Friday, February 22, 2013

How to Seduce Sleazy Men - Get Possessed

Dangerous Seductress (1992)
Director: H. Tjut Djalil
Seen via: Mondo Macabro DVD (R1)
Rating: 7 / 10

After having a complete blast with Lady Terminator and being thoroughly unsettled by Mystics in Bali, I was really looking forward to watching director H. Tjut Djalil's Dangerous Seductress. In a way, Dangerous Seductress is a synthesis of the other two films. It combines action and a killer femme fatale with Indonesian mythology and mysticism. It also has a fascinating atmosphere that lies somewhere in the nexus between glitzy promotional tourism video and low-budget 80s horror (if there really is such a nexus outside of this film). No more stalling, let's dive in and let the bullets, blood, and heads fly!

I. Possession and Seduction

From minute one, Dangerous Seductress does not fool around. After panning across the cityscape of Jakarta while the opening credits roll and an upbeat synth tune pulses in the background, we fly down to street level to follow a car full of jewel thieves on the run. The massive chase scene and simultaneous gunfight that follows has that slightly unhinged feeling that Lady Terminator does so well (the same sort of feeling I get with Hard Boiled), where things unfold so recklessly that you fear for the safety of any bystanders onscreen. The criminals throw around non sequiturs left and right as they blast away with their guns. "Fix me a fucking martini," says the boss as he punches his incompetent driver and leans out of the car to unload a clip into some cops. "Showtime!" the lackey replies.

When the chase finally ends, it does not end well for the lawbreakers. As blood from their mutilated bodies soaks the ground, it also happens to fall onto a magic amulet in the haul from their heist. Now activated, the blood amulet imbues a severed finger with life. The digit promptly scampers over to be eaten by the amulet, which has the power to resurrect a skeleton from the ground. Flesh and bone begin to congeal into a woman. But what's this?

There's not enough blood to reconstruct the whole thing! Anyone who's seen Hellraiser knows how to solve this problem: more blood. Thank god a stray dog wanders by and tries to steal a bone from this ghoul. After turning the tables on the pup, she's ready to go, complete with strategically placed magic lightning.

This is the first 12 minutes of Dangerous Seductress. It makes no sense, and it's great. Afterwards, the pace slows a bit as the consequences of what we've seen begin to sink in.

We cut to L.A., where Suzie (Tonya Lawson) waits in her elaborate apartment for her husband John (Joseph Cassano) to return from work. It's their anniversary, and John surprises Suzie with a ring. Aw, how sweet. He also surprises her with some sex, which she's not really into. That doesn't stop John, and he starts to get violent. She flees the house and calls up her sister, Linda (Kristin Anin) who's a model living and working in Jakarta.

Linda's having her birthday party when Suzie calls. No problem! Of course Suzie can come stay with her! It's Linda's lucky day. In addition to some superb dancing with her husband, two filmmaker friends who are in the country to shoot a documentary about the occult show up with some birthday books for her. One's a book on Indonesian cosmetics (because she's a model, remember) and the other is an ancient occult text (because, well, good question). "Oh, how great," she says to the second, not with sarcasm, just sort of apathy. Little does she know of the destruction that will follow...

It's not long before Suzie shows up in Jakarta, but Linda has to leave for a photoshoot in Bali. That's okay, there's plenty for Suzie to do, such as read the old occult book and get possessed by the Queen of Darkness. The Queen appears to her in a mirror.

Yes! Another flying head! Unfortunately it's the only head we'll see flying for the rest of the film. Remember the skeleton woman? That's none other than the Queen, and she still needs blood so that she can break the last of the magic bonds that restrain her. Suzie is just the one to help, especially now that she's grown these lovely fangs...

Suzie gets all dressed up to the tune of this movie's original theme - a bumping house tune with some killer sax. Where to go to pick up men? The MALL, of course. Judging from this movie, the malls in Indonesia are way cooler than in the U.S.. Rather than Cinnabons, expensive clothes that never fit me, and hundreds of mutant teens, they are full of neon signs, clubs, bars, and sleazy men. And in case you were still wondering, Suzie is now 100% possessed, as evidenced by the Dutch Angle of Evil:

It's not hard for Suzie to use the Queen's powers of seduction to snag a guy at the bar. After the trust-fund baby takes her back to his yacht, she slaughters him with a variety of fishing implements, and drinks his blood. Despite her vampiric appearance, Suzie does not suck blood the traditional way...

That's blood going into her mouth.
What's more, she doesn't drink it, but just stores it until she gets home, after which she transfers it to the Queen of Darkness by cutting her throat and bleeding all over the magic mirror. Seems like with all the magic in use here, there'd be a slightly less messy way to do this.


II. Style

In Bali, we get a montage of 90's fashion courtesy of Linda. Intercut with this is footage that might have been lifted out of some sort of promotional video for a hotel or resort: people play on the beach, parasail, and lounge around the pools of swanky hotels. I haven't mentioned the look and feel of the film too much yet, but it's best summed up in this sequence. It often looks like a tourism commercial.

Like Mystics in Bali and Lady Terminator, Dangerous Seductress was intended to appeal to a Western audience. When the first two failed to do so, Djalil and crew had to come up with some new strategies. First, include as many English speakers as possible to avoid awkward dubbing. Second, import an American effects team to ensure high production value. (It turned out to be the same crew that would go on to produce the even more horrifying live-action abortions of The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas - thanks for pointing this out, Netflix!). And finally (although I've never heard it mentioned explicitly in interviews), showcase lots of glamourous sets, fashion and scenes illustrating just how much fun a girl from L.A. can have in Jakarta. When she's not murdering men for their blood, that is.

Steamy mall-bars!

Rat-faced men who will drive you around in a Mercedes!

It's everything a commercial thinks we want: the sterile interiors shot in soft-focus, the foggy neon cityscapes outside, the slickly modern 80's bars, and most of all, White Tourists Having Fun. Notice how even though we're in Jakarta and Bali, there's hardly any regional flavor on display. The native culture is defined in terms of how the Western world can be entertained by it. We see tourists in all their natural habitats - restaurants, bars, the mall, and the beach. The motive for showcasing this ultra-capitalist picture of Indonesia is to sell the idea of the countries (and by proxy, the film) to a Western audience. It's a film that tries to market itself as something Westerners will love by drenching its story in things Westerners love.

Then there's the music. Oh, wow, the music. It's the kind of synth-pop you could probably recreate with the presets on your old Casio if you gave it a couple hours. I have a strange affinity for this stuff, so I mean this in the best way. It's the authentic soulless stuff of infomercials, hotel lobbies, and the empty music played on the local access channel between shows. Someone looking to break into the vaporwave scene could use this score as a goldmine of samples. It'll sound immediately familiar to anyone who grew up in the 90's.

III. Back to the Plot

Eventually, after endless dancing, photoshoots, and montages, we get back to the story. Suzie continues to seduce and kill men under the power of the Queen of Darkness. Linda is alerted by a Balinese mystic that something is awry, and that her sister is in trouble. Stop for a second and realize this is the same plot as Mystics in Bali. A tourist possessed by a demon that uses her body to kill for blood, ostensibly saved when a local mystic realizes what's going on and attempts to end her spree of death. What defeated the Le├ík in Mystics is the same thing that's going to work here - a battle between good and evil magic for the soul of the possessed woman. Here's where the special effects really start flying.

What better way to end this film than with a neon lightning battle?

IV. Thank You, H. Tjut Djalil

I am fascinated by this movie. Its style is the most interesting thing about it for me, especially when it flips into tourist mode. That aspect blended with the more familiar B-horror vibe is something that gives it a strange feeling that I can't quite nail down. (Also, aesthetically speaking, I'm a sucker for neon and synths.)

I'm not going to overlook the film's flaws though. The acting is bad, even with the use of native English speakers. The story also meanders in the latter half, when Suzie is stalking and killing men over and over. The montages and dance sequences pad out the film substantially. While I had a lot of fun with them (they're like little in-film music videos), I can also see how they might be viewed as tiresome. This film never quite reaches the insane highs of Lady Terminator, although it shares much of the style. If I've raised your expectations too high, go ahead and take a moment to lower them.

As a whole, Dangerous Seductress has more than enough innate weirdness for me to enjoy the hell out of it. It sits in that space just to the side of all the low-budget horror you've watched, and uses glamour from the fashion and tourism industries to create its own distinct feel. H. Tjut Djali claims to have no pride in his work as a director, saying that he was simply hired to do a job. He asserts that his films were created with marketability placed before artistic intent. Even if this is true, he unwittingly imposed enough of his own style onto these films. Tracking down Djalil's more scarce films may prove to be a challenge, but it's one I'll gladly accept. I can't get enough of this guy.

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