The Deepest Cuts is a weekly invitation into some of the sleaziest, goriest, most under-explored corners of horror and cult film online. Every title will be streamable and totally NSFW. Whether it’s a 1960s grindhouse masterpiece, something schlocky from the 90s, or hardcore horror from around the world, these films are guaranteed to shock, disturb, tickle, or generally blow your mind.
Witchcraft, voodoo, black magic: spiritual practices which harness otherworldly powers are inherently fascinating to the outsider and have provided research material and fodder for wild and often dangerously prejudicial imaginings for centuries. Take a classic dramatic work like The Crucible or Dreyer’s Day of Wrath, in which witchcraft serves as the metaphorical fulcrum for political or moral lessons, where the existence of the supernatural is either completely discounted or irrelevant. These are important, valuable contributions to art, society, and so on. In stark contrast are just the kind of films we’re interested in, wherein the dark forces are definitely real and the only moral lesson is simple: don’t fuck with the occult. Mystics in Bali is a totally one-of-a-kind example of the latter.
Mystics in Bali tells the story of an American researcher (of course) named Cathy, whose boyfriend Mahendra agrees to help her learn the “black magic” of the Leyak. The first lesson begins when they meet the “queen,” whose legendary cackle echoes through the darkness of the jungle; she gives the interlopers only a glimpse of her boil-covered, misshapen face, warning that she will appear to them in many guises.
The first of these occurs during the following night: a long red tongue snakes out from the foliage to tattoo a magical image on Cathy’s bare thigh, marking her – supposedly temporarily – as a member of the cult. From then on Cathy’s body is a tool for the queen, who uses Cathy’s disembodied, flying head (with inner organs attached and swinging below) to suck the unborn from local women’s wombs to replenish the witch’s youth and energy. Mahendra is really bummed about this, particularly after his uncle, a local holy man, explains that Cathy will never be herself again, and that not only must they bury her headless body, they’ll have to do lightning-and-dagger battle with the queen herself.
Directed by auteur H. Tjut Djalil, known – if at all – by most Western moviegoers for his Lady Terminator, Mystics in Bali is a product of the boom in horror and independent cinema in the newly-independent Indonesia of the 80s. The film uses non-actors, stop-motion animation, and a mixture of the amateur and the professional that is truly unique – a combination that cult fans will appreciate.
The stilted performances and shifts in visual quality add to the film’s campy appeal, particularly as it’s clear that no lack in budget or technical skill tempered the filmmakers’ imagination. This finds its best (and nastiest) expression in the fantastic shape-shifting sequences, in which Cathy and the queen transform first into pigs and later into snakes, with all the gruesome, disfigured stages between in disturbing makeup and masks.
Preceded by Cannibal Holocaust (1979), Mystics in Bali is an equally bleak exploration of what happens when white people traipse through the jungle with an air of invincibility and on the pretense of “research.” It provides an interesting comparison with Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), based on anthropologist Wade Davis’ nonfiction account of his encounter with voodoo in Haiti; whereas the later film’s higher budget and famous actors enable the sort of twists and turns intended to replicate the sort of mind fuck a modern nonbeliever experiences in the face of “real” witchcraft, Mystics in Bali is a raw horror romp that embraces its supposed unbelievability to playful, gory effect.
You can find Mystics in Bali streaming free on Archive.org.
For more insight into the best (and worst) of cult horror classics, check past editions of The Deepest Cuts here.