Archive for the ‘Comment’ Category

Witney Seibold: The Night of the Hunter

März 23, 2017

In past Free Film School lectures, when it came time to focus on one film in particular (rather than a subgenre or a director’s body of work), it would be a hugely notable classic like Citizen Kane or Vertigo, i.e. legitimate international classics that often grace top-ten lists, and are often taught in film school.

And while great films are, well, great, this week I’d like to offer – as part of a celebration of horror movies – a classic film that is rarely on top-ten lists, and rarely gets the intellectual attention I feel it deserves. This week, we’re going to be looking at one of the best horror movies ever made. This week, we’ll be taking a brief look at Charles Laughton’s 1955 The Night of the Hunter, easily a great American film.

Why is The Night of the Hunter so often neglected by the world’s cinematic intelligentsia? Well, to be sure, it’s not entirely neglected; Roger Ebert famously included it in his long series of Great Movies, and the ever-impressive Criterion Collection has put out a rather impressive DVD and Blu-Ray of it. But it’s rarely thought of in the same thought as heavy hitters like Ikiru or Casablanca. Heck, it usually falls by the wayside even when horror classics are announced, usually supplanted by flicks like Psycho and Peeping Tom.

It must be how… odd… the film is. It’s not a hellbent kind of surreal weirdness (as one would see in, say, the films of David Lynch), but it does seem to take place in a universe that is somewhere just a little off-center. Like Dracula before it, The Night of the Hunter is stagey and theatrical and affected. But, unlike Dracula (which was filmed like a stage production), it’s more certainly coming from a more cinematic place.

It’s one of the earlier melodramas I can think of that actually manages to grasp the rules of cinema, use original material and create an intentionally artificial universe for the action to take place in. A heightened universe, if you will. A place where killers can stalk children, and have it feel less like an evil criminal committing a criminal act, and more like a haunted house some to life.

The film also stars Robert Mitchum, who, despite being an amazing actor, occupies a strange space in the Hollywood firmament. Drawn to scary, off-kilter roles, the handsome Mitchum is better known for playing killers and psychopaths in films like Cape Fear and Out of the Past. Jimmy Stewart he is not. He was, to make a perhaps-inappropriate comparison, the Christopher Walken of his day. Walken is a versatile actor, but most certainly idiosyncratic, often cast as the oddball heavy in quirky films.

The film was dark. It was off-putting. It put children in peril. It drowned a woman. It had some over-the-top biblical preaching, both sincere and ironic. It was part soap opera, part horror film, and even had a bizarre streak of black humor. It was daring. It was clearly the result of a visionary first-time director, trying out some new tools in the toolbox (indeed, it would prove to be the only film Laughton would direct). In 1955, both audiences and critics rejected The Night of the Hunter. It was just too intellectually and aesthetically oblique for most audiences. Not ambitious enough to be surrealism, and certainly not clean enough to be mainstream, it was declared neither fish nor fowl, and the flick went unnoticed.

It’s time to discover it again, my lovelies. Let’s take a look.

The story: Mitchum plays a man named Harry Powell, a self-proclaimed man of God, and legitimate psychopath. He has the words LOVE and HATE tattooed across his knuckles in the film’s most enduring image; the LOVE/HATE tattoos have been imitated numerous times throughout pop culture from The Simpsons to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Powell has a good scam going: He travels the country marrying rich widows, and then murdering them for the small inheritances.

One night he shares a cell with Peter Graves, who tips him off to a soon-to-be local widow (his own wife) who may be sitting on a stolen fortune. Powell soon seeks out Willa Harper (the awesome Shelley Winters) who has two small children (Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce). Willa is a brassy and open woman who, on their wedding night, is stunned and dismayed to learn that Powell will not consummate their marriage. It won’t be long before she’s tied to a car in the bottom of a river.

The scene of Winters dead under the water is one of the indelible images of horror cinema. Powell soon becomes the spooky, wicked stepfather to the orphaned kids, and presses them for the location of this hidden fortune he knows about. The kids know, but they’re sure as heck not telling this guy.

 

Eventually the two children become the main characters of the story, and much of the film is devoted to a dark mirror version of Huckleberry Finn, as the kids flee down the river in a boat, knowing their mother is dead, with the killer in pursuit. They eventually come into the care of a kind of hysterical local lady played by silent film legend Lillian Gish. Eventually Gish and Mitchum must do a sort of battle to protect the children. I will not tell you how the film ends.

Stylized, weird, and scary, The Night of the Hunter is just as good as The Silence of the Lambs, or any other such “thriller” from a later vintage.

The Night of the Hunter, in addition to being initially rejected for its oddness was also plagued with several production troubles. Laughton, for one, had trouble dealing with the two children, giving a lot of their direction to Mitchum who was, ironically, much more comfortable with the kids. The screenplay is credited to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and important film critic James Agee (who may warrant a Free Film School article himself), who, by 1955, was nearing the end of his life, and was a hopeless drunk. Rumors have circulated that Agee wrote a draft, which was pretty much changed entirely by another author, perhaps Laughton.

What’s more, Charles Laughton was already a respected actor, having played in roles as diverse as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Island of Lost Souls (1932), and dozens of others. He would go on to play a notable role in Stanley Kubrick’s awesome and clunky 1960 epic Spartacus. I have not been able to find any reason as to why he wanted to try his hand at directing. Perhaps the muse merely struck. An acerbic and striking actor of notable girth, Laughton proved to be a formidable presence. Perhaps his well-known screen personae worked against him. Audiences likely expected Laughton to make the kind of film he would himself star in, and not the dark Normal Rockwell painting he presented. Maybe audiences wanted an historical epic. What they got was an American classic that went unrecognized.

Make no mistake; The Night of the Hunter is an American classic. It broke new ground in terms of cinematic aesthetics, and is undeniably scary. In terms of its sheer cinematic strength, it’s just lovely to look at. The film was shot by the same cinematographer who shot The Magnificent Ambersons, and it’s full of stark expressionistic shadows. There’s one shot in particular that many remember well: Mitchum is standing at the top of a staircase calling to the children. This shadowy shot of a darkened boogieman has been reused literally hundreds of times in subsequent horror films. To audiences who were raised on a steady diet of thrillers and horror movies, this kind of shot is usual and expected. But imagine sitting in a theater in 1955, and seeing something like that for the first time. How odd, how off-putting, how terrifying it must have been.

And that tone. That marvelous asymmetrical tone. Picture, if you will, being raised on movies like Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House, or the squarer film of Frank Capra. Now imagine a film that feels like Tim Burton had merged with John Huston, and went back in time to make a horror movie for grown-ups, but featured children. That might give you an idea of the minor firestorm that The Night of the Hunter set off. Not boldly expressionistic, but definitely not realistic, The Night of the Hunter occupied, as I said, that weird aesthetic middle ground that movies had not yet traversed.

In a way, this bold tonal creation is the film’s most significant contribution to the world of cinema. You may find that most films these days, especially summer blockbusters, are fantasy and sci-fi films that are laden with superpowered beings and magical worlds. These films rarely take place in the “real” world, usually opting to alter the universe in a subtle way, allowing for the fantastical to exist. Take a look at the recent Batman movies. Gotham City may look realistic, and it may purport to be a real world, but the city itself is a little too over-designed, a little too futuristic, a little too expressionistic to be possible. The important thing about the new Gotham City is that it’s the kind of world that’s capable of containing a Batman.

The Night of the Hunter contains a ghoulish and amazing character in “Rev.” Harry Powell, who is one of the great creations of genre cinema. Laughton, perhaps sensing that the character would be too brutal or sensationalistic if place in the real world, decided to make this film in a slightly bent fashion. He remade the world to fit this demonic preacher. Sure, many films remade the world in the past; a lot of German horror films from the 1920s were near-surreal dreamscapes of bent and expressionistic imagery. Indeed, many musicals take place in a parallel universe wherein people all seem to know lyrics and choreography spontaneously. This is the very nature of melodrama. But those films were joyously and openly artificial; they reveled in cinema’s ability to create a false world. The Night of the Hunter was the first to really strike this notion in such a subtle way. All melodramas that followed could be seen as spiritual successors.

All this intellectualizing would be moot, however, if The Night of the Hunter was not a great film as well. It is. Any modern teen, however jaded and inexperienced with movies, can sit in front of this and be quietly blown away.

In more recent years, the film has finally received the recognition that eluded it back in 1955. Powell is now often seen on top-ten lists of cinema’s scariest villains. AFI now has it in some of its famous top-100 lists. As I said, Criterion gave it the star treatment, and it’s even included in the famously populist IMDb top-250, which tends to honor recent action films over old classics (although it is listed at a relatively low 173, in between Million Dollar Baby and Donnie Darko). This film is one of many examples that teach us how films that are rejected and pilloried and even poorly reviewed upon their initial release can still grow to be classics. In the case of The Night of the Hunter, I think it was just ahead of its time.

An odd horror film made by an actor, directing the only time in his career, and rejected by audiences. Now yours for the chills. Go for it.

Penanggalan

März 9, 2017

To start off with a relatively „mainstream“ freak of folklore, the Penanggalan is still quite famous in its homeland …

So what exactly is a Penanggalan? The name translates literally as „head with dancing entrails“, and little more physical description should be necessary. Sometimes shown trailing an entire set of viscera or even a spinal cord, the traditional Penanggalan consists solely of woman’s head and digestive tract, floating through the air like some bloody, dripping jellyfish. Though capable of preying on any living being, the Penanggalan is particularly attracted to the blood of infants…even those still nestled in their mother’s womb.

In many stories, the Penanggalan appears as a normal, living woman during the day. Each night, she exits her body and hides the headless shell in a trunk, closet or cave. Unfortunately, her intestines will not fit back inside her torso until they have been soaked in a tub of vinegar; the smell of which can sometimes betray her secret.

Despite the fact that they still possess heads, Penanggala are presumably boneless and can enter a home through the tiniest crack in the woodwork. For obvious reasons, they fear only brambles and other prickly entanglements . (Jonathan Wojcik)

Penanggalan – Wikipedia

März 9, 2017

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The Penanggalan or ‚Hantu Penanggal‘ is a ghost of Southeast Asian folk mythology. It is a variation of the vampire myth found in the Malay Peninsula, or as Balan-balan in Sabah. It is similar to the Manananggal, a similar creature of Filipino folklore. „Penanggal“ or „Penanggalan“ literally means „detach“ or „remove“. Both terms—Manananggal and Penanggal—may carry the same meaning due to both languages being grouped or having a common root under the Austronesian language family, though the two creatures are culturally distinct in appearance and behavior.

There are similar myths of creatures with almost exactly the same features. Among ethnic groups in Indonesia, the ghost is called Leyak among the Balinese, Kuyang by the Dayak people of Kalimantan, or Palasik (or Pelesit) by the Minangkabau people. In Thailand it is called the Krasue, in Laos it is the Kasu or Phi-Kasu and in Cambodia it is the Ap.

According to the folklore of that region, the Penanggalan is a detached female head capable of flying about on its own. As it flies, the stomach and entrails dangle below it, and these organs twinkle like fireflies as the Penanggalan moves through the night.

Due to the common theme of Penanggal being the result of active use of black magic or supernatural means, a Penanggal cannot be readily classified as a classical undead being. The creature is, for all intents and purposes, a living human being during daytime (much like the Japanese Nukekubi) or at any time when it does not detach itself from its body.

 

Contents

Nature

Penanggalan

In Malaysian folklore, a Penanggal may be either a beautiful old or young woman who obtained her beauty through the active use of black magic, supernatural, mystical, or paranormal means which are most commonly described in local folklores to be dark or demonic in nature. Another cause where one becomes a Penanggal in Malaysian folklore is due to the result of a powerful curse or the actions of a demonic force, although this method is less common than the active use of black magic mentioned above. Penanggalan was also being mentioned in Hikayat Abdullah, written in 1845, much to the amusement of Sir Stamford Raffles.[1]

The Penanggalan is usually a female midwife who has made a pact with the devil to gain supernatural powers. It is said that the midwife has broken a stipulation in the pact not to eat meat for 40 days; having broken the pact she has been forever cursed to become a bloodsucking vampire/demon. The midwife keeps a vat of vinegar in her house. After detaching her head and flying around in the night looking for blood the Penanggalan will come home and immerse her entrails in the vat of vinegar in order to shrink them for easy entry back into her body.

One version of the tale states that the Penanggal was once a beautiful woman or priestess, who was taking a ritual bath in a tub that once held vinegar. While bathing herself and in a state of concentration or meditation, a man entered the room without warning and startled her. The woman was so shocked that she jerked her head up to look, moving so quickly as to sever her head from her body, her organs and entrails pulling out of the neck opening. Enraged by what the man had done, she flew after him, a vicious head trailing organs and dripping venom. Her empty body was left behind in the vat. The Penanggal, thus, is said to carry an odor of vinegar with her wherever she flies, and returns to her body during the daytime, often posing as an ordinary mortal woman. However, a Penanggal can always be told from an ordinary woman by that odor of vinegar.

It is also considered to be woman that died from childbirth.

Victims

The Penanggalan’s victims are traditionally pregnant women and young children. Like a banshee who appears at a birth rather than a death, the Penanggalan perches on the roofs of houses where women are in labour, screeching when the child is born. The Penanggalan will insert a long invisible tongue into the house to lap up the blood of the new mother. Those whose blood the Penanggalan feeds upon contract a wasting disease that is almost inescapably fatal. Furthermore, even if the penanggalan is not successful in her attempt to feed, anyone who is brushed by the dripping entrails will suffer painful open sores that won’t heal without a bomoh’s help.

A Penanggal is said to feed on human blood or human flesh although local folklore (including its variations) commonly agrees that a Penanggal prefers the blood of a newborn infant, the blood of woman who recently gave birth or the placenta (which is devoured by the Penanggal after it is buried). All folktales also agree that a Penanggal flies as it searches and lands to feed. One variation of the folklore however claims that a Penanggal is able to pass through walls. Other, perhaps more chilling, descriptions say that the Penanggal can ooze up through the cracks in the floorboards of a house, rising up into the room where an infant or woman is sleeping. Sometimes they are depicted as able to move their intestines like tentacles.

Protection and remedies

The most common remedy prescribed in Malaysian folklore to protect against a Penanggal attack is to scatter the thorny leaves of any of the subspecies of a local plant known as Mengkuang, which has sharp thorny leaves and would either trap or injure the exposed lungs, stomach and intestines of the Penanggal as it flies in search of its prey. These thorns, on the vine, can also be looped around the windows of a house in order to snare the trailing organs. This is commonly done when a woman has just given birth. However, this practice will not protect the infant if the Penanggal decides to pass through the floorboards. In some instances, it is said that months before birth, family members of the pregnant women would plant pineapples under the house (traditional Malay houses are built on stilts and thus have a lot of room underneath). The prickly fruit and leaves of the pineapple would deter the penanggalan from entering through the floorboards. Once trapped, a Penanggalan who attacks the house can then be killed with parangs or machetes. As an extra precaution, the pregnant woman can keep scissors or betel nut cutters under her pillow, as the Penanggalan is afraid of these items.

Midwives who become Penanggalans at night appear as normal women in the daytime. They, however, can be identified as Penanggalans by the way they behave. When meeting people they will usually avoid eye contact and when performing their midwife duties they may be seen licking their lips, as if relishing the thought of feeding on the pregnant woman’s blood when night comes. The men should find out where the Penanggalan lives. Once the Penanggal leaves its body and is safely away, it may be permanently destroyed by either pouring pieces of broken glass into the empty neck cavity, which will sever the internal organs of the Penanggal when it reattaches to the body; or by sanctifying the body and then destroying it by cremation or by somehow denying the Penanggal from reattaching to its body upon sunrise.

Another non-lethal way to get rid of penanggalan is to turn over the body, so that when the head attached back it will be attached reverse side, thereby revealing to everyone what she really is.[2][3]

Differences from Manananggal

Unlike Manananggal, all Penanggal are females and there is no variation in Malaysian folklore to suggest a Penanggal to be male. Another notable difference between a Penanggal and Manananggal is that a Penanggal detaches only her head with her lungs, stomach and intestines attached while leaving the body before coming back and soaking her innards in a prepared container filled with vinegar to fit back into the body. Additionally, unlike the Manananggal which uses a proboscis-like tongue, a Penanggal is commonly depicted as having fangs. The number of fangs varies from one region to another, ranging from two like the Western vampire to a mouthful of fangs.

Penanggalan – Frank Ashley

März 9, 2017

 

During the day the Penanggalan will appear as a normal woman, but when darkness falls her head will detach from the body, trailing her internal organs behind her, as she hunts for food.

The Penanggalan will seek the homes of pregnant women, waiting for their child to come into the world, then she will strike with a long, invisible tongue, to feed on the blood of the newborn and the mother.


Next time you or someone close to you is pregnant, keep a close eye on the midwife. If she smells of vinegar this can be a bad sign. If after you have given birth the midwife’s detached head and entrails visit you in the night, to feed on you or your newborns blood, well you have got yourself a problem – a Penanggalan is paying a visit.

The Penanggalan is a type of vampire written and spoken of in Malaysian folklore. It is a woman who has made a ritual pact to gain supernatural powers. The pact itself is not what creates a Penanggalan but rather the breaking of said pact. For the woman to receive these powers she makes several promises, one of these promises is that she will not eat meat for forty days, and if this rule is broken she will become the cursed vampiric creature.

During the day she will appear as a normal living person but when darkness falls her head will detach from the body, trailing all of her internal organs behind her, as she seeks out food. She will wait near the houses of pregnant women for their newborns to come into the world, then she will strike. She will either herself enter the building if possible or will insert her long, invisible tongue through a window, door or a crack in the roof, and will feed on the blood of the newborn and the mother. The Penanggalan will not just take the blood but also the flesh if possible.

Those who a Penanggalan have fed on (and survived) will suffer from a wasting disease that only a Bomoh (shaman) can cure.

Before sunrise the Penanggalan will return to its hollow body. Before resuming its human guise it will soak its trailing organs in a vat of vinegar that it keeps in its home – this both cleans and shrinks them making for a much easier entry through the open neck.

Due to its preferred food a Penanggalan will seek out work as a midwife or any other job that will bring her closer to pregnant women and newborn children.

There are several ways to protect oneself from a Penanggalan and most of these take the form of hanging thorny vines and leaves around doorways and windows. This is said to ensnare the trailing entrails of the Penanggalan, leaving it an easy target for a machete or other sharp weapon.

If you happen across the hollowed out body of a Penanggalan you can fill it with broken glass which will cause the internal organs to rupture when they return home, killing the creature.

(Several people and cultures in the region have their own versions and some with different names.)

Penanggalan – From Montague Summers, `The Vampire´

März 9, 2017

 

A belief in Vampires is very firmly established among the Malays of the Peninsula, and there are a number of magic rites which must be performed to protect both women and children.“ Probably the spirit most resembling a European Vampire is the Penanggalan, which is supposed to resemble a trunkless human head with the sac of the stomach attached thereto, and which flies about seeking an opportunity of sucking the blood of infants. There are, however, other spectres which are dangerous to children. There is the Bajang, which generally takes the form of a polecat, and disturbs the household by mewing like a huge eat. The Langsuir is seen as an owl with hideous claws which perches and hoots in a most melancholy way upon the roof, Her daughter, a still-born child, is the Pontianak or Madi-anak, who is also a night-owl. The Polong is a kind of goblin, and the Pelesit corresponds most closely to the familiar of the English witches…

The Penanggalan is a sort of monstrous Vampire who delights in killing young children. One legend says that long ago in order to perform a religious penance (dudok bertapa) a woman was seated in one of the large wooden vats which are used by the Malays for holding the vinegar which proceeds from draining off the sap of the thatch-palm (menyadap nipah). Quite unexpectedly a man came along, and finding her seated there, asked: „What are you doing here?“ She replied very shortly: „What business is that of yours?“ But being very much startled, she leaped up and in the excitement of the moment kicked her own chin with such force that the skin split all round her neck and her head with the sac of the stomach hanging to it actually became separated from the body, and flew off to perch upon the nearest tree. Ever since that time she has existed as a malign and dangerous spirit, brooding over the house, screeching (mengilai) whenever a child is born, or trying to force her way up through the floor in order to drain its blood.

Among the Karens of Burma we meet with the Kephn, a demon which under the form of a wizard’s head and a stomach attached devours human souls.

Mr. Hugh Clifford in his study In Court and Kampong, London, 1897, speaks of „The Penangal, that horrible wraith of a woman who has died in child-birth, and who comes to torment small children in the guise of a fearful face and bust, with many feet of bloody, trailing entrails in her wake.“

The following description which is almost entirely parallel to that of the most deadly European Vampires is quoted by Dr. Skeat in his Malay Magic, London, 1900, p. 328, n.1.:

„He“ (Mr. M.) said, „Very well then, tell me about the penanggalan only, I should like to hear it and write it down in English so that Europeans may know how foolish those persons are who believe in such things.“ I then drew a picture representing a woman’s bead and neck only, with the intestines hanging down. Mr. M, caused this to be engraved on wood by a Chinese, and inserted it with the story belonging to it in a publication called the Anglo-Chinese Gleaner. And I said, „Sir, listen to the account of the penanggalan. It was originally a woman. She used the magic arts of a devil in whom she believed, and she devoted herself to his service night and day until the period of her agreement with her teacher had expired and she was able to fly. Her head and neck were then loosened from the body, the intestines being attached to them, and hanging down in strings. The body remained where it was. Wherever the person whom it wished to injure happened to live, thither flew the head and bowels to suck his blood, and the person whose blood was sucked was sure to die. If the blood and water which dripped from the intestines touched any person, serious illness followed and his body broke out in open sores. The penanggalan likes to suck the blood of women in child-birth. For this reason it is customary at all houses where a birth occurs to hang up jeruju [a kind of thistle] leaves at the doors and windows, or to place thorns wherever there is any blood, lest the penanggalan should come and suck it, for the penanggalan has, it seems, a dread of thorns in which her intestines may happen to get caught. It is said that a penanggalan once came to a man’s house in the middle of the night to suck his blood, and her intestines were caught in some thorns near the hedge, and she had to remain there until daylight, when the people saw and killed her.

„The person who has the power of becoming a penanggalan always keeps at her house a quantity of vinegar in a jar or vessel of some kind. The use of this is to soak the intestines in, for when they issue forth from the body they immediately swell up and cannot be put back, but after being soaked in vinegar they shrink to their former size and enter the body again. There are many people who have seen the penanggalan flying along with its entrails dangling down and shining at night like fire-flies.

„Such is the story of the penanggalan as I have heard it from my forefathers but I do not believe it in the least. God forbid that I should.“ (Hikayat Abdullah, p. 143.)

Penanggalen

März 9, 2017

(from R.O. Winstedt: Shaman, Saiva, and Sufi: a Study of Malay Magic, London 1928)

Another spirit (Penanggalan) which sucks the blood of those in child-bed, consists of a woman’s head and neck with trailing viscera, which shine at night like fire-flies. If she sucks the blood of woman or child, death follows. The lights of a hill in Perak called Changkat Asah, lights described in that most readable book on the Peninsula, George Maxwell’s In Malay Forests, are thought by the superstitious to be troops of these shining ones.

(from `Facts and Details´: Ghost and Folk Beliefs in Malaysia)

The penanggalan is a flying head with its disembodied stomach sac dangling below. Another type of female vampire, it is attracted to the blood of newborn infants and uses entrails trailing behind her head to grasp her victims There are several stories of her origins. One is that she was a woman who was sitting meditating in a large wooden vat used for making vinegar when she was so startled that her head jumped up from her body, pulling her entrails with it. Another has her as a normal woman during the day, whose head and entrails leave her body at night. If a baby is expected, branches from a type of thistle are placed around the doors or windows to protect the house, since her entrails will be caught by the thorns.

The penanggalan is known in Thai as krasue and a similar Philippine ghost called the manananggal which preys on pregnant women with an elongated proboscis-like tongue. The manananggal is spirit of an older, beautiful woman capable of severing its upper torso to fly into the night with huge bat wings to prey on unsuspecting pregnant women in their homes. The hantu kum-kum is the ghost of an old woman who sucks the blood of virgin girls to regain her youth.

(from Peter James Begbie, The Malayan Peninsula; embracing its history, manners and customs of the inhabitants, etc., 1864)

„… A very great belief in demonology and witchcraft characterizes the Malays of every country… their belief in magic and evil spirits ceases to create surprize. Two of their most dreaded enemies of the latter class are respectively denominated Polong, and Penanggalan… The Penanggalan is a species of evil spirit, which takes up its abode in the human body, and, so fas as can be ascertained, in women only. The Penanggalan is a servant of Satan, and practises sorcery. When it wishes to go abroad, the head and neck with the intestines are detached from the body, and the Penanggalan flies forth in pursuit of its object, with the hair loose and streaming in the wind, whilst the unsightly intestines swing to and fro in its course. The food of this creature is as disgusting as its appearance, consisting of the blood either of dead men, or living enemies, and other substances too gross to be named to `ears polite´.

The Malays state that a man had two wives, the one black and the other white, who were both Penanggalans. He was informed of the circumstance, but scarcely credited it. In order to ascertain the fact, he feigned a journey of some days, and the women, believing him to have left the house, departed on a Penanggalan trip, leaving their bodies behind. These the husband changed, putting the body of the black one in the place of the white and vice versa. On the return of the women, with their entrails amazingly swollen from their foul banquet, each entered a jar of vinegar in order to diminish their size, and then re-animated the bodies, but, unknown to themselves, effected an exchange, the white one entering the black body, and the black one the other, as they had not remarked the substitution. The husband, coming in, said `Ha! what is this? The head and neck are black, and the body white, and the other is black with a white head and neck?´He reported the circumstance to the king who ordered them both to be put to death.“

The Penanggalan – From William George Maxwell, `In Malay Forests´(1907)

März 9, 2017

 

 

… if by chance any of the awful eagle-owls scream – uttering an ear-piercing yell, like that of a woman suddenly seized and tortured – the nerves of the man are strong who can repress a shudder, and the Malay would be rare who would not think that it was connected in some way with the forest spirits …

The lights of the valley below us twinkled brightly. We could see the outline of the village streets, the police-station, and my quarters, while little specks of light marked the scattered houses up and down the river banks (…) The moon was in its last quarter, and would not rise until past midnight. So we sat lonely on our peak waiting for the hours to pass. Suddenly I saw two lights far up the Bernam valley hurrying down towards the village. „Fight among the Chinese in the mines“, was my comment; „and here are two men coming down to the police-station to make a report.“ We watched the progress of the two lights down the valley, seeing them pass the miniature blaze that marked my quarters and go on towards the police-station on the river-bank. Then in an instant the two lights flew up into the air, and rushed straight at us. So fast did they fly, and so directly did they aim at us, that, before we could realise that they were not the lamps of Chinese miners clamouring far below us outside the distant police-station, two great balls of light sped by within fifty feet of us. To say that we were frightened is to put it lightly. I gave a gasp, and but for the support at my shoulders would, I believe, have fallen backwards out of my seat. The suddenness of the assault was overwhelming. From our lonely eminence we had watched the lights making their way down the valley, my interest tempered with thoughts of the court case they might portend for the next morning; and in a second, even as we watched them, the tiny lights had turned to fiery globes of the size of a man´s head, and their speed had become almost that of a cannon-ball. However, as our visitors passed us, we saw that they were natural phenomena, and either chemical gases or electrid fluids – that is to say, they were either of the nature of a Will-ó-the-wisp of of a St Elmo´s light.

These two lights seemed to us have arisen from the marshes above the village. Thence they were gently borne by currents of air down to the river-bank, where they were caught by the night breeze and carried up to where we sat. Soon after several more came drifting down from both sides of the valley towards the river-bank, and all, as they reached it, were seized and whirled by the wind in all directions. Before long there were over a hundred to be seen. The wind was fickle and variable, and sometimes a dozen of these balls of light, which were now all round us, would fly down the river together and meet others floating lazily by: they would play round one another as if in doubt which way to take, and then a current of air would come eddying round the hill and catch them up and hurry them out of sight. When the wind dropped and there was perfect calm, six or eight would rise, moving in and out among one another as if in some game, and mount up through the air, playing and dancing until they became small bright specks, then slowly sink, revolving and interlacing, until again a breeze would spring up and send them flying helter-skelter up or down the river.

We noticed that the lights as they moved were not quite round, but slightly pear-shaped. Thus one rising would have a tapering tail below it, making its outline something like that of a balloon with a car, and one falling would have the tail above it. I imagine that this shape is caused by the pressure of the air upon the moving body. Thinking of this curious shape, I realised what we were watching. The dancing and flying lights were the spooks known as penanggal. The Malays believe that sometimes when a woman dies in childbirth she becomes a penanggal, and that at night her head, with a short part of an entrail, breaks from the grave and flies through the country, flame-coloured and with open mouth, to suck the blood and life of any man who may fall within its power. „That which is detached“, is the literal meaning of the word. The head with its gruesome appendage can only detach itself at night-time, and must return to the grave before daybreak; and if it should lose its way, or become caught in any thicket so that it is overtaken by the light of day, there is an end of it. It falls to the ground or remains held by the thorns, and the passer-by sees it there – no longer luminous and nebulous as at night-time, but in the materialised form of the head of the woman that had been. It was, I have said, the peculiar shape of these balls of fire that made it flash upon me that they were the penanggal, and we could then understand the terrors of Baginda Sutan when he found himself alone on the hill – known and feared by all as the home of spooks and devils – and saw himself surrounded by numbers of these unholy phantoms. What was really a wonderful and beautiful sight meant to him a diabolic orgie at the meeting-house of the spirits; and he must have looked upon himself as lost and doomed to a lingering death amongst these horrible graveyard ghouls.“

Vincent Price roasts Bette Davis

März 6, 2017

Peter Ustinov does Charles Laughton Impressions (note 7:58 – 12:20)

März 6, 2017

Brendan Behan on Camera

März 6, 2017