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Plot: pregnant woman is murdered… and comes to haunt her wrongdoers.

To Indonesians (and weird cinema aficionados around the world) Suzzanna was, is, and remains an indisputable icon that has stood the test of time. She was for Indonesian horror cinema what Barbara Steele was to the Italian gothic, what Edwige Fenech and Nieves Navarro were to the giallo, and what Gloria Guida was to the commedia sexy all’Italiana. Her closest contemporary was probably Maria Menado in Malaysia. In other words, Suzzanna was the highest nobility and a bonafide superstar in her day. Suzzanna: Bernapas Dalam Kubur (or Suzzanna: Buried Alive internationally) is a tribute to, and celebration of, the life and work of Indonesia’s biggest and most enduring international export. Suzzanna: Buried Alive breathes new life into an older form of ghost horror that remains prevalent and popular in Asia and beyond. Suzzanna: Buried Alive ensures that Suzzanna, her legacy, and spirit continue to live on in the domestic horror scene that has changed very much since the Golden Age.

Suzzanna, the Queen of Indonesian Horror

From 1950 right up until her passing in 2008 Suzzanna starred in nearly 40 movies across a variety of genres, but is remembered for the most part as one of the pillars in fantastic and horror cinema. Suzzanna started out just 9 years after the special effects extravaganza The Living Skeleton (1941) exploded at the box office at the dawn of the Indonesian horror industry making her the first domestic horror queen. She worked almost exclusively with director Sisworo Gautama Putra, Rapi Films and Soraya Intercine Film and frequently co-starred with martial artist Barry Prima. As Putra’s muse Suzzanna had the opportunity to work with the best. For her role in Girl’s Dormitory (1958) she won the Best Child Actress and Golden Harvest Award at the 1960 Asian Film Festival in Tokyo, Japan.

Putra was the man behind the first (and, to our recollection, only) Indonesian cannibal romp Primitif (1980) as well as the slasher Srigala (1981) - an imitation of Friday the 13th (1980) with a healthy dose of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) for extra spice - and Satan’s Slave (1982), an Indonesian variation on Don Coscarelli's Phantasm (1979). Under Putra’s wings Suzzanna became the leading lady in notable horror and cult epics as Birth In the Tomb (1972), The Queen Of Black Magic (1981), Sundelbolong (1981), Sangkuriang (1982), The Snake Queen (1982), The Snake Queen's Wedding (1983), Lake Eerie (1984), The Hungry Snake Woman (1986), Death-Spreading Heirloom (1990), Pact with the Forces of Darkness (1991), and The Queen of the South Sea (1991). After Putra’s death in 1993 Suzzanna all but retired. After a gargantuan 17-year absence she returned for Hantu Ambulance (2008). Suzzanna herself would pass away in mid-October that year. Since then she has become enshrined as a cultural behemoth, a domestic grand monument and an international export of global reverence and acclaim.

On the tenth anniversary of her passing perhaps the time was right to eulogize Indonesia’s one and only queen of horror. Now that there was enough distance director duo Rocky Soraya and Anggy Umbara set to creating the ultimate tribute to, and celebration of, Suzzanna’s life and work with a pretty faithful remake of Sundelbolong (1981). The choice was obvious. Ghost horror had experienced somewhat of an international resurgence with Paranormal Activity (2007) and The Conjuring (2013). Even Western audiences were familiar with the white ghost lady either through Hong Kong or Japan and Suzzanna’s role in Sundelbolong (1981) was something that even international audiences were familiar with. Thus they settled upon Suzzanna: Buried Alive and did for Southeast Asian ghost horror what Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019) did for big Hollywood productions at the end of the studio system in 1969 and what Om Shanti Om (2008) did for 1970s mainstream Bollywood entertainment. To make a long story short Suzzanna: Buried Alive takes the nouveau retro aesthetic, feeds the nostalgia for vintage Indonesian horror and runs with it. Suzzanna: Buried Alive is an old school horror with old-fashioned filming techniques, make-up and prosthetics. Luna Maya would spend three hours in make-up every day for 53 days to look like Suzzanna. No wonder then that Suzzanna: Buried Alive was nominated and won big at the 2019 Bandung Film Festival, Indonesian Box Office Movie Awards, Indonesian Movie Actors Awards, and the Maya Awards. Suzzanna would be proud.

Spring, 1989. Satria (Herjunot Ali) is the director of a cable manufacturing business and him and his wife Suzzanna (Luna Maya) are eagerly anticipating the birth of their first child. At the factory disgruntled employees Umar (Teuku Rifnu Wikana) and Jonal (Verdi Solaiman) have come to demand a raise but Satria denies their request. Back in the mansion Suzzanna’s every want or need is looked after by loyal house servants Mia (Asri Welas), Pak Rojali (Opie Kumis) and Tohir (Ence Bagus). While Suzzanna is close carrying her pregnancy to term business forces Satria on a trip to Japan. One night working the graveyard shift Umar and Jonal get wind of said trip and conspire with fellow aggrieved workers Gino (Kiki Narendra) and Dudun (Alex Abbad) to burglarize their boss's mansion in a few days. Later that week Suzzanna and her servants go to a midnight revival of Lake Eerie (1984) where she’s inexplicably overcome by a feeling that something’s wrong. As Suzzanna returns home the four burglars manage to stay hidden and silently plan their escape. That’s when they’re discovered by a spooked Suzzanna. Seeing no other option now that she’ll be able to identify them as the perpetrators Umar and Jonal resort to violence and in the fracas Suzzanna ends up impaled. The four ditch the lifeless body of Suzzanna in a shallow grave. Suzzanna is resurrected as a sundel bolong and vows to kill her wrongdoers. The burglars hire shaman (or dukun) Mbah Turu (Norman R. Akyuwen) to exorcise the demon to stave off the inevitable. Who or what will be able to stop the undead Suzzanna?

Considering the meta aspect it’s nigh on impossible not to see this as an Indonesian Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994). What’s most puzzling (or problematic, rather) is Soraya and Umbara choosing to make Suzzanna a sundel bolong. The reason behind that choice is as understandable as it is obvious as Sundelbolong (1981) remains Suzzanna’s most enduring movie monster role by a long shot and this is pretty much the one and only thing that has really penetrated the international horror community at large. However, making her a sundel bolong saddles her virtuous housewife character with a load of unpleasant implications. In Southeast Asian folklore a sundel bolong is the vengeful spirit of a wronged pregnant woman (usually a prostitute) unable to give birth. She has a large hole in her back where her baby used to be. Maya’s Suzzanna is indeed pregnant but she lives a chaste, morally upright life devoted to both her husband and her faith. In the story such as it is a Langsuyar, Kuntilanak (Pontianak in Malaysia or the similar Tiyanak and Churel in the Philippines and India, respectively) would have been more logical, but it makes sense within context. It goes for Scream (1996) levels of self-awareness when it has Luna Maya’s fictional Suzzanna going to a midnight revival of Lake Eerie (1984) of the real Suzzanna. By Western standards Sundelbolong (1981) – and thus by extension Suzzanna: Buried Alive – was a fairly typical Far East ghost horror. It had the creepy black-haired lady in a white sari (one of the most recognizable ur-characters in Asian folklore) and it never got as outrageously insane as The Queen Of Black Magic (1981) (which was nominated multiple times at the 1982 Indonesian Film Festival, including the Citra Award for Best Leading Actress) or the Ratno Timoer fantasy flick The Devil’s Sword (1984) (with Barry Prima).

The men behind this are the Soraya fraternity. Consider them the Ramsay clan of Indonesia. The main force here is Raam Soraya. He has a long history in Indonesian horror and frequently worked with the actual Suzzanna. All through the 1980s Soraya produced the biggest and most memorable hits of Indonesian horror and in the nineties he produced the hallucinatory Dangerous Seductress (1992) which was one part of erotic thriller, one-part horror and all insane. It also happened to star Amy Weber - or the girl that broke the internet with Cindy Margolis - back when we still were using dial-up modems, when Doom was the biggest thing and social media was nothing but a distant flicker in the dreaming eye of its creators.

While Suzzanna: Buried Alive may have its problems (the light comedic interludes don’t always work, but they were part of the original work too. Not that they worked any better there) for the most part it’s a wonderful tribute to Suzzanna and her most legendary role. Suzzanna: Buried Alive never sets out to innovate the ghost movie, and it effectively is filmed in the way Sisworo Gautama Putra would with an absolute minimum of modern day digital trickery. Even if you haven’t seen Sundelbolong (1981) or any of Suzzanna’s other fright flicks this remains highly entertaining. In the age of endless (and interchangeable) The Conjuring (2013) rip-offs something old school is more than welcome and appreciated. Suzzanna: Buried Alive is a treat for everybody who couldn’t get enough of Suzzanna’s old horrors – and if a younger audience happens to find their way to it, that’s a bonus. As far as self-aware horror goes, this is probably the most respectful of the bunch. Is this the beginning of a Suzzanna franchise? Who knows… it might very well be. Suzzanna has portrayed enough memorable characters to make this a very loose franchise. Now it's the only question is when the inevitable and much overdue Suzzanna biopic will finally materialize.

Plot: scientists investigate occurrences at cursed manor. Hilarity ensues!

Bloodbath at the House Of Death has gotten a bad rep over the years, or ever since it came out in 1984. Margaret Thatcher had come out victorious in a landslide re-election and during the second term faced the National Union of Mineworkers 1984–85 miners' strike and survived an assassination attempt by the Provisional IRA in the 1984 Brighton hotel bombing. Britain crumbled under a crippling economic recession and experienced inflation and rising unemployment. Thatcher’s Torie administration proposed legislation touting deregulation, privatization and entrepreneurialism as the solutions to get the country up and running again. No wonder then that entertainment became lighter and Bloodbath at the House Of Death is a good example of just that. Whatever its merits it was tragically overshadowed upon general release by controversial comments made on a public forum by the creative force behind it. Granted, this is not some underseen classic that has remained buried for many years but as far as semi-comedic horror spoofs go, it’s actually wonderfully on-point.

Great Britain has a long history in horror. From the days of Hammer, Tigon, and Amicus to maverick independents as Pete Walker and Norman J. Warren. Spoofs have been around since the dawn of cinema and horror – rife with larger-than-life villains and never-changing plot contrivances and ur-character archetypes – always was a target-rich environment and ripe for a good ridiculing. The man behind Bloodbath at the House Of Death was Kenny Everett. Everett was an openly right-wing and closeted gay media personality who found fame as a DJ on BBC Radio 1 and who hosted his namesake shows The Kenny Everett Video Show, The Kenny Everett Television Show on BBC1 and The Kenny Everett Radio Show on BBC Radio 2.

Kenny Everett and Cleo Rocos in 1988

Everett was a consummate and versatile performer who specialized in lewd humor. He apparently also was something of an avid horror fan. Bloodbath at the House Of Death is a spoof of English – and American horror but does not limit itself to the confines of that genre alone. With Everett anyone and anything was and is a possible target. Sadly, Bloodbath at the House Of Death saw a troubled general release and was perhaps unwittingly sabotaged by the man himself when he embarked upon an unhinged "Let's bomb Russia!" tirade at the Young Conservatives during the 1983 general election. For this Everett was goaded by director Michael Winner and the legacy media and moral arbiters of the day embarked upon a veritable witch-hunt and critically savaged Bloodbath at the House Of Death in retaliation. Was that undeserved? Well, that depends on what you want it to be. It’s not as if this was some long lost classic or forgotten masterpiece.

Joining Everett and his frequent collaborator and assistant Cleo Rocos are domestic comedy fixtures Sheila Steafel, John Fortune, Barry Cryer, Pamela Stephenson, and sometime Page 3 girl Debbie Linden. Linden was one of the curvaceous cuties frequently on display with Benny Hill on The Benny Hill Show (1978) and Debs could also be ogled on The Dick Emery Comedy Hour in 1979. Linden was a hostess on game shows 3-2-1 (1978-1987) and Give Us a Clue (1979) and could frequently be seen in the Tennent’s Lager commercials during the 1980s. She got her start in the movies with Pete Walker’s Home Before Midnight (1979) and The Wildcats of St Trinian's (1980). As a Page 3 Girl she posed topless in The Sun and Daily Star in 1981 and thanks to her newfound fame (relative as it was) she landed the role of Old Mr. Grace's saucy secretary for a 5-episode arc in 1981 on the series Are You Being Served? (1972-1985). Problems were looming as miss Linden had developed an alcohol and cocaine dependency for some years prior and around this time was living life in the fast lane as she was dating Lemmy from legendary heavy rockers Motörhead. Towards the end of the decade legal problems caught up with her as Linden was issued a suspended prison sentence for a fraud case leading Debbie to become homeless and twice attempting to take her own life. She was interred at Kingston Cemetery, Greater London. Bloodbath at the House Of Death also marked the last British film appearance of horror legend Vincent Price who had just come off his spoken word bit on Michael Jackson’s Grammy Award-winning smash hit ‘Thriller’ and relished in the part.

North Surrey. August the 12th, 1975. “Thursday… give or take a day”. Headstone Manor, a "businessman's weekend retreat and girls summer camp", is cloaked in night. Out of the nearby woods robed monk-like figures materialize. The monks burst into the mansion violently slaughtering anyone and everyone within sight. When the monks’ bloodwork is done 18 residents have met their untimely end. Some are shot, others are stabbed, slashed, hung, and defenestrated. Nobody is spared. When a nubile maiden (Debbie Linden) offers her curves for clemency she too finds herself among the victims. The next day the police arrive to investigate. Inspector Sidney Smyth (David Lodge) can find not a single clue that could explain the reason for the mass carnage and sudden onslaught of homicide. The chief (Barry Cryer) is equally puzzled. Since then locals consider Headstone Manor curse referring to it only as the House of Death. Eight years later Dr. Lukas Mandeville (Kenny Everett) and his high-strung assistant Barbara Coyle (Pamela Stephenson) are compelled to investigate strange radioactive readings in the area. For this they have put together a crack team of the brightest minds – John Harrison (Jone Fortune), Sheila Finch (Sheila Steafel), upper middle class and flamboyantly gay scientists Elliot Broome (Gareth Hunt), Stephen Wilson (Don Warrington), as well as neutral observers Henry Noland (John Stephen Hill) and Deborah Kedding (Cleo Rocos) – and take to setting up the required equipment. What they don’t know is that the Sinister Man (Vincent Price) and his blood cult still roam the foggy woods and have taken up residence in the bowels of the palatial mansion.

The main plot was meant as an obvious spoof on old those Universal haunted house evergreens as House On Haunted Hill (1959), The Haunting (1963) and The Legend of Hell House (1973) and it plays out like the then-popular slasher. By the mid-eighties the Satanic Panic hadn’t really subsided and the Satanic cult subplot feels straight out of The Masque of the Red Death (1964), All the Colors of the Dark (1972), Black Magic Rites (1973) and Satan’s Slave (1976). Once all that established Bloodbath at the House Of Death then, in no particular order, pokes fun at An American Werewolf in London (1981), Ghostbusters (1984), Jaws (1975), The Invisible Man (1933), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), City Of the Dead (1960), The Stepford Wives (1975), The Tingler (1959), The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), The Exorcist (1973), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Carrie (1976), Alien (1979), The Amityville Horror (1979), Friday the 13th (1980), Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980), The Shining (1980), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Entity (1982), and even Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Everett took an everything but the kitchen sink approach and while there a commendable avalanche of visual gags, slapstick and situational comedy not all jokes quite land and the entire thing is incredibly puerile. The corkscrew decapitation is splattery fun, Debbie Linden’s role as a bosomy babe is hilarious and we got a chuckle out of the “maybe a slap to the face will help?” scene. It’s almost impossible to fathom that Peter Jackson wasn’t aware of or hadn’t seen this and We’re Going to Eat You (1980) when he was envisioning his Bad Taste (1987).

There’s no contesting that Kenny Everett in all likelihood was the funniest man on British TV in the eighties. The leap to the big screen was both inevitable and expected yet his brand of lewd humor didn’t translate well to the big screen. When the jokes don’t land at least there are Cleo Rocos and Debbie Linden bouncing around but they only can do so much. While Bloodbath at the House Of Death is a decent enough horror spoof it never quite reaches the lofty heights of Blazing Saddles (1974), Spaceballs (1987) nor Naked Gun (1988-1994). Hell, Satan's Cheerleaders (1977), Nocturna (1979) and Galaxina (1980) parodied their chosen genres better and were funnier on average. Perhaps it’s telling that after this Everett never ventured into cinema again. A good spoof knows what conventions to ridicule or how to use its parodying to move the story forward. The Satanic cult subplot is genuinely funny, as are the riffs on Alien (1979) and Ghostbusters (1984). Things get a bit random towards the end where Everett throws just about everything but the kitchen sink at the viewer in hope that something will stick. For a movie called Bloodbath at the House Of Death it leans on spoofing science fiction an awful lot. If you’re expecting a parody on Pete Walker’s The Flesh and Blood Show (1972) or Amicus' And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973) – look elsewhere. Kenny Everett was a fine comedian, but this should’ve been better.