Color, 1981, 85m. / Directed by H. Tjut Djalil / Starring Ilona Agathe Bastian, Yos Santo / Mondo Macabro (US R0 NTSC, UK R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Those who claim they've "seen it all" are usually stopped dead in their tracks by Mystics in Bali, the most notorious entry in the Indonesian horror genre. Often mentioned but rarely seen, the film is best known for its most indelible image, a woman's fanged, flying head with vital organs still attached below the neck; however, that's merely one of the insane visuals on display in this outrageous widescreen romp.

Pretty young Cathy (Ilona Agathe Bastian), an anthropologist and student of magic arts, arrives in Bali to investigate the legend of the Leák, a local form of witchcraft. She strikes up a romantic relationship with one of the locals, Mahendra (Yos Santo), whom she persuades to take her into the forest one night to meet a Leák queen. Sure enough the wicked one appears, all cackling and long fingernails with thunder and lightning, to boot. The wild-haired queen agrees to take on Cathy as her disciple (leaving her scuttling, severed hand as proof of her power), and soon the two women are romping through the woods at night, transforming into large pigs and snakes. However, the witch also demands blood to sustain her powers and orders Cathy's head to detach itself from her body. Soon the marauding head is whizzing through the village, sucking the blood and unborn fetus(!) from a local woman before returning to its host. Mehandra is understandly upset by Cathy's change in behavior and brings in his Buddhist uncle for help, leading to a fiery showdown with a possessed Cathy and the powerful Leák queen.

Though it isn't particularly violent, Mystics in Bali is rife with enough grotesque visuals to make the most jaded viewers shake their heads in disbelief. The sight of Cathy's head trying to pluck out toothpicks from its body's neck stump would be enough, but the multiple pig transformations really push the film into pure surrealist territory. Originally released as Leák, this was the brainchild of H. Tjut Djalil, who went on to appall the world nine years later with the more widely seen Lady Terminator. From a technical standpoint this is strictly amateur hour, shot almost entirely in master shots with actors often drifting off camera for no reason and little imaginative use made of the scope framing. Fortunately the sheer weirdness appeal makes this a wonderful, unique experience; all of the actors seem to be in a trance and behave nothing like a normal human being, while the canned voices make the experience even more otherworldly.

Mondo Macabro's UK DVD (discontinued years ago) did what it could from the time, looking like it was spliced together with masking tape at certain points. Image quality was stable and certainly a huge improvement over the Japanese dupes floating around for years; the film was shot in fairly drab colors, mostly brown and yellow, so don't expect much in the way of visual spectacle beyond the special effects (which are enough by themselves). The disc includes several text supplements detailing the evolution of Indonesian horror, including some surprisingly detailed bios in the style of the Mondo Macabro book, along with a valuable featurette on the Indonesian horror market including some mouth-watering looks at titles that look almost as breathtaking as Mystics in Bali. However, if you don't mind skipping the Indonesian featurette (which since reappeared on their widely available Lady Terminator disc), go instead for the remastered U.S. disc, the most astonishing transfer the company has released to date. Culled from the original negative and presented with the utmost care, this is a true feast for the eyes and one of the most psychedelic experiences you'll ever have in front of a television set. The American disc even tosses in a grungy-looking vintage theatrical trailer, too, which is perfect for confounding guests and relatives. Even if you have the old PAL disc, you shouldn't bat a disembodied eye at upgrading for this one.

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