With an obscure title like ASWANG, and a front cover dictionary quote referring to the aswang, or ’oswong’ (as it is pronounced), as a “Filipino vampire” that “feeds on the unborn”, one expects this latest release from Mondo Macabro to be of Asian origin. In fact, this little known, independent feature, filmed by first time directors Barry Poltermann and Wrye Martin, was shot in rural Wisconsin, USA.
With the dubious accolade as the first ever horror film to screen at the Sundance Film Festival, ASWANG picked up a distribution deal and appeared in a poorly transferred and slightly truncated form on VHS in 1994 as THE UNEARTHING. Then, according to Mondo’s cover blurb, “nervous video chains refused to carry the film and the shocker all but disappeared”. So this represents the first chance to see the film in an uncensored form.
Having fallen pregnant, Katrina (Tina Ona Paukstelis), accepts a financial proposition, from wealthy landowner Peter Null (Norman Moses), for her unwanted child with the proviso that she also agrees to act as his wife in order for him to inherit the family estates. Just before Katrina, who has now assumed the name Jeanine, is due to give birth the pair travel to meet Peter’s invalid mother (Flora Coker) who resides in a secluded mansion, surrounded by acres of apple orchards.
Katrina is introduced to the sick mother, who is ferried from room to room by her eccentric Filipino housekeeper, Cupid (Mildred Nierras), whom the family have brought with them following their immigration from a Filipino island. Katrina is advised to avoid the nearby cabin in which Peter’s mentally unbalanced sister Claire (Jamie Jacobs Anderson) resides and later suffers eerie nightmares involving her pregnancy. Whilst wandering the fields one morning, Peter and Katrina discover a trespasser, Dr. Harper (John Kishline), who has discovered a strange embryonic-like carcass in the woods. Against the wishes of Peter, who is outraged that someone is wandering around Null property, Katrina invites the doctor to dinner, where Harper enquires about a painting in the study depicting a demonic figure that is poised above a housetop with, what appears to be, a long, protruding tongue stretching down the side of the house. Peter informs him that the beast is an aswang (pronounced oswang), and that it is “feeding”.
That night, Harper returns to his ramshackle cottage in the adjoining woods, and spies the same painting in an old book pertaining to ancient myths. He learns that the creature is a vampire that feeds on the foetus of the unborn, which, if it survives, can also become an aswang itself. Realising his cottage has been broken into; Harper discovers the mutilated form of his dog and then attacked by an unseen protuberance that cuts through his neck. The semi-conscious form of the doctor is then encased in a cocoon-like emission, regurgitated from the monster, and left half alive for the aswang to feed upon later. From here on in things get worse for Katrina; as the family’s dark secret emerges she finds herself fighting to protect both her sanity and unborn child.
Despite pointed references to the films of Tobe Hooper and Sam Raimi, ASWANG never sinks to the level of parody, playing the film straight despite its freakish subject matter. The film’s imagery remains grotesque throughout, with several scenes involving the aswang attempting to feed on Katrina’s foetus, whilst she lies sleeping, particularly unnerving. The special effects prove effective, despite the filmmakers admitting, on a separate audio commentary, that their $8000 dollar mechanical “tongue” broke shortly after production began, and the tried and tested method of reversed shooting, was utilised for the rest of the film. Gorehounds will also enjoy a couple of grisly death scenes, which were cut for the previous R rated VHS in the USA, and which remained missing for its successful release in Germany, several years ago.
With its original plot, and underlying sub-text involving anti-abortion, and criticism of republican politics, this stylishly directed film ought to have put its two directors, Barry Poltermann and Wrye Martin firmly on the lips of every horror film aficionado. I hope that with this new DVD release, served with an impressive array of extras, that include two commentaries, and a delightful twenty-seven minute documentary that includes the cast auditions and interviews, and the directors outlining the problems associated with low-budget filmmaking, ASWANG will find its audience.
Weird, scary, thought provoking, and with visuals that remain with you long after an initial viewing, ASWANG is one of those rarities; a ‘sleeper’ that is guaranteed to induce nightmares. Highly recommended!
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Barry Poltermann and Wrye Martin
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
A Mondo Macabro DVD release
All region NTSC Stereo 5.1 surround / 2.0 / 1.85.1 Anamorphic Widescreen
ASWANG (aka The Unearthing)