The original Indonesian horror classic, recently remade by Joko Anwar…
Originally released back in 1980, Satan’s Slave has come to be recognised as one of the key Indonesian horrors of the 1970s and 80s, and was a huge domestic hit which influenced a number of other films and filmmakers. One director who the film had a major impact on was Joko Anwar, who remade it as Satan’s Slaves in 2017, which in turn was a box office smash in Indonesia, as well as doing well on the international festival circuit and being picked up by the streaming platform Shudder. The success of Anwar’s film (which works both as remake and prequel) effectively launched the recent Indonesian folk horror wave, which included another remake in Kimo Stamboel’s new version of the classic The Queen of Black Magic.
Directed by Sisworo Gautama Putra, Satan’s Slave opens with a family in mourning for the loss of wife and mother Mawarti, who died suddenly from a strange illness. While the husband Munarto (W.D. Mochtar) throws himself into his business, the two children deal with it in different ways, daughter Rita (Siska Widowati) going out partying with her boyfriend Herman (Simon Cader), and younger son Tomi (Fachrul Rozy) acting bizarrely and claiming to be seeing his mother’s ghost. After they start to suspect that creepy new housekeeper Darminah is up to no good, Rita and Tomi turn to a Shaman to help them, though events soon take a turn for the sinister.
Despite its lurid title, Satan’s Slave is very different to other Indonesian horrors of the period, which like The Queen of Black Magic tended to be wilder and wackier affairs in the vein of the Shaw Brothers black magic shlockers. Instead, Sisworo Gautama Putra takes a surprisingly understated approach for much of the film, with a more contemporary feel and a slow-burn atmosphere that builds gradually towards last act revelations and ghoulishness. Although this might disappoint some viewers looking for gong tau flying heads and insect curses, it works very well, and the film has an engaging sense of the ominous as it descends into the surreal and occult. Of particular interest is the fact that the film can be seen as a rare example of Islamic horror, with a Muslim take on the usual Christian and Catholic themes – though this effectively amounts to familiar scenes of possession and the supernatural, it makes a nice change from the usual crucifixes and exorcisms. The film does come with a strong moral message, with the family essentially being portrayed as vulnerable to evil due to not sticking to their faith, though Sisworo thankfully never lets things get too heavy-handed or preachy.
When the horror comes, Satan’s Slave does pack a punch, and though made on a low budget and with limited effects, it works in some impressively creepy scenes later on, and is reasonably gory for the time – the film was pitched at the time as an Indonesian take on Don Coscarelli’s classic Phantasm, and there are some similarities, as well as nods other western genre films. Sisworo’s direction is solid, with some interesting use of colour and sets, and he gives the film a gothic feel in places, though the mood early is frequently interrupted by cliched jump scares which inevitably turn out to be false alarms – while this might have worked for audiences back in the early 80s, these now add a few odd moments of unintentional humour that verge on the camp.
This only really adds to the entertainment value of Satan’s Slave, and though very much a product of its time, it’s very much worth catching, and would make a great double bill with Joko Anwar’s remake. A fascinating watch for its role in shaping contemporary Indonesian horror, the film is also interesting for its Islamic themes, as well as being a well-crafted and unnerving slice of genre fun in its own right.
Satan’s Slave is available from Severin Films on region free Blu-Ray and DVD. Join us every Thursday for the latest in James’ #cineXtremes series.
Home media details
Distributor: Severin Films (US)
Edition: Blu-ray (2020)
The Severin release includes:
- Satan’s Box Office: Interview with Producer Gope T. Samtani, in which he discusses the history of Indonesian film industry and his work with Rapi Films.
- Indonesian Atmosphere: Interview with Screenwriter Imam Tantowi, offering insight into the writing and making-off process.
- Satan’s Slave Obsession: Audio Interview with Remake Director Joko Anwar, with Anwar sharing his love for the film and the reasons for wanting to remake it.
- Short Films Inspired By SATAN’S SLAVE by Remake Director Joko Anwar: Jenny (2016)/Don’t Blink (2016)