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

Ghost with Hole (for once a pretty accurate translation of the original Sundel Bolong, released alternatively as Devil Woman internationally) is, if not the height of Indonesian horror, than at least one of its more enduring and recognizable entries. Directed by one of the country’s grandmasters, headlined by two of its biggest stars and an ensemble cast of familiar and beloved supporting players Ghost with Hole is not likely to scare away Western viewers with any brazen insanity. Maybe Hong Kong was more colorful, maybe Japan was quirkier but nothing compares to Indonesian horror. Suzzanna portrayed more spirits, witches, and mythical creatures than anyone else and Barry Prima cornered the action/adventure – and martial arts market. Ghost with Hole unites the two in a phantasmagoria of melodrama, bloodsoaked carnage and an absolute minimum of broad crude comedy. It probably also helps that Ghost with Hole doesn’t stray from the well-trodden paths of the typical Asian ghost horror. If you’re looking to explore Indonesian horror Ghost with Hole is an ideal startingpoint.

The Queen Of Indonesian Horror wasn’t created overnight. In fact it very well took a decade or so before Suzzanna was bestowed the prestigious title. As these things tend to go the woman that would become known in Indonesia (and beyond) for her portrayal of wronged women returning as vengeful spirits, witches, and assorted folkloric beings debuted inconspicuously at the tender age of 16 in the drama Girl's Dormitory (1958). Her performance was so electrifying that in 1960 she was given the Best Child Actress and Golden Harvest Award at the Asian Film Festival and recognized for her talent at the Indonesian Film Festival. A few years later she married actor Dicky Suprapto. Suzzanna’s star and profile continued to ascend with The Longest Dark (1970), Birth In the Tomb (1972), and Crazy Desire (1973). Suzzanna frequently worked with directors Ali Shahab, Liliek Sudjio, and H. Tjut Djalil, as well as Rapi Films and Soraya Intercine Film. One of her frequent co-stars were martial artist Barry Prima, Clift Sangra, and at even future director Ratno Timoer. By 1974 Suzzanna was separated from Suprapto.

The man that would shepherd her career to domestic and international acclaim and her most defining roles would be Sisworo Gautama Putra. He was the man behind the first (and, to our recollection, only) Indonesian cannibal romp on the Italian model Primitives (1980) as well as the American market oriented Wolf (1981) and Satan’s Slave (1982), imitations of American scare classics Friday the 13th (1980) and Phantasm (1979), respectively. Under Putra’s auspices Suzzanna became the leading lady in notable horror epics as Ghost with Hole, The Queen Of Black Magic (1981), Soundgarden (1982), and The Snake Queen (1982). In between her horrors Suzzanna did her fair share of dramas but that didn’t stop her from getting anoited best female antagonist in Indonesian film alongside Ruth Pelupessi, and Mieke Wijaya. She married Clift Sangra in 1983. From there she made The Snake Queen's Wedding (1983), Lake Eerie (1984), The Hungry Snake Woman (1986), Death-Spreading Heirloom (1990), the A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) inspired Pact with the Forces of Darkness (1991), and The Queen of the South Sea (1991). In 1993 Suzzanna announced her retirement from the silver screen after the passing of Sisworo Gautama Putra. Fifteen years later, on 15 October 2008, Suzzanna passed way, age 66, in her home in Potrobangsan, Magelang after complications from diabetes. Ghost with Hole is probably the only Suzzanna feature that international audiences know.

In Southeast Asian folklore a sundel bolong is the vengeful spirit of a wronged pregnant woman (usually a prostitute – when they’re not it’s a kuntilanak) unable to give birth when she was still alive. For that reason she has a large hole in her back when in spirit form. Ghost with Hole was made after Primitives (1980) and before Wolf (1981) and the poster promises something, “beautiful… exciting… unforgiving!” Just to be sure and cover all bases it also mentions, “This story is based on a folk legend.” Ah, yes. The sundel bolong. One of the more recognizable ghosts in Southeast Asian folklore and one of the ur-characters in Indonesian horror - and weird cinema from as long as it has been around. Her appearance is recognizable even to Western audiences. Who doesn’t get the shivers whenever a long ravenhaired ghost in a white sari appears? In the West Asian ghosts like this were popularized by modern J-horror classics as Ringu (2002) but they have existed for far longer and have been around since the dawn of Asian horror cinema at large.

In other scenes Suzzanna can be seen as a Pocong (shrouded ghost) and as a Kui'yang (Krasue in Thailand, Penanggal in Malaysia, or Manananggal in the Philippines) or the floating disembodied head of an attractive woman with the entrails hanging down from the neck. This was one of Suzzanna’s first and most iconic roles and has her like Barbara Steele before her in a double role. Everything’s here: the mysterious beautiful lady with the umbrella, the superstitious elderly (or lowly houseservant), and a shaman. Ghost with Hole also prominently features the Leopold Stokowski arrangement of the 1867 Modest Mussorgsky tone poem Night on Bald Mountain, famously used in Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940) as well as light washes of serene ambient electronics. Sure, it might not be Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, or Michael Stearns but it works. The practical effects by Didin Syamsudin are wonderfully gooey and the optical effecs, while rudimentary at best, where and when they appear are on par with the Filipino, Indian, and Taiwanese horrors of the day.

Newlyweds Hendarto (Barry Prima, as Berry Prima) and Alisa (Suzzanna) are blissfully happy with their union after several years of courtship. Hendarto is a ship captain in the navy and Alisa lives a virtuous, chaste, and morally upright life devoted to both her husband and her faith. In their opulent mansion their every need and want is looked after by live-in elderly houseservant Bi Ijah (Marlia Hardi). On their wedding reception Hendarto receives a call to report for duty and prepare for a long-term deployment. Unable to consummate their relationship the young housewife spends her days frantically knitting in longing despair. One day Alisa receives a call for a modeling job from Rudy (Rudy Salam) of Rudy Boutique. In reality the boutique is merely a front for the prostitution ring he’s running with Mami (Ruth Pelupessi, as Ruth Pellupessy) the madam from the brothel Alisa worked at back in the days when she was a prostitute. The modeling job is merely a ruse for Rudy to try and force himself upon Alisa but she spurns his advances. That night Rudy sends his goons Jefri (H.I.M. Damsyik), Dadung (Eddy Hansudi), Tom (Rukman Herman), and Bram (El Koesno) to collect her for Mami’s prostitution ring. In a derelict factory Rudy and his thugs take turns raping Alisa. Taking the case to court Alisa is mischaracterized as a harlot having provoked the attack and the corrupt judiciary swiftly acquits the perpetrators. She returns home broken and it dawns upon her that she’s pregnant with her rapists’ babies.

Haunted by harrowing visions of deformed and disfigured infants, disgraced in the eyes of polite society, and bearing the burden of crushing shame and humiliation Alisa takes her own life by slitting her wrists. Upon hearing the news of his wife’s tragic passing Hendarto and Bi Ijah bury Alisa. Returning home that night Hendarto runs into a woman bearing a striking resemblance to his late wife introducing herself as Shinta (Suzzanna). Understandably sentimental he welcomes her into his now cold empty home. What Hendarto does not realize is that Shinta is Alisa’s spirit resurrected. Her new persona allows her to spend time with Hendarto but necessity forces her to hide from him that she’s a sundel bolong. Superstitious Bi Ijah almost immediately notices that something strange is afoot. From there Alisa vows to to kill her wrongdoers, one at a time. During her nocturnal hauntings Alisa meets a friendly pedicab driver (Dorman Borisman) and sympathetic foodstall owner Ceking (Bokir) as she ferociously gorges on soup and satay (sate). As Alisa continues to haunt the remaining thugs Rudy introduces Heti (Diana Suarkom) to new clients. As their numbers dwindle and Alisa continues to enact revenge from beyond the unholy grave the increasingly desperate thugs hire a shaman (or dukun) (Adang Mansyur). Who or what will be able to exorcise the tenebrous apparition from sowing death and destruction wherever she goes?

To the average viewer this stars nobody in particular when in fact Ghost with Hole features some of the most recognizable faces and biggest stars of Indonesian horror and weird cinema of the day. Barry Prima was in Primitives (1980) and The Devil’s Sword (1984), among many others. Dorman Borisman and H.I.M. Damsyik were in The Queen Of Black Magic (1981), The Snake Queen (1982) and The Snake Queen's Wedding (1983) (where Suzzanna shared the screen with Enny Beatrice on both occasions). Ruth Pelupessi got her own ghost horror with Black Magic Wizard (1981) that same year. Other notable pillars such as Enny Beatrice, Eva Arnaz, Gudi Sintara, and Enny Christina never commandeered the same kind of clout as did Suzzanna. Nor did they for that matter held the same international appeal. Enny Beatrice was something of a lesser queen with an illustrious oeuvre including, among others, Alligator Queen (1983), Bloody Hill (1985), Virgins From Hell (1987), and Jungle Virgin Force (1988). While Suzzanna was the queen of horror there interestingly was no corresponding king. Barry Prima sort of qualifies but he was anywhere and everywhere and did everything. He was that versatile an actor and martial artist. One of the real survivors of the Indonesia’s low budget hell is Lydia Kandou – she of Wolf (1981) and Sisworo Gautama Putra’s Arabian Nights epic Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (1982) - who has carved out a legitimate career for herself as a respected and well-liked comedic and dramatic actress in the decades since. As for Suzzanna? Well, she was, is, and remains one of the highest Indonesian nobility, domestic and abroad.

Ghost with Hole is a well-deserved staple in Indonesian horror and the sundel bolong is one of the classic vengeful female ghosts of South Asian folklore. Both remain just as prevalent now as they were then. There’s no denying the fact that Suzzanna was, is, and remains a cultural behemoth, a domestic grand monument and an international export of global reverence and acclaim. She was sort of a pioneer to boot. Equivalent of what Maria Menado was to Malaysia and roughly what Amalia Fuentes was to the Philippines (although there’s a valid point to be made that Fuentes appeared in a greater variety of roles across a multitude of genres). As such it’s entirely logical that some of Suzzanna’s features would be ripe for a modern day reimagining. Ghost with Hole was very loosely (but very lovingly) reimagined as Suzzanna: Buried Alive (2018) that acted as both a remake and a heartfelt tribute. As things stand currently it was the first part of a proposed tripartite Suzzanna franchise, produced and curated by Rocky Soraya. It’s slated to be followed by Guntur Soeharjanto’s Suzzanna: Kliwon Friday Night (2023) and Suzzanna: Witchcraft of Life Melting Knowledge after that. Taking over the role of Suzzanna is Luna Maya. Maya evidently carefully studied Suzzanna as she recreated many of the real Suzzanna’s mannerisms. Few are given that kind of loving tribute and even fewer legacies continue to resonate with audiences that long. A Suzzanna biopic is inevitably bound to follow, hopefully with Luna Maya too.

Plot: how far will a woman go to save her dying husband?

Every country does its own regional spin on an established formula. Madame Death (La señora Muerte back at home in Mexico) offered a Latin American spin on a familiar and well-known plot. Armed with enough mad science, hysterical acting, and bare skin to satiate even the staunchest of Eurocult fanatics Madame Death has blood on its hand and murder in mind. Headlined by two of the biggest superstars of the day in the form of Regina Torné and Isela Vega as well as featuring a special guest appearance by faded and fading American star John Carradine this was aimed at the domestic market as much as the Spanish markets in America (where it was distributed by Columbia Pictures). Madame Death has camp to spare and possesses enough zany kitschy charm and Latin flavoured insanity to be considered something of a sub-classic. It’s very much due reappraisal as far as we’re concerned.

After almost ten years of imitations Georges Franju’s French shocker Eyes Without A Face (1960) continued to reverberate with audiences around the world. Madame Death is a gothic horror on the model of The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962), and The Curious Dr. Humpp (1966) - a Spanish and Argentinian take on the French original, respectively – and spices up that well-worn formula with a bit of The Bride Wore Black (1968) for good measure. It even had to good fortune of preceding the thematically similar She Killed in Ecstasy (1970) by a single year. This is a gothic in tradition of The Vampire (1957) and The Vampire’s Coffin (1958) and The Bloody Vampire (1962) and its sequel The Invasion Of the Vampires (1963). Not that it features any vampires, curses, or ancient castles as such but it goes for that same old Universal Monster atmosphere. For whatever reason this one gets often (and incorrectly, in our opinion) compared to Ed Wood although it’s far more in line with what Paul Naschy was doing in Spain around the same time. While the Wood comparisons aren’t entirely warranted (they’re a bit too convenient, facile, and reductionist to write something like this off) casual viewers will probably make the connection and comparisons because of how relatively cheap this was produced. None of which diminishes from its rustic charm. Before Satánico Pandemónium (1975) and Alucarda (1977) this was the state of Mexican horror.

Before Tina Romero and Susana Kamini in the seventies, Maribel Guardia in the eighties, and Salma Hayek in the nineties there were Regina Torné and Isela Vega. Regina Torné rose to fame, at just 21, in 1966 as a jazz and bossa nova singer and played an instrumental role in helping popularize said genres in Mexico. She recorded alongside popular 60s teen idols Julissa and César Costa. Naturally such acclaim combined with her striking green eyes and classical beauty led to opportunities in television and on the silver screen. She figured into movies with leading man Julio Alemán and famous luchador enmascarado Demonio Azul (or Blue Demon). 1969 was a particular busy year for her as she starred in a whopping 9 (!!) movies in a short 12 months. The most of those were Wrestling Women versus the Murderous Robot (1969), Diabolical Pact (1969), The Big Cube (1969), Midnight Women (1969), and Blue Demon vs. The Diabolical Women (1969). Torné graduated into headlining roles in 1990s, won the coveted Ariel award for Like Water for Chocolate (1992), and remained untainted by scandal. All of that would change on January 24, 2006 when her daughter Regina del Pilar Campos Incháustegui and three accomplices threatened, kidnapped, murdered, and burned the body of 26-year-old single mother Maribel Monroy Flores (who’s husband Edgar Rogelio Eslava Sánchez del Pilar was having an affair with) in the region of Magdalena Contreras. Del Pilar was sentenced to 35 years and incarcerated in the Santa Martha Acatitla women’s penitentiary in Mexico City. Torné visited her daughter frequently and until 2014 there was a pronounced distance between the two. Torné accepted what happened but never condoned her daughter’s actions. The same year Torné announced her retirement and started a performing arts academy for children and adolescents in the city of Puebla.

Isela Vega got her start as "Princess of the Carnival" in Hermosillo in 1957 and from there rolled into modeling and, not much later, singing and acting. After the Bond imitation S.O.S. Operation Bikini (1967), the comedy The Bed (1968), and the horror Diabolical Pact (1969) her career took flight after the western spoof With My Guns (1968). To American and European audiences Vega's probably best known for her roles as Maria in the western The Deadly Trackers (1973) and as Elita in Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974). Back at home in Mexico she co-wrote, directed, and starred in the witchcraft movie Lovers of the Lord of the Night (1986) that famously became a victim of Mexico’s non-existent distribution system and went practically unnoticed. In more recent years Vega could be seen in Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019). Ten years before the lousy disco vampire spoof Nocturna (1979) and the same year as Blood From Dracula’s Castle (1969) John Carradine was already going anywhere easy money took him. In this case he was slumming and hamming it up in Mexico. Like Boris Karloff before him Carradine too forged a package deal with producer Luis Enrique Vergara. Madame Death was the last of four movies he filmed with Jaime Salvador. It was preceded by Secret of Death (1969), The Vampire Girls (1969), and Diabolical Pact (1969) (which also co-starred Torné and Vega). Needless to say, there’s no shortage of starpower – established, fading, and on the rise - for what by all accounts is quite a modest and unassuming little horror romp.

Marlene (Regina Torné) is the head of a popular fashion house in metropolitan Mexico City. Together with her personal assistant Julie (Elsa Cárdenas) she oversees and manages the day-to-day operations of the business. Her ailing senior-aged husband Andrés (Víctor Junco) is dying of a debilitating cancer and now that conventional medicine has failed Marlene’s willing to explore other options. To that end she has enlisted the help and expertise of disgraced scientist Dr. Favel (John Carradine) to help stave off Andrés’ inevitable demise. Meanwhile, at the fashion house Tony Winter (Miguel Ángel Álvarez) is maintaining an affair with Lisa (Isela Vega) behind the back of his wife Patricia (Alicia Ravel). Favel promises Marlene that he has the treatment that will cure her husband but for that he needs “fresh young blood cells. ” Marlene hates Favel with a passion but is willing to put her personal reservations aside if it means saving her husband. Favel - ousted from the medical community over ethical violations and the dubious nature of his research – sees in Marlene’s predicament the perfect opportunity to conduct his latest experiment. Favel has his semi-mute hunchback assistant Loar (Carlos Ancira) put Andrés in a state of suspended animation and informs Marlene now she has to do her part. The machine gives Marlene a horrible degenerative disease that disfigures half her face and body. Understandably, the infliction of contortion drives her to the brink of insanity that manifests itself in sudden urges of insatiable bloodlust and homicidal proclivities. Dr. Favel promises that if she brings him the blood he requires, he will cure Andrés’ cancer and restore her lost beauty. As the bodies start to mount lieutenant Henry (Fernando Osés) and his consultant doctor (Mário Orea) are tasked with investigating the case. Is Dr. Favel really trying to help Marlene or is he just exploiting her desperation for his own selfish gains?

Producer Luis Enrique Vergara and writer Ramón Obón obviously knew where to steal from and what the classics were. Dr. Favel has a laboratory worthy of Dr. Lorca from Brides Of Blood (1968) and The Mad Doctor Of Blood Island (1969). Every mad scientist needs a grunting, brutish semi-mute hunchback assistant just like Bela Lugosi and Tor Johnson in The Bride of the Monster (1955). The hunchback assistant gets whipped in very much the same fashion as Johnson in that Ed Wood epic. John Carradine’s floating disembodied head more than a few times resembles Bela Lugosi’s ominous omnipotent narrator in Glen or Glenda (1953). Marlene’s face is melted off very much in the same way as Barbara Steele’s in Nightmare Castle (1965). The special effects are nothing to get excited about but the face prosthetic is efficiently realized, especially considering the miniscule budget this was on. Marlene has a pet lion cub (we imagine it’s called Simba). In tune with the changing political – and social climate and reflective of the liberated and more emancipated place of women in society following the Sexual Revolution of 1968/69 Madame Death is suprisingly progressive for the day. Marlene’s an independent woman running her own business and while she’s ensnared by Dr. Favel she ultimately has her own motivation for doing what she does. The men are spineless fools and useless buffoons and slaves to the every whim of their mistresses or spouses. Dr. Favel needs not a man to do his budding but an ironwilled woman. Something like this begs the question why Torné and/or Vega never ended up working with Paul Naschy or any of the other pulp directors/producers in Spain.

What is Madame Death if not a valentine to Regina Torné and Isela Vega? It’s nigh on incomprehensible how something like this was more with the times than what the house of Hammer was putting on the market around this time. Madame Death might not exactly be good in the traditional sense but it was surprisingly in tune with the times. The plot, minimal as it is, is feeble at best and a patchwork of well-worn clichés. The cinematography from Alfredo Uribe is workmanlike and not particularly riveting. The time of the Universal inspired gothics clearly was fading and something more incendiary, provocative, and risqué was brooding within the collective subconscious. There’s enough Latin American family dysfunction and romantic complications with all the attendant melodramatics that that brings. Torné’s bountiful decolettage and brief nudity alone warrants interest and at least a cursory viewing. However you spin it this is alternatively delightfully old-fashioned or completely campy. When it gets down to business Madame Death certainly pushes all the right buttons and has atmosphere in spades. As a victim of unfortunate times Madame Death is poorly produced, poorly written, poorly acted, and poorly dubbed. Somehow despite of everything working against it this must have laid the groundwork for directors as Rubén Galindo, Jr. and Juan López Moctezuma. With enough blood and boobs for anyone Madame Death clears the way for what was to come in the wicked and wild seventies when diabolism and hexcraft reigned supreme. As a harbinger of things to come you certainly could do much worse. This another of those little-seen obscurities that’s high overdue of one of those expansive (and expensive) 4k/8k restorations and remasters.