Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Shake, Rattle & Roll XV (2014)

This to date final, and – as the Internet tells me – most expensive entry into the long-running Filipino horror anthology series presents three tales of horror. This time around, the three segments are vaguely connected by a side character, one Iggy (John Lapus), who will look increasingly worse for wear.

The first segment, “Ahas”, concerns the rather curious things going on in a shopping mall on the cusp of its 25th anniversary. There are rumours about one of the owner’s twin daughters (both played by Erich Gonzales), the now dead Sarah, having been a snake lady. As it turns out, the rumours are all too true. You see, the owner has made a pact with evil forces, and Sarah was some kind of demonic good luck charm. Sarah’s not dead either, but has been kept by her parents in the dungeons below the mall (every mall has those), fed at first with animals but then on a regular diet of shop lifters and rude customers sent down via a fitting room that’s also a secret elevators downwards, growing in size as the mall grew in success. Sarah’s not just a man-eating snake lady, she also seems to have multiple, well, two, personalities, both of which are crazy. She’s also fallen in love from afar with her sister’s boyfriend, one Troy (JC de Vera), so things are bound to become problematic soon enough.

Directed by Dondon Santos, “Ahas” is pleasantly weird, containing a couple of perfectly sensible horror sequences, a bit of family melodrama, special effects that fluctuate between pretty wonderful and terrible in execution but are always wonderful in conception, a sneaky bit of capitalism criticism, and lots of scenes of a pretty snake lady with a humungous snake body getting up to shenanigans. What’s not to like?

Of course, the second segment, “Ulam”, directed by Jerrold Tarog does let the first one look a bit harmless. The not terribly happy couple of Henry (Dennis Trillo) and Aimee (Carla Abellana), and their little daughter Julie (Kryshee Frencheska Grengria) move from the city to a house that once belonged to Henry’s Chinese grandparents. There, they are welcomed by the old family servant Lina (Chanda Romero), who’s always happy to provide a warm meal. That’s the only plus of the place, though, for, as always happens when anyone moves to the country in horror films, strange stuff begins to happen: a deformed shadow sneaks around; the couple hear strange voices telling them to leave; and they begin to suffer from nightmares in which Henry turns into a dog man and Aimee into a lizard woman, both of whom do not like one another at all; the normal family bickering starts bordering on the violent.

What’s going on in what at first looks a bit like a traditional haunted house tale is much nastier stuff than I’m used to from Filipino horror, the protagonists paying the price for the sins of Henry’s family, being not just made to suffer but unmade as human beings for things they have no responsibility for at all, and in ways that turn the most quotidian of things deeply unpleasant.

I found myself – surprisingly enough given the sort of things I watch regularly – actually pretty upset by the segment’s final act, Tarog’s portrayal of the destruction of the couple’s basic humanity, love for each other and their daughter turns out to be very effective indeed, transcending the sometimes not terribly successful special effects easily. And while the segment doesn’t exactly end on a complete downer, it’s at least three fourths of one. Add to that a certain air of the modernized gothic to parts of the proceedings, and I found “Ulam” a very successful piece of horror indeed.

We go from the sublime to the goofy and ridiculous with the film’s final segment, “Flight 666”, directed by Perci Intalan, in which the small number of passengers on board of the titular – and not the least bit suspiciously named – flight 666 encounter the following problems: broad humour; a hijacker with a chip on his shoulder; a bomb whose red button nobody should ever press (cough); and a new-born tiyanak as portrayed by a very bad but also adorable CGI effect. The passengers are a broadly drawn bunch of clichés right out of the 2014 internet; the plotting is hasty and confused; the central monster looks patently ridiculous. However, the whole thing makes a wonderful contrast with the much more serious segment that came before, so ending on quite this goofy a note makes absolute sense for the film as a whole, suggesting there has been more thought put into the sequencing of the segments than in many an anthology movie (where no thought whatsoever seems to have been put in). It is also insanely fun, playing straight at the strangest moments and using its series of cliché airplane movie ideas – and the cute little tiyanak – to great effect. At least, if you’re willing to just go with the beautiful nonsense.

So, as a whole, this is a fine entry for the Shake, Rattle & Roll series to go out on, presenting very Filipino threats in perfectly delightful ways, at least if you ask this guy from Germany.

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