8 Classic Movie Monsters of Philippine Cinema
The '80s was the Golden Age of Philippine horror movies. Despite the limited budget of these movies and questionable special effects, the true stars of the show were the creatures that clawed their way out from the depths of Philippine lower mythology, foreign horror B movies, and local komiks.
Known only to a few back then, the Philippines was already a safe haven for low-budget exploitation horror films from the ‘70s to the ‘80. Titles like Beasts of the Yellow Night, Up from the Depths, and Vampire Hookers were all produced in the country to provide fodder for the drive-inn B movie boom in America. The three main ingredients that these grindhouse staples had were the gratuitous gore, nudity, and the menacing monsters. Acclaimed Filipino Director Eddie Romero was a local pioneer of the genre and he made B movie horror oeuvres such as Beast of Blood and Twilight People, even influencing Quentin Tarantino later on.
Back home, the local horror movie machine was in overdrive and like fake movie blood gushing from a decapitated head, there was a steady stream of memorable movie monsters. Like recurring nightmares, here are some of the most unforgettable creatures to appear in Philippine cinema.
Halimaw sa Banga
From the movie: Halimaw (1986)
Halimaw sa Banga is the second part of the Halimaw double feature. Featuring a young Lotlot de Leon in the lead, the movie gave the audience genuine chills because of the titular monster. The halimaw is an evil witch whose spirit was trapped inside an antique earthen jar during pre-colonial times. In a brief but gruesome sequence, the witch can be seen being crucified to a large piece of rock. As the large nails are driven into her hands and feet, she vows to return one day to exact her revenge. True enough, the witch escapes her confinement and now emerges as a scary wraith with long feral claws. Mysterious tribal chants add to the feel that there’s an ancient terror lurking in the corner.
From the movie: Shake, Rattle & Roll (1984)
Shake, Rattle, and Roll was a milestone for Philippine horror cinema as it introduced an anthology format for the genre. The second episode featured a rather unusual monster, a haunted refrigerator that devours its victims. Directed by film luminary Ishmael Bernal, the Pridyider had a possessed object attacking its victims in a rather sexual manner. Possibly a metaphor for domestic violence, the ref continues to claim more victims until one member of the household, played by Janice de Belen, is rescued just in time by pulling the plug on the fridge. Apparently, it still needed electricity to work.
From the movie: Huwag Mong Buhayin ang Bangkay (1987)
A family drama with a horror twist, Huwag Mong Buhayin ang Bangkay is one of Jestoni Alarcon’s early leading roles where he plays Robertito, a lovestruck man who suffers a fatal accident after finding out that his brother has taken his love interest. Grief stricken, Robertito’s mother starts behaving strangely and refuses to believe that her favorite son is really dead. She starts to do really disturbing things with her son’s corpse such as prop him beside a piano and pretend that he’s playing. Eventually, she ends up making a Faustian pact to resurrect Robertito from the dead. With half of his face rotting, the undead Robertito shows everyone why bringing a corpse back from the dead is a terrible idea.
From the movie: Zuma (1985)
Before leaping to the big screen, Zuma was already a popular komiks character created by Jim Fernandez in the late ‘70s. Looking more like a mythological being than a typical movie monster, Zuma’s imposing muscular body, green skin, and a double-ended Python-like snake appendage on his shoulder registered well on the big screen. As explained in the comics, he has a pretty interesting back story: Zuma is the offspring of a Mayan deity known as Kulkulan, the Feathered Serpent. Zuma has a hunger for human hearts and he hunts for female victims in particular. As a demigod, he is invulnerable to most types of firearms and can even survive being run over by a steamroller. There are a few memorable anti-heroes in Philippine pop culture and Zuma is definitely at the top of that list.
From the movie: Shake, Rattle & Roll 3 (1991)
Appearing in the third episode title “Nanay” in the horror anthology Shake, Rattle & Roll 3, the Undin is a small aquatic cryptid that looks like a hybrid between a small monkey and a reptile. Setting off this environmental tale of terror are a group of students on a field trip beside a lake. One of the students has collected a handful of eggs from an unknown creature and brings it back to their dormitory as a scientific specimen. As it turns out, they’re the eggs of a sea creature known as the Undin. Despite its diminutive appearance, the Undin has razor sharp teeth and spits out flesh-dissolving acid. A few of the dorm inhabitants fall victim to the Undin who will stop at nothing to get her eggs back. After her encounter with the disruptive humans, she returns to the lake where another male Undin awaits.
From the movie: Shake, Rattle & Roll (1984)
Peque Gallaga’s first directorial work on the Shake, Rattle & Roll series gave us the Manananggal episode. Steeped in tales from local folklore, audiences weren’t disappointed with the movie’s depiction of the classic manananggal. Herbert Bautista is Douglas, a young man enamoured by a village lass played by a winsome Irma Alegre. As horror movie twists go, Bistek’s crush turns out to be the flying vampiric terror who victimizes hapless barrio folk. After seeing her separate from her lower torso, Douglas gathers enough courage destroy the monster’s lower half. Dealing with the upper half of the manananggal proves to be a more difficult task but our hero eventually succeeds.
From the movie: Impaktita (1989)
Impaktita is the movie that launched Jean Garcia to stardom. She plays Cita, a woman with a dark secret. She is an aswang, a shape-shifting viscera-eating creature of the night. Her true nature is revealed on the night of her abduction and rape at the hands of notorious gang members. Through the low-tech magic of practical effects, her gruesome transformation into a bat-like creature is shown for the first time. After the fateful incident, she returns to her normal life to become a fashion model. Cita unleashes her aswang alter-ego a few times to kill off the remaining gang members and the occasional peeping tom. She finally gets rid of her aswang half and returns to her normal self after a drawn-out exorcism session.
From the movie: Tiyanak (1988)
The titular tiyanak gets a full movie treatment from the directorial tandem of Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes. A ghoul-like creature that disguises itself as a normal human baby, the tiyanak is found in the forest by a woman who thinks it’s a lost child. After a few minutes, the tiyanak shows its true self and attacks the woman. In the following scenes, the disguised tiyanak ends up being adopted by a woman played by Janice de Belen who has just suffered a miscarriage. With a greenish-grey skin, sharp teeth, and glowing eyes, the tiyanak is a literal enfant terrible. Through the help of a local shaman, the neighborhood kids discover the tiyanak’s weakness and it gets defeated at the end.