Mythology and culture throughout the nations of the world have long been interwoven to provide fodder for film. The Viking sagas of the North, the Samurai, Native American, Aztec and Middle Eastern cultures are some of the most recognizable on screen, and have been used for film, television and other mediums fairly extensively over time.
What makes any mythology in particular such an appealing area for representation on screen is the way it lends itself so openly to interpretation. It can be used for lighthearted entertainment for children, high budget blockbuster spectacularity and as a serious and respectful representation of age old traditions. It can also be used for horrific and shocking purposes.
Mystics in Bali (dir. H. Tjut Djalil) is definitely in the latter category. Delving into the world of Indonesian mythology, (Balinese to be specific), the film is notorious for its bizarre scenes. Flying heads still attached to internal organs, animalistic totems, rotting flesh, creature transformations and strange occult practices are all shown in their low budget, 1981 glory. It’s a strange film to be sure, and certainly outside of ‘usual’ horror expectations.
Bali is a unique place and in many ways it makes sense (?) that a film like this might come from the island. It’s the only part of Indonesia that is largely Hindu (the rest of the country adheres mostly to the Muslim faith), it’s not as built up or as populated as major cities like Jakarta or an island like Java (the most densely populated island in the world) and it’s a place that has strong ties to its indigenous cultural heritage.
Having visited Bali on surf trips (Australia being so close to Indonesia that Bali is one of the most popular tourist destinations for people here), I’ll say it definitely has an almost surreal aura to it. The big cities are a mix of old and new, constantly in a state of living fluctuation, while the smaller villages like Ubud and islands like Nusa Lembongan are tranquil, serene places that seem to have a strange time and spatial effect on visitors to them.
Mystics in Bali is definitely a film that could only come from an Indonesian country. It’s designed to be a horror film by using unique mythological images and practices for subversive means and despite being made over 30 years ago, it’ll still weird people out. That’s for sure.