It’s that spooky time of the year again and your socials are gonna be flooded with pictures of everyone putting on their scariest and most ironic costumes. Don’t worry if you don’t get your fill of spookiness from the parties you’ll be attending, there’s always everyone’s masochistic treat of choice—horror movies!
As the years go by, the horror genre has had to adapt and evolve to up the ante when it comes to scares. Luckily for us, there’s probably a film out there today that has been tailor-made to push all the wrong buttons and scare us senseless. The Philippines, much like every other culture, has made contributions to this macabre art. While the Good vs. Evil formula is pretty much unbroken across all iterations of horror, each culture’s take on it has slight nuances that make it uniquely awful (in a good way).
Of icons and cliches
Despite the decades’ worth of horror films under her belt, the Philippine horror genre will always be prone to a trope or two every now and then. This is not necessarily a bad thing as some of these became tropes for the express reason that they really resonate with the deepest fears of many Filipinos.
Horror in each culture takes on a certain personality after some time. Western horror films feature the “psycho killer” archetype with characters such as Jason from Friday the 13th, Jigsaw from the Saw franchise, Ghostface from the Scream trilogy, Johnny from The Shining, and Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, among others. America has always had a thing for serial killers, and this fascination with them has spawned countless movies depicting the horrors some human beings are capable of.
Asia, on the other hand, leans more towards the supernatural. Being more superstitious, the fear of the occult is very much alive in Asian culture. The Japanese have produced films such as Ju-On: The Grudge and The Ring, films so terrifying and popular they earned inferior American remakes.
The Philippines is not exempt from this Asian trend, but being the only primarily Catholic nation in Asia has changed the profile of our films greatly. The Philippine horror genre has been touched by the Christian mythos while still retaining the focus on the supernatural with flares from our own folklore. Instead of serial killers with knives, chainsaws, and machetes, we get aswangs, manananggals, and deals with the Prince of Darkness.
Most mainstream horror films in the Philippines are usually made with a formula that has been tested with time. As a result, some of these concepts have become passé—sometimes even corny.
This, however, doesn’t lessen the entertainment value of these films for it created some of the most iconic scenes and characters in the industry. A lot of Filipinos could be familiar with Kris Aquino’s scream in all her movies of the genre or the aswangs brought into the spotlight by the Shake, Rattle, and Roll movies.
Another variation of the formula is that of horror-comedy, which focuses on making the viewer roll on the floor laughing rather than scare them, often relying on the misfortunes of the protagonist that associate them with the supernatural.
Romantic subplots are also abound, adding drama to the mix of emotions the viewer might feel, though sometimes irrelevant. Nonetheless, these all still equate to viewers flocking the cinema for their dose of scares no matter how absurd.
Although there hasn’t been a lot of local films recently that would ultimately scare your socks off, here are some suggestions that could get you started on your horror movie binge this Halloween.
The Healing is a horror flick directed by horror veteran Chito S. Roño starring local acting heavyweight Vilma Santos alongside Kim Chiu. It centers on the Filipino tradition of consulting albularyo or “faith healers”, who have mixed Christian iconography and local mysticism.
The plot revolves around a faith healer whose patients go into psychotic rages shortly after being healed. The main characters, whose relatives have also seen this faith healer, rush to solve the grisly circumstances of their fellow patients’ deaths. Viewer be warned! This film is a bit on the gory side so avoid it if gore isn’t your cup of tea.
As the title has made painfully obvious, this film revolves around the culture of our long time neighbors—the Chinese. Joy, played by Kris Aquino, comes into possession of a “bagwa”, which is a mirror often seen hung on doors in Chinese households. The mirror begins to bring her extremely good fortune, but before she has time to revel in her newfound luck, mysterious deaths begin to occur in her neighborhood.
The deaths, she notices, corresponds to the victim’s Chinese zodiac sign, and that they had all looked into the mirror. (Cue iconic scream) Think Final Destination with a Chinese twist. This is yet another film by Director Chito S. Roño and is highly regarded as one of the finer examples of Philippine horror.
Horror sticks out among other genres of film, since where they were made is really apparent in the plot. Each culture’s iteration of it takes advantage of the stories their people were told as children to make them behave.
Watching your local horror films is a truly different experience because they are able to take mundane facets of your everyday life and pervert it into something horrible. Things you wouldn’t have glanced twice at your local market before, now make your heart skip a beat as the memories of the movie you watched last night come rushing back and you walk a little quicker than usual. You laugh it off knowing it was just a movie and feel silly for being a scaredy cat, but deep down the little kid in you remembers the stories and shakes in its boots.