Director: H. Tjut Djalil
Mondo Macabro

While vacationing in Indonesia, Kathy, an American girl, decides to author a book on obscure black magic customs and rituals. Making the logical assumption that the singular way to unlock their deepest secrets is to learn the dark arts themselves, she turns to her new boy-toy Mahendra for assistance. He informs her that the most powerful local sorcery is known as Leák magic, but warns, “a Leák master can change his form at will into anything he wishes, like say an animal. Or a tree.” Kathy shortly begins studying under an ancient female practitioner, but after several lessons her blood offerings are no longer payment enough. Needing the fluid to regenerate strength and regain youth, the haggard witch tricks her naïve apprentice into unknowingly performing her bidding -- by having Kathy’s head sever itself from her body and fly around, entrails a-hangin’, to harvest more sanguinary sauce in the most nauseatingly unthinkable way possible! Mahendra, noticing a change in his girlfriend’s behavior (yet not too alarmed by the sight of her vomiting up live mice), calls upon his uncle, a powerful mystic, for help, which sets the stage for an astonishingly berserk climactic showdown where someone willingly transforms into an enormous pig-beast. Yes, you read that correctly.

At one point in the film, a character says, “It’s kinda weird, isn’t it? It’s really unbelievable.” Truer words were never spoken. Heavily steeped in territorial lore and legends, MYSTICS IN BALI is a perfect antidote for those bored with more standard fare and is an ideal introduction to Indonesia’s unique, wonderful and fantastic filmscape. Though technically unpolished, the outing makes up for its flaws with sheer audacity and outrageous exuberance. It’s so unlike anything made by rational humans that it’s nearly impossible to avoid its grip. Characters wander about purposelessly, and hardly seem to question the illogical situations that unfold. Time leaps forward in fits and spurts, yet no clue is ever thrown to the audience. Major players metamorphose into serpents, fireballs and the aforementioned porcine monstrosities, and then there’s the “Penanggalan.” Once seen, a floating, disembodied head with dripping internal organs is not easily forgotten, and the indelible image has become justifiably famous. Xenophobes beware, but those searching for the most off-kilter motion pictures on the planet will find multiple reasons to rejoice with this cinematic oddity.

Based on the novel “Leák Ngakak” by Putra Mada (try finding that one at your grocery store!), MYSTICS IN BALI actually had to be filmed on the island of Java because Bali locals were too superstitious to allow the movie’s supposedly-authentic rituals to be performed there. A complete video obscurity during the VHS era, the only known legit issue was in Japan on Sony’s Mount Light arm, which was actually a pretty decent release for the time (it was fully letterboxed and uncut, with the framing raised on the screen to accommodate the foreign subtitles). Thankfully, that impossible-to-find tape has now been trounced by Mondo Macabro’s typically excellent efforts. Working from an original negative, the outfit’s 2003 U.K. DVD release was a cause for celebration, with much-improved clarity and bolder colors than available before. At the time, it was seen as the definitive edition, but the transfer was performed unsupervised by a HK company chosen by Rapi Films and out of Mondo Macabro’s hands. The disc quickly sold out, and was highly desirable on the collector’s market. Cut to four years later. Unhappy with their prior import and impressed with the progress in film restoration technology, these purveyors of worldwide weirdness have given the title a complete makeover for the domestic market, and the results are an improvement on every level. This time around, the company was able to set the negative up in a transfer house of their choosing, producing a new high definition master. The anamorphic picture looks great, with much crisper detail and a color palette hardly imagined before, comparable to their prior treatment of other garishly bizarre offerings like THE DEVIL’S SWORD. Put next to their earlier overseas edition, the 2.35:1 anamorphic picture is also better framed, adding significant amounts of information to the bottom and left sides of the image. Minor print damage is still occasionally evident and there’s some mild grain in darker scenes, but reportedly the elements supplied by Rapi Films were borderline rotten, so the fact that MYSTICS survived for a DVD transfer at all is a minor miracle. A frugal production, these inherent flaws are more than acceptable, all things considered, and only the least forgiving will be bothered.

In a continuing effort to introduce and educate slightly bent film-fans to alien cultures, Mondo Macabro has essentially crafted a crash-course in Indonesian exploitation history with their supplements platter. Both discs share text extras, but each has its own exclusives, too. The U.S. DVD contains the film’s trailer, which surprisingly doesn’t spoil much and leaves out the standard hyperbole. It also houses the much loved Mondo Macabro promo reel, updated to include acquisitions like the forthcoming Filipino sexploiter SNAKE SISTERS (a brain-bursting film if I’ve ever seen one) and the Claude Mulot’s excellent, recently released THE BLOOD ROSE. One item the domestic release doesn’t port over is the U.K. disc’s main supplement, a 23-minute documentary chronicling the heyday of Indonesian weirdness. Thankfully, the program is readily available on the previous Stateside issues of LADY TERMINATOR and VIRGINS FROM HELL, so its loss isn’t a deal-breaker; I can’t imagine anyone purchasing the US MYSTICS upgrade wouldn’t have those two essentials already. Superbly put together, this featurette was originally broadcast on Britain’s Channel Four as part of Mondo Macabro’s well-received television series. Starring a veritable who’s who of the country’s jaw-dropping genre picture industry, it mixes interviews with star Barry Prima, members of Parkit and Rapi Films, various actresses, special FX creator El Badrun, etc. with clips from several must-see items like THE WARRIOR, THE DEVIL’S SWORD, BLACK MAGIC TERROR and more. Outlining the reason for their local horror boom and discussing all the main movers and shakers, this is an enlightening, engaging and highly entertaining watch. If you’re not drooling at the mouth for these outlandish titles once the piece is finished, you need to get your priorities straight. In case the TV episode leaves you with a few unanswered queries, both discs have a pleasing text essay by Pete Tombs filling in any gaps. Mostly concentrating on MYSTICS and its director, H. Tjut Djalil (who later helmed WHITE CROCODILE QUEEN and DANGEROUS SEDUCTRESS), it’s a very informative and thoroughly illustrated read. Fans of the company’s namesake tome will be thrilled. Also included is a complete filmography for Djalil. We lastly have lengthy and humorous instructions detailing the steps necessary to become a Leák. Perform at your own risk.

So, worth the upgrade? In my opinion, yes. Mondo Macabro gives MYSTICS IN BALI a surprising facelift that does wonders for its cracked-out visuals. If you’ve never seen the film, now’s your chance. If you already have the U.K. disc, the improved picture quality and superior framing really adds to one’s appreciation. If you don’t like the film, then you still probably won’t like the film, and probably aren’t reading this. Some may rue the loss of the Indonesian Exploitation featurette, but it’s already been made available repeatedly, and you probably already have it in your collection multiple times. Long live the Leák!

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Click below for a look at the new transfer! (Spoiler warning: If you haven’t seen the film before, you may not want to watch the following clip, ‘cuz it’s a good one!)

It’s also worth noting that Mondo Macabro’s DVD release of H. Tjut Djalil’s DANGEROUS SEDUCTRESS contains a 14-minute interview with the director, discussing the making of that film, LADY TERMINATOR and MYSTICS IN BALI. Fans of these films will want to give it a spin. (Bruce Holecheck)