Aswang: Director's Cut DVD Review

 

Review written by Daniel Benson

 

DVD released by Mondo Macabro

 

 

Written and directed by Barry Poltermann & Wrye Martin
1994, Region 0 (NTSC), 82 Minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on September 2nd, 2003

 

Starring:
Norman Moses as Peter Null
Tina Ona Paukstelis as Katrina
John Kishline as Dr Harper
Flora Coker as Olive Null
Victor Delorenzo as Sheriff
Mildred Nierras as Cupid

 

 

Movie:

 

"Aswang (os~wong): A Filipino Vampire who feeds on the unborn. The fetus will likely die, although some survive to become Aswang themselves."

 

Had Katrina (Tina Ona Paukstelis) known the legend of the Aswang, perhaps she wouldn't have agreed to give birth on behalf of a rich couple who claim not to be able to have a child of their own to become heir to the family fortune. She also would've thought twice about moving in, at over seven months pregnant, to their isolated mansion in the middle of an undisclosed rural expanse.

 

At the first evening's dinner, Katrina is overfond of the home made cider served up by the curiously named Cupid, the Filipino housekeeper played by Mildred Nierras. Her intoxication leads to a vivid and disturbing nightmare in which she catches a glimpse of the horror which is inevitable if she remains part of the eccentric family unit.

 

At the same time Dr. Harper (John Kishline), holidaying in a woodland cabin nearby, is curiously perturbed by his discovery of several tiny, dessicated bodies unearthed near the Null family mansion. His suspicions are aroused further when Peter Null (Norman Moses) recounts memories of his childhood in the Philipines and shows him the chilling portrait of the Aswang which adorns his study wall. After returning to his forest retreat, he realises the predicament Katrina has put herself in and returns to try to liberate her from the clutches of the Null family.

 

 

Review:

 

Originally released by Prism as The Unearthing in a slightly cut version, Aswang first became a cult favourite at the Sundance Film Festival after shooting wrapped in Milwaukee. Mondo Macabro have restored the previously cut footage and produced this DVD under the original title. The only downside is, it's not that great a movie. It's not that it does anything wrong in particular, it just doesn't do much, for me, at all. It's fairly predictable, and the twist at the end is so well signposted, you could find your way to it blindfolded on the foggiest day of the year.

 

The story of the Aswang is a great concept for a movie and hats off to the writers for exploiting the legend. The actors all deliver sterling performances for complete unknowns, even the hungover bartender who plays the lawyer at the start of the movie, as he shuffles the 'contract' (actually the script, as he was so bad at remembering his lines) around his desk. Outside the lawyer's office, the movie takes place entirely on location in and around the impressive mansion used as the Null residence.

 

Inevitably, any movie which features a cabin in the woods will be compared to the Evil Dead movies, and this is no exception. Whether intentional or not, the 'within the woods' sequences borrow heavily from Sam Raimi's classic. The sequence where Dr Harper walks back to his cabin after dinner with the Nulls even employs the 'evil force in the woods' camera technique made famous by Raimi. And of course, the cabin that provides Dr Harper with his holiday lodgings is almost a carbon copy of the one we all know and love.

 

The special effects are very acomplished for the era. Although not an FX heavy movie, what is used works well and is extremely realistic. The buried body of the previously fed on, unborn fetus is a skillful piece of creativity that any make-up artist would be proud to include in their resumé. The only effect which was lacking, was the Aswang proboscis as it made its way to Katrina's bedroom for a fetal feast. Had the filmmakers added some slime to this effect it would've been more impressive than the dry rubber hosepipe that Kat battles with from her sleep.

 

Overall, the movie is a good effort at weaving a creepy story around an equally creepy legend, but ultimately the filmmakers had too few ideas to pad out the relatively lightweight running time. A shame, as the actors are more than capable of delivering the script, it's just that the script lets them down.

 

 

Video and Audio:

 

This is a Region free NTSC DVD. The picture shows some considerable grain from the original 16mm film stock, but it's a comforting type of grain, the sort you associate with classic '80s horror movies like Evil Dead before its digital remastering. The colour is fairly washed out, but there are no signs of any pixellation or compression artefacts, even in the night time scenes. It looks like a perfect transfer from the source. The movie is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

 

 

 

The option of Stereo or 5.1 surround sound is offered. The opening credits, of an asian shadow puppet theatre, are set against an impressive orchestral score which harks back to the golden age of the Hammer movies. The dialogue is well balanced and perfectly clear, and the actors enunciate their lines well


Also available are two commentary tracks; the first with directors Poltermann and Martin, which probably would've ended up being mostly silence had it not been for the presence of Englishman Pete Tombs, who prods the two into life with pertinent questions throughout. The second is a cast commentary featuring the gregarious Ms Paukstelis and the irritatingly self-impressed Norman Moses.

 

 

Special Features:

 

  • Different than Hollywood
    30 minute documentary in which the filmmakers and stars recount their experiences during filming.
  • Trailers
    Includes the original fundraising trailer with an entirely different cast except for Tina Ona Paukstelis, the trailer for the Prism release of The Unearthing complete with tacky voice-over, and the final trailer for the uncut release, Aswang
  • Lost Scene Narration
    John Kishline reads the script of the prologue scene in the Philipines where a young Dr Harper, then a marine, first encounters the Aswang. The scene was omitted due to budgetary contraints and goes some way to explain the reasons behind Dr Harper's presence near the Null house, and his interest in the Aswang.
  • Audition Tapes of Norman Moses (Peter Null) and John Garekis (The Lawyer)
  • Stills Gallery
    Several galleries of stills, divided into "Production", "On set", "Fundraising Trailer" and "Miscellaneous".
  • Details of other Mondo Macabro releases
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About The Author
Daniel Benson
UK Editor / Webmaster
Fuelled mostly by coffee and a pathological desire to rid the world of bad grammar, Daniel has found his calling by picking holes in other people's work. In the rare instances he's not editing, he's usually breaking things in the site's back end.
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