Man 1: I saw them there, and you know what I think? I think this stranger Permana is secretly working in cahoots with the Queen of Black Magic. And they could be--this guy and Murni--plotting together to murder us all!
Man 2: Yes. Makes sense. Maybe the Holy Man is in her power. You know how strong Murni is. She managed to overcome our Witch Doctor and he was very powerful.
Man 1: Ah! We know now.
Wait... back it up there, gentlemen--"Makes sense?" That's precisely what this movie does not do and exactly why this movie is such a wonderful bit of Indonesian bizarritude.
While not as gleefully wacky as the truly mind-bending pennangalan flick "Mystics in Bali" and significantly more timid than "Dangerous Seductress," "Queen of Black Magic" is a fun oddity with enough exotic weirdness to maintain interest during its ninety-minute run time. Rooted in regional folklore, the film follows the story of Murni (played by exotic beauty and Indonesian Scream Queen Suzzanna), a naive young woman who is accused of witchcraft by the man who has deflowered her and left her for another woman. Murni is tossed from a cliff by furious villagers but is saved by a magician who convinces her that the only way to right the wrongs committed against her is to go ahead and study black magic in order to murder her accusers. I'm sure this plot twist makes sense in the context of local traditions, but were I in a similar situation, I'd likely pursue a different course of revenge (one with a handgun and a nun's habit, which would be equally perplexing to a Southeast Asian audience).
The film is at its core a female revenge film, but it's gussied up with a heaping helping of unique anthropological elements. The conservative Muslim culture of Indonesia resonates throughout the movie, from blurred nudity to the over-arching theme that Allah is far mightier than any magic or superstition. The villagers' loss of faith is emphasized several times via heavy-handed dialogue, and it is only after Permana the Holy Man teaches the villagers that prayer is... well... the answer to their prayers that they are able to fight back against the black magic that is destroying them. I assure you, prayer is no frikkin' joke in this movie--the results of prayer include such things as "the ability to explode logs," "hurling magicians halfway across a room," and "deflating dangerously-huge stomachs." There's a fairy-tale literality to the events in this movie that's both enchanting and extremely disorienting.
Notably, the Occam's Razor of the characters in this film is calibrated a lot differently from the one applied in the West. The words "must be black magic" are as quick to drop from someone's lips as "it's raining outside," and are uttered with an equal amount of conviction.
What the movie lacks in boobs, it makes up for in wild special effects. There is a no-holds-barred approach to the effects work, with plenty of arterial spray, oozing wounds, and crashing dummies employed throughout. If you want to watch a man pull his own head off, collapse to the ground, and then have his head fly around and bite people--well, dear reader, this is your film. Also, there is Death By Bees, which I find to be wince-worthy in the extreme (if this scenario incorporated a revolving door, it would embody my deepest nightmare).
This release is another wonderful presentation from the folks at Mondo Macabro. The DVD release has gorgeously-saturated colors and a nice crispness to it. The dubbed English-language track is pleasantly creaky (it sounds like a Sunday afternoon chop-sockey movie). There's also a nice little essay on the film and its place in the Indonesian horror canon and a documentary on the FX work. Recommended for fans of world movie weirdness.