• Aswang (Mondo Macabro) DVD Review

    Released by: Mondo Macabro
    Released on: September 2nd, 2003.
    Director: Wrye Martin, Barry Poltermann
    Cast: Norman Moses, Tina Ona Paukstelis, John Kishline, Flora Coker, Victor Delorenzo
    Year: 1992
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    Aswang - Movie Review:

    An Aswang (pronounced closer to ‘Oz-Wong’, rather than ‘Ass Wang’ which is how I was saying it before I saw the movie) is a kind of Filipino vampire that eats unborn babies. Weird, huh? Even weirder is the fact that a movie was made about an Aswang in the American Midwest. Weirder still is the fact that the first time, no budget filmmakers actually made the movie work on some primal and inexplicable level.

    As to what this movie is all about? Kat is fairly well along in her unwanted pregnancy when we find her accepting an offer from a well to do land owner who pays her to act as his bride. He does this so that he can pretend to have an heir in order to claim his share of the family wealth. In exchange for her help, and for keeping her mouth shut about all of this, Peter Null, the man who needs her services, will pay her a healthy sum, but she also has to offer up her baby to Peter once it’s born.

    Shortly after, Peter takes her to his family home where she’s introduced to his mother, and their housekeeper. When Peter and Kat go for a walk around the grounds one night after dinner, they run into a doctor named Harper. The good doctor has recently happened upon a few tiny skulls that he’s discovered on the Null property. Peter wants Harper off his land immediately but Kat convinces them that Harper should come over for dinner. When he does, Peter shows him around the house and makes a point of showing him an old painting of an Aswang, explaining that his family has Filipino roots. His family also has a secret in the form of Peter’s insane sister, who lives in a guesthouse out in the woods.

    Shortly after, we find Dr. Harper attacked by a giant elongated tongue, and from here on in Kat is in way over her head as the skeletons in the Null family closet are brought to the forefront and the life of she and her baby are in serious danger.

    A relatively obscure picture, Aswang was released in a slightly trimmed version onto the home video market as The Unearthing. It’s too bad it didn’t get more recognition at the time, because it’s an ambitious and interesting little low budget shocker. The easiest comparison is Mystics In Bali meets the first Evil Dead film, but there are other influences at play here too, including the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and maybe even a little Friday The 13th thrown in as well. And while it may be a little predictable (if you pay attention, you’ll see where it’s going early on) and not the best acted of horror movies, it works on a base level with some impressive set pieces, appropriately eerie atmosphere and solid direction.

    Aswang - DVD Review:

    While the film is presented in an anamorphic widescreen 1.85.1 transfer, unfortunately it’s quite muddy looking with a bit of print damage that you wouldn’t expect to see on a film made in 1992. The low budget conditions and 16mm film stock though do shine through. That being said, there are no compression issues or edge enhancement problems and it’s all very watchable. But with the source materials being what they are, it doesn’t look perfect.

    Viewers are given the choice of a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track or a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. The 5.1 track is pretty aggressive in a few spots and the sound effects do stifle some of the dialogue. For that reason, the 2.0 track is slightly more preferable, as it sounds a bit more balanced and the dialogue comes through with a bit more clarity. It’s not that the 5.1 track is bad, because it’s not, it’s just that in a few scenes you can’t hear the actors over the noises zipping around in the soundmix.

    There's a nice selection of extras here. There are two commentary tracks on the disc. The first one features Wrye Martin and Barry Polterman, the two co-directors, which is moderated by Pete Tombs. The second track features three of the actors from the film: Norman Moses, Tina Paukstelis and John Kishline. Both tracks are worth a listen if you have the time, as understanding the trials and tribulations of actually getting the film made in the first place will give you a better appreciation of the final product.

    Also included are three separate trailers. The first one features a totally different cast and different scenes and was created to get funding for the feature. Interesting to see it here and compare it with the final product. There is also a trailer for the final version of Aswang and one for the retitled version of the film, The Unearthing. There is also a making of documentary entitled Different Than Hollywood, which runs about twenty-seven minutes and features some keen behind the scenes footages, interview footage, and a few other items of interest.

    Finally, there is a longish deleted scene that was never filmed included by having John Kishline reading the script over top of some graphics. It’s a shame that this scene wasn’t ever filmed as it would have fleshed out his character a bit more. Some audition footage and a stills gallery are also included on the disc, as well.

    Aswang - The Final Word:

    Mondo Macabro rescues another gem from obscurity. The movie isn’t perfect, but if you can look past its low budget, it’s a fast moving and engaging little movie with some nice twists, even if it is a bit predictable in the long run.