I’m certainly no expert on Filipino genre cinema, but I’ve seen a few; and of those, all were produced or co-produced by American companies looking for exotic locales at thrift rate prices. Until now, that is. Let’s talk about The Killing of Satan (1983), an all-Filipino production that somehow managed to escape and receive distribution around the world, perplexing everyone who saw it, with the exception of Filipino audiences who knew exactly what director Efren C. Piñon (The Interceptors) was dishing out: a simple morality tale of good versus evil, with naked slaves, little person satanists, face ripping, and succubi who turn into snakes and kittens. You know, the usual, but still effective.
Released in June, The KIlling of Satan (aka Lumaban ka, Satanas) was picked up for distribution by Paragon, who sent it out to unwitting video stores keen on anything horror with ‘Satan’ in the title; and there it languished for dusty decades with every other big box title of the time. However, this film is anything but your dime store possession flick; epic in scope and minuscule in execution, The Killing of Satan is two steps removed from a Saturday morning cartoon; one that’s fine with flaying, nudity, and dismemberment, sure, yet it has a specific one note tone designed for the young.
A bit of story then to kick things off: We open on a remote island, and a gaggle of Jesus worshippers reenacting the crucifixion are interrupted by The Prince of Magic and his evil cohorts; when The Prince whirls the worshippers’ leader’s head around like a top, the flock decide they’re outmatched and retreat.
Meanwhile on the mainland, ex-con Lando (legendary Filipino actor/politician Ramon Revilla) is getting some heat from his ex-thugmates, specifically in the form of bullets in his chest. As Lando lays dead, his uncle (our head spinner from earlier) passes away, but not before transferring his mystical powers to Lando, which brings him back to life. Pretty cool, to be sure, except that Lando has to put them to use immediately as his daughter and niece have been kidnapped by The Prince and his merry men and taken back to the island. With his new powers, will Lando be able to stop The Prince of Magic, and in turn defeat his boss, Ol’ Beelzebub himself?
Well it is called The Killing of Satan after all, and from what I’ve seen the Filipinos don’t care too much for that whole downbeat ending trope; suffice it to say that Satan will be smote, and peace will come to Lando and his family. But it’s how the film arrives at its inevitable conclusion that earns it all the points.
Dubbing aside (and I think all dubbing should just be accepted as is, unless it’s distractingly off), there are several reasons why The Killing of Satan should be celebrated by horror fans; first off, there are sudden, ridiculous bursts of gore that come from nowhere - I jumped twice during the film mainly because I was taken aback. Now, we’re not talking Dead Alive here; these are a few moments peppered throughout, which is probably why I was shocked - it just doesn’t seem in tune with the upbeat, heroic vibe of the film.
I guess that’s what I mean by the Saturday morning feel; this quest is but a simple one - retrieval and conquest - very much in line with the likes of Shazaam! or Isis (a mysterious cave, lots of boulder slinging), who would wrap things up in a tidy thirty, including commercials. But with feature length, director Piñon is able to imbue the material with strange characters and beats around every level; those darn succubi like to show unannounced, almost everyone has powers, and Satan himself has two guises: the standard Halloween costume, and then more formal wear with an inexplicably different actor assaying the role. There’s something for every horror fan in the family!
Back to that kiddie vibe then; I mentioned levels for good reason, as Lando must go through X and Y to get to Z like most rudimentary video games. And he even gets a ‘powerup’ from a kindly and old bearded man (hmmm) in the form of a staff that could probably part seas if need be, but is used for Lando to wave around and zap bad guys.
There’s a lot of zapping on display, mostly coming from well known power outlet *checks notes* the elbow, a tactic unknown to everyone except wrestlers; and when our cast isn’t shooting bolts out of their weenus, they’re engaged in hand to hand combat that a little deity juice just can’t take care of. Everyone here gets in on the action; it becomes a free for all for the liberation of the soul. High stakes, I tell ya.
But this is what The Killing of Satan is about in the end; it’s a salvation scenario that seems like it came from the mind of a ten year old. This is not a slur; there is clarity in the straightforward narrative, and that inner child knows exactly when to throw a snake at the screen (to be tied in a knot, I shit you not), have mystical fights, or present topless captives. To be honest, this is all I want from religion, and by extension, film: a little bit of joy, some conflict, and a satisfactory resolution. Plus maybe a few topless captives.
The Killing of Satan is available on DVD from Televista.
[Editor's Note - Below trailer is NSFW]Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: WHITE OF THE EYE (1987)