondo Macarbo finally released it uncut on DVD. So, how does it hold up?

Well, it's a fun movie, but it's nothing really original or innovative. Borrowing liberally from "The Shining", "The Evil Dead", "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Psycho", and adding a pinch of Filipino horror to the mix, it's still pretty odd, mostly due to the subject matter, but also due to the strain of very black humor on display, with a few moments (mamma hanging from a window by her very long tongue) garnering chuckles, proving that the people behind this at least know how to have fun. There's also some nice gore, a few genuinely suspenseful moments, a good enough score by Ken Brahmstedt (dig the weird electronic effects), an interesting subplot, and a fitting, bleak conclusion.

Problems? Well for one thing, none of the performances here are particularly good, with Moses being the worst offender. Here, he screams, grunts, bugs his eyes, and acts so over the top that you kind of wish someone else would have played him. Also, the viewer is lead to know that the Null family are a bit strange too soon, as it would have been nice to allow some sort of false sense of security when it comes to them. Then again, if they weren't crazy, you wouldn't have a horror movie, so I can't complain too much.

"Aswang" is an enjoyable little romp that managed to keep my interest throughout, though I don't think many will mistake it as a classic. It is what it is: an enthusiastic, nasty B-Movie. Nothing more, nothing less.

Rating: 7/10

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