One of the most well-known legends in Indonesian folklore is about the ferocious spirit known as sundelbolong, which has been a part of the country’s history and culture for many years. The term “Ghost with Hole” is used to describe the entity’s appearance as a young, dark-haired woman who worked as a prostitute and died while pregnant. The “hole” refers to the spot on her back where the fetus emerged, while the rest of her body appears as it did when she was alive. When the film was released in the early 1980s, during Indonesia’s era of exploitation and horror films, it became a huge success and made its star Suzzanna a genre icon in her home country. “Sundelbolong” was a terrifying hit and paved the way for many other Asian horror films.
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After getting married, Alisa Hendarto (played by Suzzanna) is disappointed that her husband Hendarto (played by Barry Prima) has to go to work instead of spending time with her. She is left alone with her maid Bi Ijah (Marlia Hardi) and later reconnects with her former sex worker Madam Mami (Ruth Pelupessi). Madam Mami arranges for Alisa to work with her business partner Rudi (Rudy Salam), but Alisa refuses as she wants to focus on her new life. In retaliation, Rudi and his men kidnap and assault Alisa, resulting in her becoming pregnant. Despite seeking help, no one comes to Alisa’s aid and she ultimately takes her own life. However, her death leads to a series of strange accidents that befall those who wronged her, causing them to believe that Alisa’s ghost, known as a sundelbolong, is seeking revenge.
In general, “Sundelbolong” offers many enjoyable elements. One of its main attractions is the strong setup that ties together a compelling revenge storyline. The first half, which delves into Alissa’s past and the revelations that threaten her marriage, effectively sets the plot in motion. This not only creates sympathy for Alissa, but also highlights the sleazy nature of those who are targeting her. Furthermore, Alissa’s feistiness and ability to fight back against Mami and Rudy, who are forcing themselves upon her, adds to the emotional connection needed for the story to be successful. As we reach the second half and learn that Alissa has become the titular being as a result of past events, the justification for her actions and how everything comes together adds depth to the film. The truth about Mami and Rudy’s role in Alissa’s death also brings the story to a satisfying and justified conclusion.
This allows “Sundelbolong” to justify the use of supernatural revenge scenes in the second half. The ghosts’ comedic presence adds a sense of enjoyment as they take out the henchmen who initially attacked the main character. While the interactions may lean towards silliness, the impact of the scenes is still effective as the ghost’s ability to move unnoticed and use her powers is showcased. This is especially evident in the finale, where the wild and creative scenes add to the overall enjoyment without feeling out of place. The low-budget effects may add a cheesy element, but the satisfying catharsis is more important and well-handled. Overall, these elements make for a highly enjoyable experience.
There are some small disadvantages in the presentation. The main issue is the uneven and slow pace, causing “Sundelbolong” to feel longer than necessary. The beginning is particularly problematic as it focuses too much on the family dynamics after the wedding, with Alissa being left alone and falling into Rudi’s scam of prostitution. The focus on the psychological effects of Alissa’s past profession and the trial slows down the film and is not necessary. When the twin appears, it adds unnecessary time to explain the situation. This can give the impression that the film is longer than it needs to be due to these factors. Additionally, the use of cheesy effects and silly situations conflicts tonally with the serious tone of the film, which can be distracting and takes away from its impact.
With quite a lot to like and only a few minor drawbacks, “Sundelbolong” rightfully earns its place as one of the finer entries from the golden age of the early 80s Indonesian genre craze. Fans of the creative crew, this general era of genre filmmaking or are curious about it will have plenty to enjoy here.