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Plot: the sins of a young man’s past come back to haunt him in the present.

Revenge of the Pontianak sees yet another classic Asian horror monsters resurrected for the modern age. The movie is part of a recent and larger mini-trend in Asian horror cinema that sees young filmmakers looking nostalgically towards the past (typically the much simpler days of the 1970s/80s and sometimes even earlier) and modeling their own horror epics after established properties and beloved icons of the past. Indonesia celebrated the life and work of Suzzanna with Suzzanna: Buried Alive (2018) and Thailand resurrected its own classic horror monster with Inhuman Kiss (2019). Malaysia couldn’t possibly stay behind and Revenge of the Pontianak (or Dendem Pontianak back at home) is very much - even if it’s never officially acknowledged as such – a cordial tribute to Malay horror queen Maria Menado and a liberal remake of Revenge of the Pontianak (1957), the second in her loose Pontianak cycle. Ostensibly the name to watch here is Nur Fazura as the titular sanguineous seductress. Her performance is alternately quietly understated and searing with rabid intensity.

Maria Menado, the Queen of Malaysian horror

The twilight years of the 2010s have given wave to a veritable wave of nostalgia-driven Southeast Asian revivalist horror. In this cycle young filmmakers paid tribute to the old masters and celebrated long forgotten genres and icons of yesteryear. Italy had Barbara Steele in the sixties and Edwige Fenech in the seventies, Spain had Soledad Miranda and Nieves Navarro, and in Indonesia Suzzanna was the undisputed Queen of Horror. Maria Menado was a contemporary of Suzzanna back in her home of Malaysia.

All through the fifties and sixties Menado starred in her most enduring works and was bestowed prestigious titles as “Malaya’s Most Beautiful” by Times Magazine and the “Best Dressed Woman in South East Asia” by United Press International. Her most iconic role would be that of the Pontianak in Pontianak (1957). It was so lucrative at the Cathay cinema box office that it not only spawned three sequels with Revenge of the Pontianak (1957), Curse of the Pontianak (1958) and The Vampire Returns (1963) but also launched the Pontianak subgenre of made-in-Singapore, Malay-language ghost horror in Singapore and Malaysia in the process. Its box office success inspired Hong Kong’s Shaw Bros to launch their own rival Pontianak trilogy. With their Revenge Of the Pontianak directors Glen Goei and Gavin Yap pay tribute to the ghost horror of yore now that Paranormal Activity (2008) and The Conjuring (2013) seem to have become the new international standard. Goei and Yap aim not for a direct remake but rather to capture the essence of vintage Malay fright cinema and its foremost international ambassador.

To Western eyes the Pontianak (Kuntilanak in Indonesia or the similar Tiyanak and Churel in the Philippines and India, respectively) is the halfway point between the vampire of European folklore and white ghost maiden omnipresent in Asian folk tales. As such the Pontianak typically takes the form of a beautiful woman with pale skin, red eyes, long black hair and long fingernails in a blood-splattered white dress. Hiding in banana trees during the day she typically died in childbirth and her vengeful spirit roams the material world because she was not given the proper burial rites. The arrival of the Pontianak is foretold by the barking of dogs, sudden illness among infants and a strong scent of either flowers or decay pervading the air. The Pontianak has been a staple of Malaysian horror cinema at least since the fifties and just like vampires, ghosts and slashers in Western cinema continues to inspire Malay filmmakers to this day. Perhaps the biggest innovation that Revenge Of the Pontianak offers is taking painstaking work to humanize the Pontianak and the woman in question. In doing so Goei and Yap change her from an antagonist into a victim of circumstance. Here the true villain is not the sanguineous ghost but the man condemning her to said fate. Just like how Inhuman Kiss (2019) was a coming of age story and doomed romance wrapped in Thai folklore this is a tragedy masquerading as a vintage ghost horror. What Suzzanna: Buried Alive (2019) did for Indonesian horror Revenge Of the Pontianak does a concerted effort to the bring old school sensibilities to contemporary horror cinema. It might not be exactly tense but it certainly looks and sounds the part

Malaysia, 1965. In a small kampong young aristocrats Khalid (Remy Ishak) and Siti (Shenty Felizaina) are preparing for their wedding. On the day of the ceremony his brother Reza (Hisyam Hamid) and his wife Aisha (Nadiah m Din) welcome Siti to the family. Also present is Khalid’s 9-year-old son Nik (Nik Harraz Danish) as well as his old friend Rais (Tony Eusoff). At the party Rais courts wedding singer Ida (Nadia Aqilah) and before long the two are in each other’s arms. On the way home Rais and Ida encounter the silhouette of a woman standing in the distance. Back in the kampong Nik claims he caught the glimpse of a ghost in the jungle around the house. Khalid brushes it off as childish imagination and retreats to the bedroom with Siti. He has a rude awakening the next morning when he sees the mutilated corpse of Rais strung up in a banana tree. “Darkness has descended upon this village,” dukun/bomoh (shaman) Su’ut Din (Shahili Abdan, as Namron) ominously intones striking mortal dread into the hearts of the superstitious villagers. Village elder Penghulu (Wan Hanafi Su) encourages the villagers to remain calm until the perpetrator is brought to justice.

At night Khalid is haunted by recurring nightmares and Nik is drawn to a comforting, familiar voice emanating from the nearby jungle. When small infants suddenly fall into inexplicable sickness, dogs devolving into fits of barking and a foul smell starts to permeate the air Su’ut Din fears the worst. It is not until Reza shows signs of possession and briefly speaks in tongues that it dawns upon Khalid that his sordid past has finally caught up with the blissful present. His erratic behavior forces Siti and Reza to corner him to come clean about his youthful indiscretions. The Pontianak is a maiden by the name of Mina (Nur Fazura) who Khalid was arranged to marry some nine years earlier in 1956. At the dawn of Malay Independence he reneged his vows and send her packing to Singapore. When she returned a year later she not only expected him to marry her but also to sire the child she was carrying in her womb. He’s soon to learn that Nik (to paraphrase Shakespeare in the Merchant Of Venice) “for the sins of (his) father, though guiltless, must suffer" and that ghosts of the past sometimes are indeed quite literal ghosts. Who or what will be able to repel the fury of an undead woman scorned?

If anything Revenge Of the Pontianak is custodian to some absolutely idyllic cinematography and locations on top of being masterfully scripted and tightly-paced. Each of the six main characters has a classic Arabic, Persian or Egyptian name corresponding with their designated archetype or function. The women are uniformly and universally beautiful. Nur Fazura gets to wear some beautiful pastel-colored robes and in each of her scenes she wears a different color reflecting her state of mind. In that capacity she can be seen in shades of green and yellow. Later when she’s turned into a Pontianak her red sari turns white as her hair loosens and fingernails grow. Some might recognize the Chinese sleep chant that Siti sings to Nik as Coldplay used as a coda to ‘Yes’ on their “Viva la Vida! Or Death and All his Friends” album. Wicked tongues might claim that Revenge Of the Pontianak of hardly ever scary (and they would be right) but at no point does it ever promise anything else. This is a drama first and foremost – and any and all horror elements are secondary at best. The fact that Revenge Of the Pontianak goes to such incredible lengths to humanize its monster is just what makes it so interesting than any run off the mill Asian ghost horror. At heart Revenge Of the Pontianak is a human interest drama about a dysfunctional family – and that it just so happens to pay tribute to the life and work of Maria Menado is a neat bonus.

Glen Goei and Gavin Yap’s maiden foray into horror is one of unexpected surprises and benefits. Coming to the genre from the realm of comedy and drama the two bring that human touch to a genre usually of such finesse and subtlety. Perhaps that is why Revenge of the Pontianak focuses so much on the romance and places the concept of the scorned woman up, front and center. After all what else was the parable of the Pontianak in Malay folklore than a dire warning to all men to keep their spiel in their pants and stay faithful to their wives? It’s also refreshing that for once the Pontianak is portrayed as the victim and that the woman for whence she came is not vilified for her alleged wrongdoings. Mina is by far the most sympathetic character and Khalid - no matter how you spin it - is an egocentric, opportunistic, entitled douche canoe of the highest order that so richly deserves the royal, infernal comeuppance he’s given. As the obedient, subservient wife Shenty Felizaina is pretty much an enchantingly robed nonentity until the third act when she suddenly becomes a key component in the resolution; and as the voice of reason Hisyam Hamid portrays the only male character worth rooting for. The uncontested star of Revenge Of the Pontianak is Nur Fazura. Fazura is able to convey so much with what for all intents and purposes is very little. Her final scene alone is the ideal showcase of her incredible range as an actress. That she’s barely known in the Western world says enough about our collective ignorance.

Revenge Of the Pontianak is neither a direct remake nor a tribute in the way Suzanna: Buried Alive (2018) was to the life and work of Suzzanna. While it captures the essence of what made the Maria Menado Pontianak horrors so timeless this never is a tribute to her specifically. Instead it touches upon a variety of human interest topics including, but not limited to, the importance of family, the place of women in society in Southeast Asia (specifically Malaysia and Singapore); the importance of religion, folklore and superstition; the Islamization of what then was still a Buddhist nation, the incursion of first world modernity upon third world nations - and what greater example of the ill effects of rampant toxic masculinity? It’s hardly a feminist manifesto or anything but the Pontianak is the central character here – and it are the women who play a pivotal role in the eventual resolution. That being as it may Revenge Of the Pontianak is not some great vanguard of innovation. Asian ghost horror is too limited in its conventions to really allow for much innovation or deconstruction. Like We Are Not Alone (2016) and Verónica (2017) before it Revenge Of the Pontianak is at its best when it focuses on the human aspect, although at least here the ghost is something different.

Plot: Waldemar Daninsky fights bandits, witches, cannibals, vampires, and a Yeti too!

La Maldición de la Bestia (or The Curse of the Beast, released in Europe under the more descriptive title The Werewolf and the Yeti and in North America as Night Of the Howling Beast) is the eighth chapter in the epic El Hombre Lobo saga and according to director Miguel Iglesias it did better on the international market than at home. The final of the classic era at long last explores that burning question first raised in The Fury Of the Wolfman (1970) some five years before. What horrible fate exactly befell noted anthropologist Waldemar Daninsky on that ill-fated journey into the Himalayas? The Werewolf and the Yeti was Paul Naschy’s ultimate pièce de résistance and saw his cursed Polish nobleman face off against Nepalese bandits, witches, cannibals, and his ancient arch-nemesis, the ravenna strigoi mortii Wandesa – and a Yeti, too. The Werewolf and the Yeti is probably the best El Hombre Lobo this side of The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) and the ambitious The Return Of Walpurgis (1973).

This time Waldemar Daninsky has quite the gallery of rogues to withstand. His first order of business are a bunch of Himalayan cave-dwelling cannibal vampires Second, and more importantly, he has to defeat a band of Nepalese bandits led by Temugin and face the even greater threat of warlord Sekkar Khan. To top things off, Khan is but a plaything for the mighty Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy, the ancient and nefarious sorceress he had faced two times before in The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) and The Mark of the Wolfman (1968). Finally, and probably more of an afterthought than a real adversary, a Yeti is on the loose and killing people. It’s up to Waldemar Daninsky to stop all of them from wreaking havoc upon the innocent. One way of describing The Werewolf and the Yeti is like a greatest hits of sorts. What better way to start exploring the crazy El Hombre Lobo saga than with an episode that has a bit of everything (and plenty of craziness of its own) that came before? For one, it’s probably the single-most breakneck paced and veritably insane of the series.

Esteemed Polish anthropologist and psychologist Waldemar Daninsky (Jacinto Molina Álvarez, as Paul Naschy) is summoned to London, England at behest of his old friend and archeologist professor Lacombe (José Castillo Escalona, as Castillo Escalona). Lacombe has come into possession of irrefutable proof that the mythical Yeti does exist. Tragically, it was the last sign of life from the doomed Sylas Newman expedition into Dathokari, Kathmandu. Lacombe is mounting an expedition into Tibet with his daughter Sylvia (Mercedes Molina, as Grace Mills) and his team – Lacombe’s assistant Ralph (Ventura Ollé), Melody (Verónica Miriel), as well as strongmen Norman (Juan Velilla), and Larry Talbot (Gil Vidal) - with Daninsky acting as their guide. In Tibet native liaison Tiger (Gaspar "Indio" González) and his sherpas will guide the expedition deep into the land. The way Daninsky sees it the best place to start is where the Newman trail went cold. That place is the mountain range of Karakoram on the borders of Pakistan, India, and China.

Bad weather conditions force the expedition to seek an alternative route to the Rombuc barrier and the pass that the Newman expedition mentioned in their communiquées. Tiger is none too happy with the prospect and issues a dire warning that local folklore and superstition claim the "Pass of the Demons of the Red Moon" is cursed and thus to be avoided. Not wanting to endanger the life of his men Tiger helps the group find someone willing to venture into the cursed land. That man is cross-eyed, semi-alcoholic, and half-mad adventurer Joel (Víctor Israel). Waldemar volunteers to follow Joel into the pass but when he disappears under mysterious circumstances Daninsky soon finds himself lost in the endless snows. Exhausted and injured from his ordeal Waldemar seeks refuge in a nearby cave and finds that it’s inhabited by two attractive women (Carmen Cervera and Pepa Ferrer). The semi-feral women nurse him back to health – and just when he is strong enough to journey back he discovers both of them are cannibal vampires. In the throes of passion he’s bitten and cursed with lycanthropy but manages to escape.

Around the same time the remainder of the expedition is taken hostage by Temugin (José Luis Chinchilla) who takes them to the stronghold of Sekkhar Khan (Luis Induni). Khan is a vicious warlord who has plans to expand his dominion and his armed troops have thrown the region into chaos and destroyed any and all existing opposition. Khan has annexed it for his own and enslaved local ruler princess Ulka (Ana María Mauri). Before rejoining the expedition Waldemar is entrusted with a cure for his full moon sickness by monk Lama (Fernando Ulloa). While Sekkhar Khan obviously poses enough of a threat by his lonesome, the black force behind him, the immortal witch Wandesa (Silvia Solar) - whom Daninsky faced twice before in lives once lived - does not take kind of Waldemar’s interference, wolfen or otherwise, and has Sekkhar Khan dole out severe punishment for his transgressions. With the professor, Sylvia, and Melody imprisoned by Khan’s bandit forces and princess Ulka rendered powerless Waldemar has but one option: to risk life and limb to rescue his friends from the claws of the warlord and his diabolical mistress. To make matters worse Daninsky also has to keep them out of the hungry maw of that pesky Yeti that is still at large…

After the gothic horror and mad science of the prior six episodes The Werewolf and the Yeti ramps up the action-adventure aspect. At times it sort of feels like a budget-deprived antecedent to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - except that that was a tribute to 1930s adventure serials, and Naschy’s feels like a 1950s adventure with a copious amount of blood, sex, and just about every monster that was popular in 70s horror. Actually, Naschy was never given the due credit for the inclusion of cannibalism here. Sure, it was more of the hokey The Night of the Sorcerers (1974) variety – but even by that standard he was early to the races. Man from Deep River (1972) is probably the earliest Italian example of the genre, and Argentina got there even earlier with the Libertad Leblanc jungle adventure Captive Of the Jungle (1969). Vampires and witches had been sweeping over Mediterranean Europe for a good five years by 1975, and they always had a been a staple of the Naschy oeuvre. In keeping with the times The Werewolf and the Yeti is easily the bloodiest and sleaziest of the classic El Hombre Lobo canon. With Mercedes Molina, Verónica Miriel, and Silvia Solar there’s plenty to look at and neither shy from taking their tops off when and where it matters. Naschy, of course, never hid why he casted all these Eurobabes in the first place either. Solar might not have the same prestige as Helga Liné, Adriana Ambesi, Diana Lorys, Mirta Miller, or Perla Cristal – but for an elder stateswoman she’s hardly the worst choice. If it wasn't for this Solar would never have done the possibly even more insane Eurociné gothic horror The Wicked Caresses of Satan (1976).

In a series that always prided itself in having some the most beloved and delectable Eurobabes, The Werewolf and the Yeti probably features the least known. Where it previously had former Bond girls (Karin Dor), local superstars (Aurora de Alba, Yelena Samarina, Perla Cristal, and Mirta Miller), hot-to-trot starlets (Dyanik Zurakowska, Rosanna Yanni, Fabiola Falcón, and Maritza Olivares), imported talent (Gaby Fuchs, Barbara Capell, Patty Shepard, and Shirley Corrigan), and reliable domestic second-stringers (Betsabé Ruiz, María Silva, María Luisa Tovar, Victoria Hernández, and Marisol Delgado) the only real star of note here is Silvia Solar. Compared to any and all of their illustrious predecessors Mercedes Molina, Verónica Miriel, and Ana María Mauri are nobodies, relative or otherwise. Why did we never see any French belles (Dominique Delpierre, Edwige Fenech, Françoise Pascal, Jeanne Goupil, or Muriel Catalá), Swedish sex goddesses (Leena Skoog, Solveig Andersson, Christina Lindberg, Marie Forså), Italo babes (Claudia Gravy, Erika Blanc, Gloria Guida, Rita Calderoni, Barbara Magnolfi, Paola Tedesco, Laura Antonelli or Femi Benussi) or exotic delights (Laura Gemser, Zeudi Araya, and Me Me Lai) alongside Naschy?

The appearance of Shirley Corrigan never led to an influx of UK babes (Barbara Steele, Candace Glendenning, Valerie Leon, Yutte Stensgaard, Kirsten Lindholm, Pippa Steele, or Judy Matheson). Why did no German sex comedy starlets (Christina von Blanc, Ursula Buchfellner, Olivia Pascal, Edwige Pierre, Christine Zierl) or Lederhosenporn regulars (Ingrid Steeger, Ulrike Butz, Judith Fritsch, Alena Penz, Flavia Keyt, or Gisela Schwartz), Cine-S superstars (Eva Lyberten, Andrea Albani, Sara Mora), or famous foreign imports (Lynn Lowry, Danielle Ouimet, Anulka Dziubinska) and Latin American horror royalty (Amalia Fuentes, Tina Romero, Susana Beltrán, Gloria Prat, or Maribel Guardia) ever turn up over the course of the latter El Hombre Lobo episodes? It’s unbelievable enough that famous locals as Maribel Martín, Carmen Yazalde, Silvia Tortosa or Tina Sáinz never were part of the series – or Naschy’s other work for that matter.

The Werewolf and the Yeti marked the end of an era. Four more sequels would materialize sporadically over the next two decades, but the halcyon days of Waldemar Daninsky were now well and truly behind him. During the eighties - a decade that saw a great decline in Italian and Spanish horror and exploitation - only two episodes were produced with Return of the Wolfman (1980) and the Japanese co-production The Beast and the Magic Sword (1983). After that Daninsky would only resurface with Lycantropus: The Moonlight Murders (1997) that was cut to shreds by director Francisco Rodríguez Gordillo. Closing chapter Tomb of the Werewolf (2004) fared possibly even worse being written and directed by American low budget impresario Fred Olen Ray and late cinematographer Gary Graver. Naschy and fellow veteran John Henry Richardson found themselves surrounded by a bevy of American screamqueens (Michelle Bauer, Danielle Petty, Beverly Lynne, Monique Alexander) in a production that bore little semblance to what Jacinto Molina had spent 40 years cultivating. It’s a sorry end for one of Naschy’s greatest and most enduring cinematic creations. Alas, time had not been kind to Naschy and somehow he had become a relic of a bygone age. Although reappraised in his native Spain in his old age and duly recognized and awarded internationally for his cinematic contributions, Paul Naschy would pass away, age 75, in Madrid in 2009. Naschy might be dead, but El Hombre Lobo is forever.