By Scott Dorward
The Queen of Black Magic (Indonesia, 2019)
I don’t think I’d seen an Indonesian horror film until a few years ago, when I stumbled across Impetigore. Now, I’ve come to actively seek them out. Indonesia has a thriving and imaginative horror scene, producing some of the most creative films I’ve seen recently. I reviewed Satan’s Slaves for my 2020 October Horror Movie Challenge — like Impetigore, it was written and directed by Joko Anwar, who based it on a classic Indonesian horror film from the ’80s. In The Queen of Black Magic, we have another script by Anwar, again remaking a film from the ’80s. This time, however, directing duties fall to Kimo Stamboel. So, how does this compare?
Hanif is driving his wife and children to a reunion at the rural orphanage where he grew up when they hit what he believes to be a deer. Arriving at the orphanage, Hanif introduces his family to the staff and some of the former residents he grew up with. As the evening progresses, their conversation hints at dark secrets, especially involving the fate of a woman who worked there and was rumoured to practice black magic.
When Hanif discovers a scrap of cloth on his car, he realises that what he hit earlier wasn’t a deer. Returning to the scene of the accident, he discovers the aftermath of a massacre in the forest. Meanwhile, those still at the orphanage find themselves subjected to strange visions and increasingly dangerous mystical attacks. As the night descends into bloody chaos, the dark history of the orphanage is revealed to all.
I was born and raised in Southeast Asia. Like a lot of people from the region, I grew up with a healthy disgust for some of the local creepy crawlies. To this day, the sight of a cockroach makes me want to wash my hands. And tropical centipedes? They are spiteful strands of living nightmare, wrapped in chitin and fangs. Just the thought of encountering one sets my pulse racing.
Why do I mention this? The Queen of Black Magic is filled with centipedes. So many fucking centipedes. They scuttle across people’s faces, crawling into mouths and noses, only to be vomited up in bloody sprays soon after. Every time you think the film is done with centipedes, it finds a new way to bring them in. This may have served as implosion therapy, finally inuring me to one of my greatest childhood fears.
Speaking of children, I did like the way Hanif’s young son, Haqi, is used to drive the plot forwards. This is a boy with no social filters, asking the kind of direct questions adults would never dare to. His inquisitiveness keeps at least minor revelations flowing and opens the way for more serious ones. It’s refreshing to see such a direct character in a film built on secrets.
The Queen of Black Magic does not hold back. It brings out the gore early on and by the third act it becomes an all-out assault on the senses. Almost every later scene seems to involve someone mutilating themselves or vomiting blood. This is a grim film, often hopeless, with protagonists suffering one brutal outrage after another. With no humour or lulls to release the tension, the effect becomes numbing, leading to diminishing returns. There are only so many times a film can punch you in the face before you stop feeling it. This is not to say that The Queen of Black Magic is bad or even that its horrors are ineffective. A little variety in tension would go a long way, however.
The practical effects are terrific. When we’re witnessing blood and mutilation, it all looks disgustingly real. Unfortunately, the CGI is less successful. In particular, the bug effects, of which there are many, are generally unconvincing. Given my antipathy towards centipedes, I am oddly grateful for this.
Overall, The Queen of Black Magic is an entertaining, nasty piece of horror. The large cast and frenetic pace of the third act make it difficult to remain invested in anyone’s fate, however. While there are secrets and revelations, they almost seem incidental to the story’s desire to move on to the next set piece. This is a functional script and not always an engaging one.
Still, if you are in the mood for a gory, brutal romp, you could certainly do worse. Just set your expectations accordingly.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Possessor (2020)
- The Boogey Man (1980)
- Jakob’s Wife (2021)
- The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
- Cold Hell (2017)
- Seance (2021)
- The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
- Dachra (2018)
- Isle of the Dead (1945)
- After Midnight (2019)
- The Baby (1973)
- Hagazussa (2017)
- Frightmare (1974)
- The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
- Dave Made a Maze (2017)
- Raw (2016)
- The Old Ways (2020)
- Terror Train (1980)
- mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
- Sator (2019)
- Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
- The Lighthouse (2019)
- Anything For Jackson (2020)
- Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
- Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
- The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
- The Wizard of Gore (1970)
- Fingers (2019)
- Lake Bodom (2016)
- Island of Lost Souls (1932)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!