Sundelbolong (a movie review)

The 1982 Indonesian horror movie Sundelbolong has been on my to-watch list for some time now, so yesterday I’ve decided to finally give it a watch. Starring the late great horror icon Suzzanna and Barry Prima, another Indonesian cult actor, this example of 1980s Indonesian exploitation cinema is an excellent cinema! Let me tell you why!

Sundelbolong movie poster

The movie tells a story of a former prostitute Alisa (Suzzanna) who’s got married to Hendarto (I am not sure they’ve mentioned his first name in the whole movie), played by the aforementioned Barry Prima (here as Berry Prima).

Unfortunately, Hendarto is called away for a job as a ship captain, leaving Alisa at home. As I’ve watched the movie without any subtitles (and my knowledge of Indonesian language is very very basic), I don’t know the reason why Alisa ended up at the shop meeting the prostitute ringmaster Mami (Ruth Pellupessy) and the pimp Rudi (Rudy Salam), but the story is pretty straightforward.

On the way back home Alisa is kidnapped and brought to a shed, where she’s raped by Rudi and his thugs.

Not only violated and physically humiliated, she’s also betrayed by the court which let the rapists go.

Haunted by the vision of deformed kids, Alisa apparently decides for an amater self-abortion, which results in her death. That’s how she becomes the dreaded vengeful ghost – Sundelbolong (or sundel bolong).

Well, Suzzanna is quite angry, and understandably so!

Upon his return, Hendarto mourns the death of his wife, but he also meets Shinta (Suzzanna in the double role), and as mentioned above, I am not really sure what was going on with this angle, but she’s obviously the sundelbolong in one of the apparitions.

So far, the movie could pass as a serious drama, but now we’re entering the favourite part – the revenge!

Suzzanna as the sundelbolong

Oh boy, they say the revenge is sweet! One by one thugs succumb to the attack of the sundelbolong ghost in various situations – killed by the tree (and burned), impaled on the grave headstone, thrown onto the electric wires and so forth. Funny stuff.

Not only that, there are also a few comedic pieces thrown in (the guy climbing a tree), and that’s how it’s played.

Obviously, all villains die and Alisa can go to the beyond to her rest. The story is straightforward, no twists, no suprises. The only surprise is how well it works.

As I’ve mentioned above, I couldn’t find any version with English dubbing (I am not sure if it exists) or with the English subtitles (my VCD does not have them, and neither any online copy available), so I was forced to watch the movie in the original Indonesian language. But even with the language barrier, the movie is easy to follow and it’s not boring.

The other interesting thing to mention is the FX. No CGI here, this is the realms of acting and physical props. And even when sometimes the ghosts are crudely made, they are lovable at the same time. Well, at least to those of us remembering the golden 1980s.

And last, but not the least – the film soundtrack rips off the great composition “Night on Bald Mountain” by Modest Mussorgsky for the great effect, I say!

Sisworo Gautama Putra, the director

Directed by Sisworo Gautama Putra, this Indonesian director was responsible for such gems as The Warrior (1981), Satan’s Slave (1982), Malam Jumat Kliwon (1986), Malam Satu Suro (1988) and others.

Suzzanna (civil picture)

Obviously, the biggest asset the movie has is Suzanna itself. Whether as a Alisa/Shinta or as a vengeful sundelbolong, she was a very capable actress and her stare is indeed legendary. Not to mention her beauty, for she was really a beautiful woman.

She was in a numerous movies, among those being The Queen of Black Magic (1981), Sangkuriang (1982), Nyi Bolong (1982), Telaga Angker (1984), The Hungry Snake Woman (1986), Santet (1988), Malam Satu Suro (1988) and others.

Rudy Salam (later civil picture)

The main villain Rudi is portrated by Rudy Salam – and it’s funny that the characters in the movie have their actual civil names (talk about making remembering their role names easy!), whose last appearance was in the superhero movie Garuda Superhero (2015), but he was also in Srigala (1981), Jakarta Jakarta (1982), Kontraktor (1984) or 2014 (2014).

Barry Prima

Cult actor Barry Prima is known to Western audience from some movies released by the famous company Mondo Macabro, which released the classic flicks like The Devil’s Sword (Golok Setan, 1984) and The Warrior (Jaka Sembung 1981), but his filmography is much bigger, with the sequels to The Warrior (The Warrior and the Blind Swordsman (1983), Jaka Sembung & Bergola Ijo (1985) and Jaka Sembung and the Ocean Goddess (1990)), Revenge of the Ninja (1984) and others.

Marlia Hardi (early civil picture)

The elder house helper was a role for Marlia Hardi, the veteran Indonesian actress, for whose Sundelbolong was the one before her last movie (her last appearance was in Aladin dan Lampu Wasiat (1982)). She was in quite a few movies, which, I am afraid, are completely unknown to the Western audience.

Rengga Takengon

Rengga Takengon has crossed paths with the majority of the actors in Sundelbolong also in other movies, like Savage Terror (1980), The Warrior (1081), Gundala Putra Petir (1981), Sangkuriang (1982), he was also in Escape from Hellhole (1983), Revenge of the Ninja (1984), Hell Raiders (1985) among others.

Ketut Suwita’s filmography might be a really short one (only 7 credits), but he was in The Warrior (1981), Mystics in Bali (1981), Hell Raiders (1985) and a few others.

Similarly, also Bambang Siswanto’s film career was brief, he was cast mostly in dramas, but he was also in The Devil’s Sword (1984).

Eddy Hansudi

Short career it might be, but with titles like Srigala (1981), Deadly Angels Strike Back (1981), The Intruder (Rambu, 1986) and others, Eddy Hansudi should not be forgotten.

El Koesno’s film appearance was a little richer, starting with late 1970s horror Godaan Siluman Perempuan (1978), he was also in The Warrior (1981), Srigala (1981), Leech Wizard (1981), Bayi Ajaib (1982), Hell Raiders (1985) and others.

Bokir

Another actor presented in Sundelbolong is Bokir, with another appearance in movies like Nyi Blorong (1982), Bai Ayaib (1982), Telaga Angker (1984), The White Alligator (1988), Santet (1988) or Malam Satu Suro (1988) among others.

In a relatively short career, lasting only 10 years, Belkiez Rachman was cast in 28 movies, among those being The Warrior (1981), The Queen of Black Magic (1981), Sangkuriang (1982), Hell Raiders (1985), Satan’s Bed (1986), Siluman kera (1988), Santet (1988) and others.

Dorman Borisman

Dorman Borisman is still active to this day (his last appearance being Orang Kaya Baru from 2019), but previously he was in movies like Five Deadly Angels (1980), The Warrior (1981), The Queen of Black Magic (1981), Pasukan Berani Mati (1983), Malam Jumat Kliwon (1986) or Baby Occult: baby Tumbal Baby Die (2018) and others.

H.I.M. Damsyik

Last to mention is another veteran actor, H.I.M. Damsyik, who could be seen in Satan’s Slave (1982), Buyaya Putih (1982), Escape from Hellhole (1983), the Devil’s Sword (1984), Revenge of the Ninja (1984), Jungle Virgin Force (1988), Santet (1988), Jaka Sembung and the Ocean Goddess (1990) or Misteri Janda Kembang (1991) among others.

Strangely, it’s sad that the current Indonesian cinematographers seem not to be able to grasp the full formula of those movies made back then and translate them into the 21st century cinematic experience. For me, Sundelbolong was a pleasant excursion to the 1980s Indonesian horror cinema and if someone releases it in a proper version with subtitles, I’d be on it straightaway. However, I am afraid, that’s not gonna be a case anytime soon.

The movie (in the original Indonesian language) can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CXF0kMTHsI

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I am the founder/owner and editor-in-chief of the Rubber Axe webzine, the underground/overground cultural publication, publishing also this website dedicated to all things Indonesian. I'm a happily married guy with 2 kids and a fantastic wife, and I'm a relentless discoverer of all things cultural and culinary. An everlasting dreamer and idealist.

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