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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: in fascist Italy thirty-something Teresa awakens dormant sexual desires.

Giovanni “Tinto” Brass revived classy soft erotica in a time when the genre was considered all but extinct. From somewhere around the mid-sixties up until the late seventies the subgenre survived primarily thanks to the exploitation industry. In Italy erotica had died a protracted and torturous death at the hands of puerile commedia sexy all’Italiana (typically, but not always, featuring Gloria Guida and similar starlets) and just about every stripe of horror. Directors as Joe D’Amato, the Bianchi’s (Mario and Andrea), and Jean Rollin alternated between erotic horror and straight up porn proper. In Spain there was Jesús Franco who had singlehandedly kept erotica afloat - in both the hard and soft format - in the morass of mediocrity that is his 200-plus title repertoire. Brass’ second effort emerged around the time that the Spanish Cine-S was on the way out, and when American moguls as Zalman King reigned supreme on late night cable. After thirty years Italian exploitation had come to an abrupt and grinding halt but Tinto Brass was not just anybody. Brass was no ordinary smut peddler, no base sleaze merchant. Brass was, perhaps before everything else, a master technician.

Just like Hollywood darling Bernardo Bertolucci he too did not start making softcore erotica until working his way through the usual contract work in a variety of genres. Brass started off with a series of avant-garde and arthouse features in the sixties starring the likes of Vanessa Redgrave, Anita Sanders, and Tina Aumont. After the il sadiconazista Salon Kitty (1976) Brass did principal photography on the big budget Hollywood peplum Caligula (1979) which infamously was stolen right from under him by Penthouse producer Bob Guccione. Guccione had the gall to add hardcore inserts and re-edit it from a political satire into a sex romp. Understandably both Brass and writer Gore Vidal fiercely disavowed it with a veritable avalanche of lawsuits and counter-lawsuits ensuing in the immediate aftermath. With Caligula (1979) stuck in legal limbo for several years Bruno Corbucci used the expansive (and expensive) sets and filmed the peplum sex comedy Messalina, Messalina! (1977) (with Anneka Di Lorenzo) and Joe D’Amato responded with Caligula: the Untold Story (1982). Tinto worked with Paola Senatore before her infamous descent into hardcore pornography. While there were others The Key (1983) was where, for the first time, all of the hallmark Brass signatures coagulated into their known and beloved form. Brass’ first erotic feature set the gold standard to which all of his works would be measured.

Like any good filmmaker Brass quickly developed his own style and visual quirks. As Radley Metzger and Joseph W. Sarno before him Tinto specialized in languid, hyper-stylized arthouse erotica that pushed the limits of softcore as far as he possibly could, often bordering on hardcore. Bedrooms ostensibly are blue, usually full of mirrors (an oval one above the bed) or other reflective surfaces, and sets will be riddled with phallic symbols (whether that are candlesticks, sculptures, or J&B bottles, to name a few of the most obvious) of just about every kind; there will be a bright-lit dream sequence in a nod to Fellini and Tinto’s camera will often capture his women bending over, changing clothes, or simply urinating and using a bidet; men are an unfortunate but necessary hindrance in life and they usually exist only in two varieties: either they are wanton perverts out to dominate the female lead or the kind of sullen, dopey studious types that were and are part and parcel in Italian comedy. The lead women universally and uniformly are the kind of the scantily clad, sexually insatiable and omnivorous femme fatales existing only in the fevered imagination of the hetero male. An ever-looming presence in the Brass oeuvre is the pushback against the repressive mores imposed by the dictatorial church or state; the constant battle between the mere hollow and mechanical act of intercourse to satisfy the senses, and the gentle act of making love that comes with romantic love. In many of his films the man is typically a repressed moralist or a doofus plain uninterested in his hot-to-trot wife – and she will in turn embark on a liberating journey of serial fornication in which self-discovery and gratification with different men is integral to her self-realization. Sex is both banal in its mundanity and the most magical bond man and woman can share.

Brass had learned from the best (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Fernando di Leo, Brunello Rondi) and usually imbued his work with razor-sharp socio-political commentary and criticism. Tinto was vehemently opposed to censorship in whichever form and would combat it whenever possible in whatever way he saw fit. Brass was an iconoclast, a non-conformist, a subversive rebelling against the sacred institutions of church and state. His prime features through the 1980s and early 1990s were adaptations of erotic literature. In case of La Chiave (or The Key in the English world) that was Kagi by Junichiro Tanizaki. And while his best work may be rife with subtext, political and otherwise, he more than anything adored the female form – its shapes and curves. He’s frequently accused of being gynecological, almost medical, in the way he photographed his women. To which we’ll offer a dissenting voice and posit that Brass was a lot of things, but gynecological he was not. That’s strictly Jesús Franco territory and his frantic obsession with documenting every pore of Lina Romay’s nether-regions borders on the pathological. Sex, in the world of Brass, is a means to an end, a tool, a panacea to conserve, maintain, restore, or salvage that most sacred thing of all: marriage. And when Tinto really fires on all cylinders all of the above (or some recombinant thereof) is used to expose the rank hypocrisy of church, state, and society at large.

He also was in the habit of casting semi-forgotten exploitation starlets of yesteryear in supporting roles. Tinto obviously liked women of every sort, but preferred only a certain type: dark haired, doe-eyed, with a milky white complexion and full curves like the Aphrodite of Knidos. Brass sought not to launch the next big sex-crazed starlet but wanted a timeless beauty akin to vintage Italian belles as María Luisa Rolando, Graziella Granata, Rosanna Schiaffino, and imported beauties as Barbara Steele, Helga Liné, and Adriana Ambesi. More importantly, Brass liked his women the way nature had intended them. Unspoiled, unshaven, and not littered with tattoos and/or bodily modifications. Above all else, though, he had only one quintessential requirement: his girls had to have a plump posterior. After all, what’s more Italian than the adulation of ass? Mario Imperoli launched Gloria Guida and her legendary ass to superstardom with Blue Jeans (1975) some ten years before and The Key would do the same for Stefania Sandrelli.

Venice, 1940. Under the repressive nationalist regime of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and his National Fascist Party Italy is on the brink of entering into World War II. Senior-aged Nino Rolfe (Frank Finlay) is not only a studious (and somewhat stuffy) English professor, the old patriarch also happens to be the director of the Biennale Foundation that organizes The Venice Biennale (La Biennale di Venezia) held annually in the Arsenale and Biennale Gardens in the sestieri of Castello. In other words, Rolfe is a busy man. As a result, he’s more preoccupied with his teaching and managerial duties than with the practical matters of his marriage. His much younger trophy wife Teresa (Stefania Sandrelli) operates a small pension in the heart of the city. She’s humble, chaste, and submissive to her husband. After twenty years, the couple find themselves in a romantic - and sexual impasse. The fire in their relationship has is subsided and to that end Nino keeps a diary in which he describes his most lustful desires. One day he deliberately leaves the key to said private drawer on the floor of his study.

Teresa finds the key to the drawer and takes to reading her husband’s secret diary. This in turn inspires her to write her own wherein she confesses to engaging in a steamy, illicit, and passionate affair with Laszlo Apony (Franco Branciaroli), the virile Hungarian boyfriend of her daughter Lisa (Barbara Cupisti). As the couple write diary entries to each other their reciprocal confessions reignite the raging fires of passion in their relationship once more. Nino’s diary has awakened a sexual beast previously dormant in his Teresa. Her unfettered sexuality and headstrong agency even manages to take him by surprise. During one of their more animated sexual games (Teresa orders him to wear her knickers, stockings and bra and make love to her and in another he drugs her into partaking in various kinky bedroom photo shoots) Nino suffers a debilitating stroke that leaves him bedridden and almost paralyzed. Upon reading her mother’s diary entries about her liaison with her boyfriend Laszlo to her dying father Lisa (who’s supportive of Mussolini’s fascist regime and administration), either directly or indirectly, contributes to the swifter passing of her pacifist father. The old professor’s funeral is held on 10 June 1940 around the same time as Mussolini announces Italy’s entry into World War II from the balcony of Palazzo Venezia.

At 37 Stefania Sandrelli was a good ten to fifteen years older than every Brass babe that would follow in her footsteps. At just 14 years old Stefania had starred in Luciano Salce’s The Fascist (1961) as well as Pietro Germi's Divorce Italian Style (1961) (opposite of Marcello Mastroianni) and Seduced and Abandoned (1963) (with Lando Buzzanca). In the sixties and seventies Sandrelli worked with directors Luigi Comencini, Ettore Scola, Carlo Vanzina, and Sergio Corbucci and on several occasions with Salce and Germi. In France she worked with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Claude Chabrol. Almost twenty years after Antonio Pietrangeli’s I Knew Her Well (1965) Sandrelli was amidst something of a career revival. In the prior decade she could be seen in the giallo The Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971), the comedy Alfredo Alfredo (1972) (opposite of Dustin Hoffman), Devil in the Brain (1972), and Bernardo Bertolucci’s legendary epic Novecento (1976). After Brass reinvigorated her career Stefania made appearances in the Bigas Luna romantic comedy Jamón Jamón (1992) (where a young Penélope Cruz exposed her own hams and gams), and then again with Bertolucci for the arthouse drama Stealing Beauty (1996) (back from the days when Liv Tyler was the Aerosmith girl, not the Hollywood A-lister). Sandrelli continues to act in Italy to this day. Winning multiple David di Donatello Awards in 2006 Stefania was given the Nastro d'Argento Lifetime Achievement Award by Sindacato Nazionale dei Giornalisti Cinematografici Italiani (Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists) as well as the Pietro Bianchi Prize at the Venice Film Festival as recent as last year, in 2022, for her contributions to the cinematic arts.

The Key heralded the last decade of the great Italian starlet with Sandrelli in company of illustrious contemporaries as Ania Pieroni, Cinzia Monreale, Eva Grimaldi, and Daniela Doria; Stefania however was in a class all her own. In the form of Serena Grandi and Donatella Damiani as well as lesser goddesses as Pamela Prati, Lara Wendel, Loredana Romito, Luciana Ottaviani, and Angela Cavagna the doe-eyed Italian sex kitten of yore was replaced by sex-crazed hourglass-figured models. Times were changing and Sandrelli was one of the last of her kind. By the time she came to undress in front of Brass’ loving camera Stefania not only was a dyed in the wool veteran of the screen but she was also a good fifteen years older than any of the Brass babes of the future. Sandrelli was already established when she worked with Brass, and she wore his stamp of approval with pride and joy. Brass explicitly wanted her (and nobody else) and he was willing to wait for Sandrelli to age into the role had envisioned for her. Being the consummate professional that she was Stefania never disowned The Key (1983) as erotic pulp from and for the arthouse. As near as we can tell it gave her career a second lease on life and for that reason (and others, in all likelihood) Stefania Sandrelli has always vigorously defended her association with old Tinto, il maestro of erotica. He acknowledged and thanked Sandrelli for her unyielding loyalty remarking that The Key (1983) demonstrated to everyone that, "she too can act with her ass." That might not sound like much but, as far as we can tell, Brass was never the complimentary type so miss Sandrelli getting his stamp of approval was something of a big deal.