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John’s Horror Corner: Mystics in Bali (1981; aka Leák), a wild Indonesian horror movie about the occult, black magic and a flying disembodied head dangling its guts in tow.

September 16, 2022

MY CALL: If you’re in the market for green-screened guts, black magic curses, boobed pig monsters, and birth-robbing crotch-vampirism, then look no further! The very premise of this film is the product of unfettered screenwriting lunacy and, thankfully, subsequent filmmakers stood on the shoulders of the minds behind Bali to get even weirder. MORE MOVIES LIKE Mystics in Bali:  For yet more bonkers Asian horror, consider Seeding of a Ghost (1983; aka Zhong gui), The Devil’s Sword (1984), Evil Dead Trap (1988; aka Shiryô no wana), Lady Terminator (1989), The Boxer’s Omen (1983; aka Mo, Black Magic 4) and, of course, Black Magic (1975). Though not Asian, I’d also recommend the Demon Seed (1977), The Manitou (1978), Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986) and Bride of Re-Animator (1990) for some wild horror that packs some awkward insanity laughs and out there concepts.

Boasting a movie poster labeling this “the Holy Grail of Asian Cult Cinema,” Mystics in Bali has always been something I wanted to see. For decades I’ve seen images and posters in Fangoria magazine and websites and horror convention artists’ booths, building to the eventual day that I finally just bought the movie! And having just recently enjoyed another Asian cult movie (The Boxer’s Omen) also featuring a flying disembodied head dangling its guts below, today just felt like the day to watch it!

Based on the novel Leák Ngakak, the story follows American occult researcher Cathy (Ilona Agathe Bastian) who is interested in learning the practices of Leák black magic solely for the purpose of writing a book about it. So her friend Mahendra (Yos Santo; The Devil’s Sword) arranges for her to meet a monstrously disfigured evil witch (Sofia W.D.; The Queen of Black Magic) known as the greatest master of the Leák, who agrees to teach her. What could possibly go wrong?

The dialogue with the elderly witch has the maturity and exposition of a child’s fairy tale, and Cathy’s first lessons in black magic are visually just as silly. The animal transformation scenes are… well… they tried. But the major special effect of this movie is when Cathy’s head flies away from its body with her bodily organs and guts in tow. The effects are done by some pretty poor rotoscoping, and lack the grossout appeal for which we’re accustomed in newer movies. However, in concept, the movie remains an oddity in that Cathy has become a sort of floating head vampire which feeds on unborn children still inside their mother during childbirth. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Yup, I’m reminded of that scene from Re-Animator (1985) as well!

Unfortunately, we only witness this gag three times, and only once with any “feeding” action. So it’s mostly just a head flying around with its lungs and intestines dangling about, often on a hokey zipline cord when not green-screened. Personally, I’d prefer more birth-robbing crotch-vampirism. But that’s just me.

How crazy one considers this movie will be inversely affected by the number of crazy Asian movies they’ve seen prior. If you’ve seen few such insane oddities, then this will be a ridiculous delight. If you’ve seen many, then it will seem less provocative; even tame for its wacky subgenre. So all told, (for me) this movie isn’t super exciting at all. However, it clearly paved the way for subsequent, and even more nutty movies. So for his service to wild cult cinema, we owe director H. Tjut Djalil (Dangerous Seductress, Lady Terminator) a great debt. And speaking of wild cult cinema, the final fight would lead me to suggest The Manitou (1978)—which is also an amazing piece of completely unfettered cinema lunacy. This final fight in Bali is extremely clunky with wooden acting and yet more rigid action choreography. The “laser fighting” is laughably stupid, the “boobed” pig monster was ridiculous, and when the battle ends… so does the movie! Huh? Just roll the credits? Alright, I guess.

I’ve seen a lot of wild Asian horror, and this one is very patient and thorough in its storytelling and exposition. In fact, the story actually makes more sense than most of these zany Asian movies. Given the far slower pacing of Mystics in Bali, I’m inclined to consider The Boxer’s Omen (1983) the far more bonkers and vastly superior of the two films. But credit must be given that Mystics clearly influenced Omen. This film is… special.

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