The phenomenon is attributed to a talented man named Jose Nepomuceno, the very first Filipino who tried his hand in local filmmaking and thus considered the “Father of Philippine Cinema.”
From his silent films and sarswela adaptations that began in the 1920s, Nepomuceno ventured a decade later into directing movies with themes culled from Christian symbols and native folklore. He started with Tiyanak (Changeling) and Mang Tano: Nuno ng mga Aswang (Old Man Tano: Ancestor of Vampires), both produced in1932 and hot on the heels of the newly popular Hollywood films that made their way into these shores. (nlpdl.nlp.gov.ph)
While some may argue that local moviemaking has been greatly influenced by the technique and technology of Hollywood, generations of filmmakers maintain that Filipino culture and traditions have always been dominant in their works. In fact, this is especially true when it comes to horror movies, so much so that the Film Development Council of the Philippines’ (FDCP) launched its first-thematic Horror Plus (+) Film Festival on October 15.
FDCP’s executive director Teodoro Granados related to The Sunday Times Magazine why the horror genre continues to be a classic Filipino favorite.
“Basically, local horror films feature folklore stories which are embedded in our history. These are stories that people are familiar with, like the t’yanak, which is widely known already. It is a myth that comes from different provinces dating back as early as the Spanish colonization,” he began.
“Then again, it is not only Filipinos who are fond of horror films. The genre is a universal favorite just because people want to be scared sometimes,” he pointed out.
The difference lies in what frightens one culture from another.
“In the Philippine setting, the things we are afraid of are elements that come from folklore. The kapre [tree-residing trolls], the hukluban [Tagalog metamorphic goddess of death], are stories that Filipinos can easily assimilate. These are tales we’ve grown up with and became afraid of as a people,” Granados said.
With the aim of bringing high-quality locally made films to a wider Filipino audience, FDCP’s annual Sine Pambansa took the Halloween season as a cue for focusing on the horror genre for its 2014 outing.
Scheduled to run from October 29 to November 4, the FDCP in cooperation with SM Cinemas is set to bring Filipino horror films to the big screen. These are T’yanak, a story of iconic Pinoy demon-baby; Hukluban, a Philippine version of the grim reaper; Sigaw sa Hatinggabi, which brings to life the spirit of the dead; Bacao (corn farming), a suspense-thriller about village woman whose fertility is mysteriously connected with the town’s corn farmlands.
Having won FDCP’s Sine Pambansa scriptwriting competition in 2013, Bacao is the “plus” in this year’s festival.
With these four films made by “masters” in the local filmmaking industry, FDCP’s executive director expects Filipino moviegoers “to be scared and appreciate how the local film industry has evolved.”
In addition, T’yanak filmmakers Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes, who are known for the classic Filipino horror movie series Shake, Rattle and Roll, hope that audiences will empathize not just with the protagonist in viewing the films, but also the antagonist who is supposedly the evil element.
Gallaga explained, “Lore and I for many years have been making Filipino horror films, and for the longest time, we’ve been trying to show what Filipino folklore is all about. With the T’yanak, mananagnal, aswang, and shape-shifter—we’ve evolved to a point where show these monsters to be more that just evil. That they are of another species that is probably older than human beings.
“They are predators,” he continued, “like sharks that kill in order to live. They are just like humans who kill animals for food. So we don’t simply create monsters in our story, and we hope people will see that when they come to the festival.”
Since their first T’yanak film in 1988 with Janice de Belen and Lotlot de Leon in the lead, Gallaga and Reyes have used the same story line of the demon-baby but have also enjoyed the artistic freedom of creating diverse characters with which Filipinos can relate. In immortalizing local folkloric characters into film, the duo considers theirs a unique interpretation of provincial myths and elements.
“Folklore is our culture, and our culture is a portrait of who we are.
Even if these t’yanaks or manananggals are not true, we grew up with them and we want to continue to bring that to generations of Filipino audience,” Gallaga declared.
In reply to the question why Filipinos enjoy horror films, “They need entertainment like this because life is so hard and they need a break,” Reyes commented.
To this, Gallaga quickly added, “Not only that, we live in a world of horror where the political situation is horrific. You cannot do anything about it, and that’s horror film in itself!”
Meanwhile, for Hukluban director Gil Portes, he wants the audience to appreciate the “beauty of the film as a whole,” not just for the horror or the eroticism of “Huklob” (the goddess of death portrayed by Kirsta Miller) who engages in sexual acts with a mortal (Kiko Matias).
“Although there are erotic scenes in the movie, let us not forget the character of Mila, the goddess of death. She goes out at night as a young woman to look for a man who will give her the real love she is looking and cure her from her curse. That’s why the love scenes are justified. More than being seen as a ‘bold’ film, I hope this entry will be appreciated as a good film,” Portes said.
Director Romy Suzara seems to be the purist among the featured filmmakers as he goes all out horror with Sigaw sa Hatinggabi.
“If you are alone, or you have a weak heart, you should not watch this movie,” he advised. “In the same way that the movie tries to communicate with the dead, I believe that spirits of the departed try to tell us [the living]things in different forms. In my experience, during the deaths of actors Fernando Poe Jr. and Rudy Fernandez, they manifested in my dreams. Shortly after they died, I dreamt about them and felt it was how they communicate with me as spirits,” he shared.
Finally, in talking about his winning script Bacao, Edgardo “Boy” Vinarao shared, “I was inspired to write and direct Bacao because I grew up in Isabela where there were vast corn fields. I used to watch men plant and harvest these fields, and eventually, I saw women doing the same work.
“Strangely after years of being away from Isabela, I was shocked to see the fields were gone,” he ominously revealed.
First horror fest
These celebrated directors were chosen by the FDCP to create mainstream-theater worthy films that show top quality both in content and cinematography.
“Cinemas are also committed to support Filipino movies. But they are saddened by the quality of films that are being produced locally. Local films, which are usually confined to love stories that are extensions of teleseryes, according to theater operators, are poor in quality—from the actual film to the audio, and the story itself. People generally walk out of these movies,” Granados noted explained.
“But if you give the audience quality films done masterfully by directors despite limited time and budget, then people will come back to the cinemas and watch,” he enthused.
With only six months to complete a full-length feature and a small budget of approximately P1.5 million from the FDCP, this year’s feature films further hope to inspire the “new breed” or young filmmakers to make independent projects “the right way,” and ultimately bring Filipino films closer to the mass audience.
“We needed to make mainstream films because the films have produced in the past year were stories that people could not assimilate with. There is a niche market for those that are considered art films. They are not for the general public,” Granados continued.
“More importantly, we realize that the film industry does not only include the filmmaker and the producer—it also includes the audience. And today, the film industry worldwide isn’t really doing well, so we want to uplift the situation of the local industry.”
As a major industry player, Gallaga explained that this horror fest is an attempt to “get to the middle ground”—to combine independent filmmaking elements that will also appeal to the mainstream audience.
“The combination of indie and mainstream is a good way to bring people back to the cinema,” Gallaga mentioned.
Ultimately, the FDCP hopes to preserve the Filipino culture that is now heavily influenced by Hollywood entertainment.
“In these films of local folklore, we hope to attract the audience to these kinds of stories because our culture is now slowly diminishing. We are not Batman, Superman or Captain America, we are Filipinos,” Granados concluded.