It’s time for more cheap n’ scary—yet creative—fun with another Indonesian horror film with its roots nourished in the horror films of the West—with Muslim and Hindi religious beliefs substituted for the usual Christianity-based horror themes. However, while American horror films are mostly blood and gore for the sake of blood and gore, Indonesian horror films carry a deeper religious message regarding the folly of abandoning one’s longstanding traditions and beliefs.
How accurate are the various, bargain-DVD imprints marketing Satan’s Slaves as an Indonesian version of Don Coscarelli’s cult horror hit, Phantasm?
If you go into this expecting an Asian-inspired Angus Scrimm-cum-Leàk crypt keeper guiding an army of dwarfs and flying cutlery guarding a dimensional portal with a Lady in Lavender sidekick, you’ll be disappointed. There are, however, moments of visual déjà vu with the film’s teen protagonist riding a motorcycle through a cemetery and there’s a fortune teller that knows more than she’s telling, and . . . that’s about it.
The more expansive similarities are of the narrative persuasion: Phantasm’s Mike and Satan’s Slaves Tommy are both teenagers dealing with the death of a parent and the resulting fears regarding death and dealing with loss and abandonment issues that leave them tangled in a psychological web.
As with its American antecedent, a teenager, Tommy, and his sister (instead of a “Jody”) deal with the death of their mother; their affluent-materialistic family, unable to cope with the loss, completely abandoned their already lackadaisical religious beliefs. As result, Tommy delves into black magic and searches for solace with Darminah, a fortune teller he recognized attending his mother’s funeral. Once Daraminah works her way into the family’s good graces as the family’s maid, Tommy’s friends and family members suffer violent, Omen-styled deaths and the Salem’s Lot-reminiscent shrouded ghosts and reanimated zombie-vampires appear.
Is this Indonesian horror entry worth the watch? It depends on a horror buff’s opinion.
Did Bach Ke Zara (2008) deliver on its reputation as Indonesian remake of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981)? What are your feelings about Mystics in Bali (1981; The Leàk), its Taiwanese remake, The Witch with the Flying Head (1982; Fei tou mo nu), and the Chinese-inversion, The Corpse Master (1986; Jiang shi shao ye)—all which are rooted in the 1967 Russian film, Viy, based on the Nikolai Gogol tale?
While this Mill Creek reissue of Satan’s Slaves—as part of their Pure Terror 50 Movie Pack—is a minor curiosity for U.S audiences, it was a major, influential hit in its homeland and Japan. Sources place the domestic release of the film at 1980, but it seems to be more likely released in 1982; international distribution outside of the Pacific Rim countries didn’t occur until 1987.
The film was such a substantial hit that a remake became a pet project for Indonesia’s most successful horror director, Joke Anwar (Ritual, The Forbidden Door), who cited the film (as B&S Movies’ readers cite Phantasm) as his favorite childhood film. He eventually convinced Rapi Films, who released the original, to let him do it. Released in 2017, Anwar’s remake received thirteen nominations—the most for any picture that year—including Best Picture in The Film Festival Indonesia, and became the highest grossing film of 2017 in Indonesia.
If you’re up for other films influenced by Nikolai Gogol’s classic horror tale, search out the Yugoslavian film, A Holy Place (1990), the Russian horror film, The Witch (2006), and Park Jin-seong’s excellent, Evil Spirit (2008).