The original Indonesian black magic classic, recently remade by Kimo Stamboel…
With Indonesian folk horror riding high with genre fans around the world, now seems a great time to check out some of the country’s earlier black magic shockers and the films which have inspired recent hits like Impetigore, Satan’s Slaves and others. The Queen of Black Magic is very much a key work in this regard, a classic tale of dark sorcery and revenge, recently remade by Kimo Stamboel in 2019 with a script by Indonesian horror head honcho Joko Anwar. Both the 1981 original and the new version are now available to stream on the horror platform Shudder, giving fans a chance to catch them both in a black magic double bill.
Directed by Lilik Sudjio, the film stars Indonesian horror queen Suzzanna as Murni, living in a rural village and in love with a man called Kohar (Alan Nuary), who she plans to marry. Sadly, Kohar turns out to be a heel of the worst kind, and after he finds himself a new bride he convinces the villagers that Murni is a witch, leading them to dispense summary justice by throwing her into a ravine. Murni survives, and is taken in by a sinister sorcerer (W.D. Mochtar), who schools her in the ways of black magic and primes her for revenge. As she wreaks havoc on the villagers, Murni comes to realise the cost of her vengeance, and it becomes clear that the sorcerer is using her for his own evil ends.
The Queen of Black Magic is a markedly different film to Kimo Stamboel’s 2019 version, which is best thought of as a revisioning rather than a remake, and has much more of a traditional revenge narrative, being focused on Murni and playing out from her perspective. Although it’d be a stretch to call the film feminist, it’s very sympathetic to the plight of its protagonist, with Suzzanna excellent in the lead role, making her easy to root for even when taking down her persecutors one by one. The film does have more of a moral message than the Shaw Brothers genre howlers of the time, and though it was pitched in some territories as a third film in the Black Magic franchise, there’s no sleaze or nudity, and the story genuinely seems to be aiming for an air of tragedy rather than just exploitation thrills and titillation.
Of course, most viewers will be here for the gruesome wackiness promised by the film’s reputation, and on this score The Queen of Black Magic certainly doesn’t disappoint. Though the pace is variable, when it comes to wild set pieces Lilik Sudjio really lets rip, with some top-notch gong tau black magic action, from bursting veins through to insect attacks, self-decapitation and other creative death scenes – the film wins extra points for featuring an awesome flying head gong tau sequence which is worth the price of admission alone. Given the period, the effects are rather cheap, though this only adds to the insanity, and there’s considerably more fun to be head watching the black magic brought to life through practical makeup than with modern CGI. While the film isn’t particularly nasty, it does get creatively gruesome, and there’s plenty of blood and body parts thrown around, more than enough to keep the cult crowd happy.
Whether viewers have seen the 2019 version or not, The Queen of Black Magic is well worth checking out, both for fans of Indonesian folk horror and aficionados of far-out cinema in general. Boosted by the presence of Suzzanna and by some great black magic action, the film is well-deserving of its classic status, and hopefully its arrival on Shudder will introduce a new generation to its deranged charms.