The National Pastime – Genres: Horror/Sex/Action

Where Has All The Horror Gone?

Those who condemn the vengeful comeback of fantasy films might in all hastiness overlook the merits of a related but surprisingly rarer genre, the horror movie. Now of course the average Filipino film release, especially in these items, can be a frightening experience in itself, but redundancy would probably be an incidental reason for the scarcity of genuine horror items in contemporary local cinema. The more logical route begins with the sorry state that obtains for films that are serious per se; if realistic or at least naturalistic works that do not contain any potential for erotica, violence, or humor find difficulty in acquiring acceptance among the movie-going masses, what more the sober treatment of supernatural issues? Presuming that the typical film viewer would first have to be either convinced or coerced into watching an artistic presentation, she would then have to be further academically prepared to be able to understand the significance of social, physical, or psychological ramifications within a dramatic framework. To demand that she carry this understanding into the realm of the abstract, which is what the best among horror movies enable the competent viewer to do, would be asking for too much as it already is.

Hence lovers of the horrific, if ever they do exist among our film practitioners, may have just given up the ghost in the meantime that proponents of realism attempted to resurrect the local audience’s appreciation of or at least tolerance for “seriousness.” When a tendency toward naturalism surfaced, notably because of the art-for-art’s sake orientation of practitioners who emerged during the eighties, supernaturalism in cinema eventually took hold – but only according to the strict commercialist terms of fantasy. Nevertheless there have been noteworthy samples of horror films that are still available, and therefore viewable, on video if not in the original celluloid. Because of the absence of centralized institutional film preservation, most of the gory – er, glory-day productions during the sixties will just have to be run through. Titles like Gabi ng Lagim and Maruja indicate how fertile that period has been for the horror genre, and in fact these two specific works are still subjects for remakes and sequels today

But as in the experience of other Westernized cultures, the decline in horror movies was brought about by a laxity in film censorship – in our case, the late chairman Guillermo de Vega’s experiment in libertarian permissiveness during the early seventies that eventually became known as the bomba era. The connection between sex and horror is more than just skin-deep. With the British Hammer studio case as model, horror films used to provide opportunities to present carnal elements that would normally be disallowed by the establishment (and therefore powerful but not too imaginative) censor: the bite may be taken to mean the act of love, the initiation into a supernatural state may signify the acknowledgment of desire, and death may inarguably be seen as the ultimate orgasm, with the usually long and pointed killing instrument a phallic symbol – one need not be aFreud or too Jung to realize this.

With the emancipation of sex as a valid concern in cinema, horror, the fear of what may be real but unknown, has had to own up to its own given terms. The advantage here is that the genre could now discourse with the more abstractified perspective pointed out either, but the disadvantage, also already pointed out, is that the loss of innocence would also entail a fall from grace: no longer could the genre count on the commercial attraction of eroticism, since the audience would expect and demand that the latter be treated similarly on its own terms this time.

This mixed blessing has concrete evidence within the Filipino context to support it. Before the bomba era only the late Gerardo de Leon, among the serious directors, made a noteworthy (perhaps the worthiest for the period) contribution to horror filmmaking with the vampire movie Ibulong Mo sa Hangin, although another late master, Manuel Conde, had earlier succeeded with out-and-out and even way-out (of local folklore) fantasy treats.

During the seventies, horror films were fewer and farther between – some years in fact had no horror entries whatsoever – but what occasionally turned up was more often than not a commendable attempt. Celso Ad. Castillo, who in terms of visual proficiency was being touted as heir apparent to de Leon, has been the most prolific among our living major movie directors, with ironically a mere three titles – Bakit Dugo ang Kulay ng Gabi?, Patayin Mo sa Sindak si Barbara, and Maligno – all done during the middle part of the seventies. Lino Brocka did a Maruja film during the same period, but it was debuting directors who since then made must-see Pinoy horror items: Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara with Magandang Gabi sa Inyong Lahat, Mike de Leon with Itim, Mario O’Hara with Mortal, Butch Perez with Haplos, Briccio Santos (in his first 16mm. work) with Damortis.

To this list we could add Tata Esteban’s experimental Alapaap, plus specific portions of Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata, but more important would be the observation of the phenomenon of several of the post-bomba era’s major directors introducing themselves to the public in such a manner. Several explanations may be ventured, but all of them more likely lead to and from one another, in the process serving as a collective of causes. The audience may have been regarded as more receptive to works on the supernatural by first-timers rather than by veterans, since the former wouldn’t have any pretensions or self-consciousness brought about by success within the industry. The producers, risking as they do their investment in newcomers, figure that they would do well to avoid the genres dominated by established personages in the industry, and go for a type that used to enjoy a substantial following, in the hope that the awareness of pleasurable horror viewing had merely been dormant in the public’s consciousness. The directors would then appreciate this compromise between the commercial imperative of fantasy and their cherished desire to be serious, and so regard projects as artistic rather than commercial challenges.

Final proof that horror filmmaking is such a basic and appealing form of exercise in the medium lies in the fact that the future’s promising directors, who unlike their forerunners do not need to conduct their practice training in the expensive commercial format, are virtually turning alternative film (super-8mm., 16mm., and video) into frontiers for the exploration of the unknown. Would this mean they’d stand more than the ghost of a chance come their day of reckoning with the gods of big-time production? Vive l’esprit de corps!

[First published November 3, 1986, in New Day]

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Causes for Cerebration

Tiyanak
Directed by Peque Gallaga and Lorenzo A. Reyes
Written by Don Escudero, Peque Gallaga, and Lorenzo A. Reyes

Babaing Hampaslupa
Directed by Mel Chionglo
Written by Ricardo Lee

Two recent releases by the country’s most successful production outfit way before and ever since the 1986 revolution indicate the strategy by which our major filmmakers aim to recover their pre-revolution notions of dignity and self-respect. Whether or not these individuals are aware of what they’re doing, the formula seems expedient enough to be applied to the larger problems posed by video entertainment as an alternative to movie-going. The prevailing line of action is also sensible enough to be implemented with a minimum of logistical complications: just get the crowds back into the theaters first, then do what you want while giving them what they like. As a corollary, if they don’t like what you’re doing, either forget it or go ahead anyway, but at your own risk.

This might seem like something so logical that it must have been done before already, but as far as I can recall or surmise (into my own and the industry’s prehistory), our audiences have been so generally congenial toward the medium of movies that they always took to it even during periods of crises as serious as, for one, the imposition of martial rule during the early seventies. The only other period when Filipinos may have avoided the movie-houses en masse would be during the Japanese occupation; but then the occupation forces didn’t seem to worry too much about this decline in indulgence in a national pastime (they never took steps toward a full-scale revivification of the local industry) and besides, the people’s rejection of anything officially endorsed by the Japanese extended to all other forms of media as well.

If the invaders knew any better they would have been worried sick: for a fiesta-loving populace to forgo its usual entertainment could presage a darkening of the national temper; in the face of the expulsion of the Americans and their influence, this could only, and did, mean war. In contrast, the panic occasioned among film producers during the almost year-long dead stretch right after February 1986 was just a case of overreaction, fueled by good old-fashioned business greed. True, there was a decline in movie attendance worldwide, but this was because of a far less political upheaval, the video revolution. Locally the reasons could not be more threatening than a post-crisis sobering up, a taking stock of the complex moral issues involved in the ouster of a strongman who represented a generation of accepted values and attitudes.

The hindsight afforded by close to three years of observation allows me the audacity of remarking that the public’s movie-going habit would have resumed once its euphoria had subsided, but the futility of this sort of speculation is obvious. Meanwhile we’ve had a quite maddening succession of reoriented outputs, calculated to lure back moviegoers in numbers comfortable enough to warrant the maintenance of what remains a major national industry. With Tiyanak and Babaing Hampaslupa, the items attempt to go a step beyond the ordinary, but without outwardly distinguishing themselves. Where it seems to matter (the box office, of course), the camouflage has been successful. Moviegoers attended as usual, were treated to more than the average rehash of commercial viabilities, but without losing their minimum share of generic entertainment.

On a more articulatory level, Tiyanak and Hampaslupa work by taking their makers’ cerebrations into current standardized formats, instead of forcing the formats to adapt to content (as would have been the ante-revolutionary case), or merely doing an excellent job with the givens (post-revolutionary, until about now). It should also be pointed out that, perhaps due to the halfway nature of such products, these kinds of films were commercially far riskier to make, before 1986, than out-and-out successful formula or artistic works. Would it be timely now to rejoice in the bridging of this crucial gap between film commerce and, uhm, art? I’d nurture my misgivings first, minor as they may appear within this sociopolitical context. Tiyanak serves its ecological punch early on, then holds it for some impressive special effects display and not-so-impressive hysterics, until it could let go with a closing follow-up. Hampaslupa does better in infusing its class concerns all the way to the lachrymal end, but at the expense of simplifying the other class extreme.

The filmmakers of both titles have been active in the exploration of the art-and-commerce options I outlined earlier, and whichever between their two approaches is more effective depends on your preference in entertainment. Tiyanak would appeal to those who like their serious and fancy stuffs clearly delineated from each other, while Hampaslupa is made for those who go for fusion. Hollywoodish vs. Europeanesque would be the pedantries one could put to use in pointing out the differences between the two. Not bad for items that could make you scream or cry as you realize these more discussible points, and not so bad for an industry that used to churn out highly innovative films with admirable regularity a couple of years back. This ought to be one way for us not to take such strokes of luck and talent for granted, from hereon.

[First published December 21, 1988, in National Midweek]

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Down but Not Out

Nektar
Directed by Francis “Jun” Posadas
Written by Eric and Susan Kelly Posadas

Tubusin Mo ng Dugo
Directed by Pepe Marcos
Written by Jose Carreon

This year’s first local entries classifiable under the troublesome categories of bold and action indicate some bright spots ahead for post-revolution Philippine cinema. To review recent cultural developments, bold and action films used to be the closest that our serious filmmakers utilized in working out compromises with their financiers; comedy and melodrama were simply considered incapable of presenting “messages,” and therefore generally unworthy of aesthetic attention. I recall how, in a period of only occasional filmic achievement (which was most of the time, then as now), I would go to a name director’s bold or action entry in the hope of encountering sensible discourse, but would disabuse myself of such a notion when it came to comedies and melodramas.

Then came 1986, and notwithstanding pessimists’ claims, things did change, even in the local film scene. Comedy and melodrama took the forefront in both box-office and artistic terms, while bold films permutated into the hard-core quickies reminiscent of pre-martial law times, and action movies ventured in the opposite direction – real-life stories done with the ultimate in production costs. Nektar and Tubusin Mo ng Dugo, bold and action films respectively, seem to point toward a return to the median, as it were, for these temporarily lost film types. I’ll readily own that I might be too optimistic about the first title, but the second can be taken as a case for generic survival: instead of breaking as far away as possible from the films that seem to be doing well, why not figure out how best to adopt the factors that excite the mass viewership about them?

Hence, the spectacle of witnessing some form of industrial osmosis, with a bold film attempting to take on the plot complications and technical competence of melodrama, and an action film spiced (spiked, even) with comic routines. I’d like to be kind enough, at least in print, in pointing out that, the way most current bold films go, Nektar could have been worse. It’s bad enough as it is, but you could sense an aspiration toward, well, making sense. The story’s our well-worn odyssey of the Virginal Barrio Lass getting corrupted by the Big City, with the melodramatic, or at least komiks-influenced, twist of Morality Triumphing in the End. Before you start groaning in your creaky theater seats, let me remind you that this material has proved remarkably resilient through the decades, with each movie generation having its own claim to posterity in a least one such topical example: Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag honors the moviemakers of the seventies in this way, although of course Nektar could only hope to distinguish its own specific period in time, and no more.

There’s an even more painful aspect to the movie, and that’s the care, believe it or not, with which it was executed. Nektar must be the most carefully made bold film since Takaw Tukso two years ago – but one must be careful to take this in the context of the common run of such films, rather than the quality of the specific titles being compared. The difference, and this is where Nektar fails, is that its makers have just not been up to the challenge, meaning the effort shows in the final product. It becomes almost embarrassing to see a movie so sincere yet nevertheless substandard in all respects. A few portions do stand as set pieces, specifically the heroine wandering in the Luneta by night, and then much later discovering how her supposed savior betrayed her.

Of course this only makes the rest of the movie almost unbearable in its pursuit of a reasonable but overworked story framework. I guess in the final analysis, a little figuring out about the specific nature of filmwork could have helped: Maynila, although it resembles Nektar on paper, salvaged itself by opting for a semi-documentary approach; in the other direction, melodrama films contain the potential for degenerating into camp, which though not as promising at least provides a provocative element of fun. How sad to fall in between, losing the interest of both serious observers and escapists – unless a hard-core version exists somewhere; but then that takes the fun out of knowing you did a good movie and showing it to friends and potential acquaintances. In which case how sad again, etc., etc.

After Nektar, Tubusin Mo ng Dugo emerges as a minor cause for celebration. Pepe Marcos, a former editor (who also doubles for the same function in his films) who turned director four years ago, first came up with a passable debut, also a Rudy Fernandez starrer, in Sumuko Ka…Ronquillo! Neither practitioner has come up with totally execrable work since, but in Tubusin I’m happy to report a rarity of sorts – their best individual work so far. The qualifications should not be far behind though. Tubusin’s still a customary product, made for no greater shakes than the usual action entertainment contained in its main plotline. Normally I’d say it suffers from an imbalance in story development, but in fact this is where its strong point emerges. Instead of the usual establishment of good guys being lined up against bad guys, Tubusin takes an expository detour and provides a picaresque description of the lead character’s misadventures within a shrewdly observed social milieu.

Yessir, your average martyr of a mother happens to be a nag, your friendly neighborhood police chief resorts to third-degree, and your noble working-class savage gambles and drinks when he can, and even sets himself up for an occasional hustle! I was bewildered, to put it mildly, and then I started to wonder how long such a good thing could last. My worries were answered as soon as they occurred to me. Turned out that the mother feared for her son’s future, ditto the police chief, and though the hero-son gets to sire a family of his own, his involvement – unwilling, of course – in a big-time crime syndicate leaves him without much choice, were it not for the long, long arm of the law, yawn, yawn. I should have suspected something amiss after the hero rapes his best friend, a butch lesbian, and she forthwith disappears; what do you know, she reemerges much later, converted by her heterosexual encounter and therefore happily married to a poor unsuspecting atmosphere person.

Meanwhile a few instances of the early part’s humor, coupled with some really fierce action sequences, manage to pull the reluctant viewer through; the mass audience will of course be more forgiving, so I guess I ought to be honest about my admiration of how perceptive the filmmakers of Tubusin have been in their appropriation of current commercial preferences in a film genre that would otherwise have been as good as obsolete. In the end, Tubusin will be remembered mainly for just that – revitalizing a film type to conform to the mood of the times. Like Nektar, it will have acquired the box-office profits it intended to make in the first place, although with much less outrage about competence and entertainment appeal. We should all be so glad Armageddon might somehow take longer than tomorrow.

[First published February 17, 1988, in National Midweek]

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Moments of Truth

Anak ng Cabron
Directed by Wilfredo Milan
Written by Conrad Galang

Afuang: Bounty Hunter
Directed by Mike Relon Makiling
Written by Amado Lacuesta Jr. and Tony Tacorda

Would it be precipitate to claim that the action movie as a function of social realities – an activity that obtained during the early years of the sixties and eighties – is once more coming into its own? The outputs so far this year seem to promise as much, what with an appropriate adaptation to the concerns of the times. During the late fifties and early sixties, with the likes of Cesar Gallardo and the late Gerardo de Leon leading the way, local action films undertook the depiction of underworld characters with the requisite tragic comeuppance; the attempts succeeded so well that the legal and physical mechanisms of film censorship were expanded to effectively outlaw such so-called gangster movies. The result? A spate of imitations of Western and superspy stories, complete with wholly incongruous production values (American Indians and formal wear in the tropical Orient) and performers (blondes servicing not-so-appealing locals).

Similar political strictures during the seventies added a relatively closer but still alien form, the martial-arts movie. Suddenly Filipino film actors became more Chinese than the Chinese themselves, those on the mainland at least. Only during the latter part of the decade did both filmmakers and audience develop an understanding between them sufficient to codify (in the actual, not the semiotic, sense) martial-law situations into metaphorical setups such as prisons, slums, and urban-to-rural transitions. The problem for the Pinoy action movie circa the two-year-old political “revolution” is this time more a matter of entertainment appeal rather than the old dilemma of getting social themes through a too-touchy censorship system. This is where the genre’s strength and weakness lies: on the one hand, the extremes of realities necessary to initiate an action, whether a chase, flight, or vendetta, presume an awareness of current social situations; on the other hand, this selfsame seriousness of purpose can prove (and has often done so) to be too high-handed for commercial comfort.

A few weeks ago a Rudy Fernandez-starrer, Tubusin Mo ng Dugo, went a long way, in box-office terms, in taking cues from the recent successes of comedy entries. This time two other titles, Anak ng Cabron and Afuang: Bounty Hunter, try to introduce innovations of their own, and seem to be reaping rewards for the mere act of doing so. Between the two, Anak ng Cabron seems to be the more conscientious effort but winds up the less appreciable, precisely because of the aforementioned dangers of dissimulation. The premise – a society with a completely anarchic law-and-order arrangement – is attractive, and the execution even more so: the level of utter technical competence displayed herein is what all local films should strive for, at the very least; perhaps with enough international markets opened, the surface polish that characterizes Anak ng Cabron can be more willingly accomplished by the rest of the industry.

Unfortunately a lesser proportion of care was extended the movie narrative’s basic essentials. It would sound patently unfair, not to mention pedantic, to point out that an Aeschylean potential in the theme of a son inheriting his father’s personality defects remains undeveloped – but that’s only because the movie on the whole managed to evade the issue of ideas through a reliance on comic touches and an admirable expansion of geography. These of course are still backup devices that don’t really address questions of internal logic – like why should the women in this film hate so intensely someone who projects himself better than they do? At least Rudy Fernandez in Tubusin Mo ng Dugo was provided the self-awareness of using his physical charm to his advantage, even if only in the limited context of hustling. I could understand a neurotic mother and a dumb leading-lady character rejecting a movie-goon type, but Ace Vergel?! Perhaps a more psychologically provocative explanation for meanness than mere heredity (which was the achievement-of-sorts of another Vergel-starrer, Carlo J. Caparas’s Pieta) could have helped some.

Afuang: Bounty Hunter commits exactly the same things Anak ng Cabron does, but performs one over the latter through the application of a clever strategy. Where Anak ng Cabron sought to convey a vision of peace-and-order breakdown by simply assuming that it exists in the here and now, Afuang situates itself in an actual time frame – the period of transition between the past and present political dispensation. Production limitations aside, the notion of vicariously reliving those days with someone who actually went through the process still manages to evoke the minimal interest required for paying proper attention. Afuang then manages to be crafty enough to engage the viewer in a game of wondering how much of the onscreen resolution matches the real-life exploits of its lead character. Before you know it you’ll have gotten over the tension of hoping the Afuang you’ve identified with would make it through the change of regimes, largely because of the catharsis of his vengeance on the wrongdoers who may or may not have actually crossed his path the way they did in the movie.

The inevitable problem with character presentations in true-to-life stories will holds true in the case of Afuang: the way the guy talks, you’d suspect that is was this sermonizing, rather than his rectitude, that did him in during the latter period of Marcos rule. And as in Anak ng Cabron the women, the Mrs. Afuang especially, are converted into provocations for the lead character to enunciate, albeit hesitantly (as befits a real man, hah!), his philosophical stance; in short you don’t expect to find ladies here, you get gentlemen burdened with social ills and nags, not necessarily in that order.Between this given and the otherworldly solutions explored by Western cinema (Raging Bull et al.), there remains a number of minor points that should still be raised for commendation in the movie: the usual reliability of Phillip Salvador, the discovery of action-star potential in the actor playing his sidekick (Mon Godiz), and the casual implication of five-star hoodlum (now international fugitive) Fabian Ver in the dognapping racket that turned into the dreaded carnapping syndicate of not-so-long-ago.

Enterprises like Afuang are in danger of catching flak from still-present and ever-sensitive sources; sadly their appeal rests on this factor, rather than merits that don’t depend on extra-filmic developments. Nevertheless we could do worse with our entertainment, and meanwhile we need to accumulate anew an appreciation of social insights that the audience can share according to its level of maturity. If the outputs are at least as entertaining as what we’ve been getting lately, then who’s to complain?

[First published March 23, 1988, in National Midweek]

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Bioflicks

Operation: Get Victor Corpus, the Rebel Soldier
Directed by Pablo Santiago
Written by Jose F. Lacaba

Balweg: The Rebel Priest
Directed by Butch Perez
Written by Amado Lacuesta Jr.

Kumander Dante
Directed by Ben (M-7) Yalung
Written by Ricardo Lee

With the release of Kumander Dante, a unique cycle of the depiction on film of local political rebels has been completed. It would take another complex of factors – the 1986 political upheaval and the differences that accompanied it – to enable us to witness another series of purportedly biographical treatments of the stories of bigger-than-life outlaws. More’s the pity then, since at this stage we have neither reached the cultural maturity to appreciate experimentalist deviations form avowed fact, nor acquired the political confidence to remain above the run of discourses about significant contemporary personalities. As far as current industry standards go, the trio of titles dealing with military renegade Victor Corpus, rebel maverick Conrado Balweg, and former underground leader Bernabe Buscayno (a.k.a. Commander Dante) are actually superior entries. They have been produced by major outfits with fittingly above-average budgets, and the concern for industrial legitimacy can be seen in both the production values as well as the large casting these projects exhibit.

The reason for such carefulness, however, is the same factor that accounts for ultimate disappointments about these works, once the extremes of film ideals are applied. We still consider people newly returned from beyond the pale of the law as possessing an admirable amount of physical vulnerability; they may be visibly present among us, but are still hounded by the conflicts they’re supposed to have left behind. This makes them intriguing enough to warrant features in a popular medium or two, but at the same time provides the makers with the fear of possible retaliation by the subjects’ enemies as well as discrediting by the subject themselves.[1] Proof of this split-level approach lies in the creative credit listings for each project: name writers were commissioned to write the first-draft scripts – the blueprint, as it were – but commercially oriented (and therefore industrially safe) directors were called in to execute the final products; in the instance of Kumander Dante, the producer himself opted to do the film. In this regard the most conscientious filmmaker would naturally manage to come up with the most acceptable output of all, and not surprisingly Butch Perez pulls off a near-coup of sorts with Balweg: The Rebel Priest.

The achievement, however, is strictly technical, and in fact at certain moments I was just as overwhelmed at the epic excesses of Operation: Get Victor Corpus, the Rebel Soldier and the historical parallelisms of Kumander Dante. The latter, in addition, provides the clearest indication of art-and-life cross-purposes: it isn’t so much the approximation of the real-life occurrences that gives the necessary jolt to these works, but rather the afterthought that reality could be more dynamic and enduring in the long run. Sure, Corpus, Balweg, and Buscayno may not look as perfect as their screen counterparts do, but at least they possess the means to pursue, redirect, or even negate their own objectives, whereas those contained in the filmic representations of their lives will remain as is for all time, or at least as long as the stocks can be preserved. It’s a no-win situation actually. The only way to correct the impressions of the originals, should Corpus et al. decide to change courses in midstream, would be to update their stories via new film projects. In this sense Corpus himself or, to be more accurate, his screen character, enjoys the benefit of an open ending; any sequel to his story could still reasonably proceed from the original.

Yet there may be a more feasible option – one that upholds the integrity of the medium even, if necessary, at the expense of the subjects concerned. Early this year I made what seemed like a hyperbolic statement at the time, to the effect that a late 1987 release, Kumander Gringa, was in most ways the best political Filipino film since the revolution. If anything, the completion of the serious political-rebels cycle confirms this assertion, without necessarily sacrificing the requisites of box-office appeal and the star system. Of course, no one in his right mind would ever make the mistake of identifying Gringo Honasan with the character(s) portrayed by Roderick Paulate, but then this is precisely what makes Kumander Gringa more film than documentation. Political rebels in themselves provide enough real-life issues to last more than a mere couple of movies; on the other hand, a one-project affair, a do-or-die proposition, need not always prostrate itself on the altar of verisimilitude, especially when other options could be just as, if not more, entertaining, and thereby possibly truer to the purposes of the medium.

[First published October 26, 1988, in National Midweek]

Note

[1] At the end of the published version of the review, three disclaimers by the story consultants (Monico Atienza, Bonifacio Ilagan, and Marvyn Benaning) of Kumander Dante, the scriptwriter also of Kumander Dante, and the scriptwriter of Victor Corpus were printed. Each statement, in effect, said that the story or script that these individuals had written was not observed by the director of the finished film.

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An Update

The resurgence of horror in local films proved about us fleeting as post-1986 prosperity. This lends some credence to the psychoanalytic view that audiences would look for horrifying experiences in fictional works if they didn’t have enough of it real life; the corollary – audiences deriving their quota of horror from real life – can and should only be regarded with sadness and outrage.

The move toward down-to-earth explicitness in turn-of-the-revolution sex films proved no match for the heavenward turn of officiated (and legislated, as may be seen in the new Constitution) morality; the new repression, however, may help induce a new round of creative, well, gap-searching, similar to that of the Marcos era’s bold trend.

Action films have been called to reprise their historically contingent function of reflecting their audience’s experiences and aspirations. The heroes this time are younger, less reluctant about emotional displays, and more attentive to women; and some villains are of an entirely new breed – heroes of yesteryears, actually, including Americans and elected government officials. Once this last genre moves beyond articulating current conditions, to clarifying them for the benefit of the audience and prescribing possible courses of action, people (those in power, especially) better start worrying. Fortunately for the forces of reaction, our local film practitioners still have to prove their expertise in propaganda, and so do our audiences, in terms of their capability of responding to such efforts.

[First published October 24, 1990, in National Midweek]

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About Joel David

Teacher, scholar, & gadfly of film, media, & culture. [Photo of Kiehl courtesy of Danny Y. & Vanny P.] View all posts by Joel David

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