Sunday, 23 March 2014

Pemuja Cakar Iblis

Director: Norman Benny
Producer: Ferry Angriawan
Cast: Uci Bing Slamet, Torro Margens, Windy Chindyana, Fikri
Year of release: ?
Country: Indonesia
Reviewed from: Hong Kong VCD (Universal Films & Video Co. Ltd)

Sometimes even I admit that my preferences are odd. There are many, many classic films that I have never seen. The Magnificent Ambersons, Chinatown, Taxi Driver... You see, I could see them any time I wanted to, pretty much. I’m sure that Mrs S has got them all on video somewhere. And anyone, everyone else has seen them.

But this! This is an Indonesian TV movie so obscure that it’s not even mentioned in passing anywhere on the web. This film has never ever been documented in the west. And I’ve found a copy and I’ve got a chance to see it and review it. So, you know, Taxi Driver can wait.

There’s a lot of talk in this film, which has Chinese subtitles (but no English) and one of those odd dubbing soundtracks where, presumably because they don’t have access to the music and effects track, the old voices can be heard under the new ones. Quite possibly this is a bootleg. Whatever, it’s difficult to follow, but I’ll try.

We open on the lovely Silvi (Windy Chindyana) out for a bicycle ride, who is nearly raped by a couple of lads but is rescued by a passing motorcyclist, Gino (Fikri). The two become, as you might expect, very close. Gino is (I think) an author - Silvi has a pulp romance novel by ‘Gino S’ called Impian Seorang Istri - but is also some kind of demon buster and is practising magic which gives him power from his glowing palms. He sometimes looks things up in an old book entitled Khab Ilmi Tarak Setan.

Silvi lives with her mother Nancy (Uci Bing Slamet) and father, and in a series of flashbacks we see how, when Silvi was a baby, she was kidnapped by Karpo. Now Karpo is a big, ugly guy but clearly known to Nancy because one of the flashbacks shows the two arguing. Karpo is also some sort of Satanist and spirits baby Silvi away one night to sacrifice her on his evil altar, between two stone columns, down by the lake. Nancy follows him with a rifle and blasts the ceremonial dagger out of his hands, then is rescued from his wrath by a passing stranger who has the same magical powers that Gino evidently has. And Karpo is never seen again.

Some time later, Silvi is introduced to some friends of her parents - and the other couple’s son turns out to be one of the attempted rapists from the first scene. Silvi runs off to be with Gino, leaving Nancy a note, and the two young lovers go down by the lake where they see strange lights in the trees and uncover two familiar-looking stone columns. Unbeknown to them, they are being watched by... Karpo.

Later that night, Nancy investigates some strange sounds in the house and is confronted by Karpo. He is just as big and now even uglier. Twenty years of... whatever... have left him with white skin, long, straggly hair, tattered robes, sunken eyes, long, black fingernails (possibly explaining this film’s title, which means something like ‘Disciple of the Devil’s Claw’) and smudgy pink lipstick(!). He really does look a sight, and astoundingly similar to Charles Ogle in the 1910 version of Frankenstein - though surely that must be coincidence.

Using his magic forces, Karpo throws Nancy off the balcony onto the ground below, and then does the same to her husband who comes to investigate, before literally vanishing in a puff of smoke. At Gino’s, Silvi is asleep while Gino works on his computer and a thunderstorm rages outside. Karpo appears nearby and causes a sword hanging on Gino’s wall to detach itself and hurtle at his head, but Gino catches it in his teeth! The young couple race on Gino’s motorbike to Nancy’s house and Silvi sees her parents’ broken bodies.

Karpo reappears at the home of the friends we saw earlier and blasts them and their no-good son before Gino and Silvi turn up. The two magical dudes face off against each other amid lots of glowing green smoke before Big Ugly disappears again. The youngsters race to the lake where Gino and Karpo again fight it out with bolts of light from their palms and a little bit of wirework. Just when it seems that the bad guy has got the upper hand... Silvi appears magically between the stone columns and uses her own magic (eh?) to blast Karpo. As he lies on the ground, screaming, the sun comes up and he burns away into nothingness.

Pemuja Cakar Iblis is okay but a lot less spectacular than I was hoping for, with just a few bolts of power flying around. Production values are about what you would expect for an Asian TV movie (this is a ‘Televisi Mistri’ from Virgo Putra Film) and the talky, romantic plot betrays the story’s origins as a novel (by Abdullah Harahap). The direction and acting are mostly okay and the cinematographer sure loves his coloured gels.

But the most memorable thing is the character of Karpo. Torro Margens plays him like what Ed Naha once described as “Abenazar in a bad production of Aladdin” - spending 75 per cent of his time laughing evilly and the other 25 per cent screeching evilly. It is the most absurd, over-the-top performance I’ve seen for a long, long time and makes the otherwise quite dull film vaguely enjoyable.

The Inaccurate Movie Database has two directing credits for Norman Benny - Makelar Kodok and Ranjang Yang Ternoda - and mentions editorial work on Lady Dragon 2/Angel of Fury, Rage and Honor II and Sam (Cyborg Cop) Firstenberg’s Blood Warriors (though a lot of sites actually credit Firstenberg and Benny as joint directors). Other credits I can trace for him include Makelar Kodok Untung Besar (presumably a sequel), Kisah Cinta Nyi Blorong, Perwira Dan Ksatria and Pemburu Teroris.

Uci Bing Slamet was also in Pengakuan Seorang Pelacur (do let me know if any of these titles mean anything to you, folks!) while Windy Cindyana’s credits include Akibat Bebar Sex, Penyimpangan Sex, Gadis Metropolis 2, Gairah Tabu, Godaan Cinta and a 1999 horror film called Bergairah di Puncak in which she apparently played a character called ‘Selvi’.

Torro Margens was in Perawan Rimba/Jungle Virgin Force, Keluargaku Sorgaku, Kisah Cinta Ratu Pantai Selatan, PadaMu Kubersimpuh and the TV series Melangkah di Atas Awan, Tirai Kasih Yang Terkoyak and Saat Aku Mencintaimu. He also seems to have dabbled in directing. But I’m buggered if I can find out anything about ‘Fikri’ who plays bike-riding, demon-busting Gino.

Another obscurity unearthed. Still never seen Taxi Driver...

MJS rating: C

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