Mystics in Bali (1981)
Director: H. Tjut Djalil
Writers: Jimmy Atmaja and Putra Mada
Starring: Ilona Agathe Bastian, Yos Santo and Sofia W.D.

The Plot: Catherine is a Western girl who is obsessed with black magic. She has previously learned Voodoo in Africa, but now that she is in Bali she is obsessed with learning the notorious Leak black magic. Leak is a form of magic that is so powerful that it allows its user to shapeshift into nearly anything they want. Cathy eventually meets Henthra, a local boy who she quickly starts up a relationship with. Henthra is soon talked into leading Catherine into the dark jungle so that she may meet a powerful Leak master! When Henthra and Catherine stumble off into the jungle, they do indeed meet a mysterious laughing woman who claims to be a Leak master. Catherine convinces the woman to allow her as a disciple, and before long the young Western girl is practicing the ancient black magic traditions of Bali. This Leak master, however, isn’t as nice as Catherine at first takes her to be. She has her own goals, and she intends to use the detached head of Catherine in order to do her bidding and bring her new life!

The Review
We here at Varied Celluloid have certainly shown an affection for Indonesia cinema in the past, and it was only a matter of time before we delved into their rich history for yet another dose of their special brand of genre-film insanity. Along with Lady Terminator and The Warrior, I have found myself in love with the crazy days of Indonesian exploitation. Mystics in Bali is yet another title to take the mythological superstitions that were prevalent within Indonesia in the past, and deliver upon these myths with a very unique modern twist to them. For Western eyes, these concepts of magic and sorcery are completely unknown due to the limited knowledge that most people have about Indonesia in general. Mystics in Bali thus seems even more foreign to any potential Western viewer. A strange and thoroughly puzzling piece of exploitation, Mystics in Bali attempts to craft a combination of “cutting edge” special FX (at least, for 1981) with some fairly gruesome horror-movie violence. A grotesque trip into the magical world of Indonesian horror stories, Mystics in Bali is something entirely different than what you have likely ever seen.

Based upon actual Indonesian rituals and magic, Mystics in Bali has a certain history behind it that may not be immediately visible to Western viewers. Thankfully Mondo Macabro, the folks responsible for the DVD release within North America, provide a small little text document dealing with the history of Leak (pronounce lee-ack) magic and its reputed powers. It is quite interesting to read about the potential powers of Leak magic, all of which seem to revolve around time consuming rituals, and then seeing them displayed on the full screen in a very speedy and unnatural series of events. This speed and delivery is part of the film’s major problem, unfortunately. Episodic at times, it is very difficult to keep up with the timeline that our story is supposed to take place in. It could have been a few days that young Catherine learned all that there is to learn about being a Leak master, but it might have also taken weeks. The film isn’t very clear in its narrative, which gives it a feeling of incoherence. While our guide to Leak magic obviously points out the time and dedication one would have to have in order to attain the powers of transformation, the film seems to show Catherine reaching this goal in potentially one or two days. Yet, this sort of cinematic ADD can also be seen as part of the film’s charm.

While there are many glorious aspects that make Mystics in Bali such a memorable movie, you really have to give it credit for the transformation sequences. Much like the majority of the special effects work seen here, the transformations are gloriously bad. The effects are of the cheap and homemade variety, which is weird to see in comparison to the overall quality of the production. Shot with an eye towards the stylish, Mystics in Bali actually looks very good in almost all facets. The jungle surroundings are brilliantly green, and the sets, which look cheap, are still lit very well and given a surreal tone within many scenes. All of these facts seem in direct confrontation to the utterly ridiculous special effects work that singlehandedly tries to undo all of the quality cinematography that the movie attempts to employ. The transformations, such as the pig and snake sequences, are done in a time lapse fashion that shows us the actresses having makeup piled on top of them little by little. There’s also a decent amount of, what appears to be at least, shot-on-home-video footage in the midst of the film. The quality of the footage seems to take a downward spiral and the two different film stocks are blatantly obvious.

Told in a nearly incompetent fashion, the narrative direction within the film is certainly a part of what makes it so special, but it also prevents it from being a complete classic in the “what the…” genre of cinema. Although being a little episodic, or out of touch with time, isn’t such a bad thing for a film that actually proves itself to be great in most regards. Mystics in Bali however doesn’t prove to be as “great” as something like The Stabilizer, which was gloriously over the top and found just the right pacing. Instead, Mystics in Bali takes its screen time and often wastes it in the wrong areas. Although the pacing isn’t horrible, the movie does seem to waste a great deal of its screen time on ridiculously long and boring scenes that work against its more fantastical sequences. A “favorite” bit of mine that illustrates this, would be the scene where the Leak master, who later becomes Catherine’s teacher, decides to hide in the bushes while Catherine dispenses blood for the witch to drink. The scene seems to drag on forever as the two separate parties debate the grounds for the inevitable training courtship. While a scene such as this one, which primarily shows our lead actors talking about nothing that adds to the overall narrative, seems to be given a great amount of screentime, the much more psychotic and humorous sequences where Catherine’s disembodied head goes on a rampage are given a much less attention. What would you, as a viewer, rather watch: a woman talking to a bush for eight minutes, or the detached head of a Western girl eating people? I know where my vote lies.

The Conclusion
Poor dubbing, silliness shown in all aspects, and a considerable amount of violence, that is what this movie proves. With this in mind, there’s no question that Mystics in Bali is absolutely worth searching out. I will not give it my vote for the best piece of Indonesian exploitation that I have ever seen, but it is certainly very enjoyable for its cheesiness. I give it a three out of five. If there had been a slightly more resilient pace within the film, I would have easily made it to a four. Regardless, a three is still a good score and I would certainly recommend it.