The Queen of Black Magic: it sucks, but in a good way.
Before reviewing the current remake, the purist in me thought it wise to first examine the original feature of the same name. (It’s available on YouTube.) I suggest you do the same.
The Queen of Black Magic (1981)
A demon is out to destroy Kohar’s marriage ceremony. Maggoty bean sprouts serve as a last-minute substitution on the menu, groomsmen become skeletal sticks of zombified mud, and the town exorcist is dribbled to death like a flabby cosmic basketball. Dress accordingly: the raised lettering ostensibly requests our presence at a wedding reception, when in reality, what we’ve been cordially invited to attend is strictly amateur night. Black magic doubles as a perfect wedding guest — as well as a hasty screenwriter’s best friend. As one character points out, it’s impossible to convict a sorceress, because black magic leaves no evidence. Coincidence and tight budgetary restraints rule the day in this land where the illogical can (and frequently will) dictate protocol. Even before the opening credits roll, one of the film’s multitude of submissive non-professional cast members can be observed anxiously glancing offscreen in the direction of director Liliek Sudjio just seconds before a shot’s conclusion, to see if it will be followed by another take or a triumphant squeal of, “Cut! Print it!!”
Forgive me for not matching actors’ names with the characters they play. The English-language (read: hilariously dubbed) copy on YouTube has no closing credits — if you think this cheaply made Indonesian horror film begins abruptly, wait until you see how hastily it wraps — nor was IMDB able to provide much help. At various times, the speech recognition technology currently used on YouTube to auto generate subtitles referred to the titular Queen as Murni, Saruni, and Muni — to name but a few. She’s played by scream queen Suzzanna, and that’s the name I’m sticking with.
Suzzanna confesses to her mother that Kohar talked her into losing her virginity in exchange for a promise of marriage. When she shows up at her ex’s nuptials looking to voice a complaint, he calls her a sorceress and blames the evening’s horrors on her. He rallies the locals to his side, and they toss Suzzanna’s rag doll stand-in over a cliff and into a bottomless ravine, where the Master of Black Magic (W. D. Mochtar) just happens to stand, waiting with open arms to catch her on the third bounce. Since she’s already been accused of using black magic, why not play it to her advantage by enacting revenge on those who tried to kill her? According to Mochtar’s philosophy, the living are just as guilty as the dead. They deserve to suffer. Besides, the more she relies on the powers of black magic, the more people will respect and admire her. Ratcheting up the guilt, Mochtar reminds Suzzanna that he saved her life. That alone gives just cause to heed his advice!
The next day, what the locals misconstrue to be Suzzanna’s ghost is seen walking through town, where she picks off two of her assailants: one with bees and the other with boils. But as much as Suzzanna wants to quit after two murders, what with Kohar killing her mother and Mochtar advising her that “life must be paid with life and death with death,” the budding serial killer opts to go full mass murderer by taking out everyone who participated in her cliff-tossing.
To his credit, director Sudjio proves himself capable of occasionally answering the call of divine visual lunacy. Suzzanna’s rite of passage is promulgated on what, from a distance, appears to be a trampoline stretched across the mountain tops, a harvest moon piercing the midnight blue sky acting as its backdrop. Her bouncy performance is capped by a studio insert of her head as it begins to smoke. It was one of those rare “I know the feeling” moments of ascertainment that movies can provide. The same can’t be said for the sexual satisfaction Suzzanna takes from breast-feeding a baby. And when was the last (first?) time you looked on in slack-jawed amazement as an enchantress paused in mid-malediction to suck her big toe?
In the end, the ultimate goal of the witch doctor — and thanks to the jumbled plot, it’s difficult to recall which witch doctor is which — wants to get his revenge on a duly elected president whom he fears stole the election that, by right, was his to win. The village chief must immediately surrender his title, lest every one of his constituents be wiped out. “The head man is freely elected; the people want it that way. I was picked by the majority and now you’re spiteful because you weren’t.” Who says art doesn’t imitate life?
Both versions are available for download on Shudder.