Something has to be said about how Regal Films treats its films. Shot digitally, the films are haphazardly transferred to film to be projected in theaters. As seen in theaters, the films look absolutely abominable, with its already muted colors bleeding into each other and digital artifacts scattered throughout the unsatisfactory images. In other words, far from the usual gloss that has been part and parcel of mainstream filmmaking, all the recent films of the historic film studio, in its attempt to churn out movies within a budget by utilizing digital filmmaking, are horrid manifestations of the ills of technology in the service of filmmaking for convenience and profit rather than artistry and integrity.
Shake Rattle and Roll 12 exemplifies this blatant bastardization of film that
seemed to have ripened into practice for Regal. The fact that it is the twelfth
in the series of three-part horror/horror-comedy anthologies that started in
1984 is enough proof that these films exist as cash-cows and that any artistic
merit that can be derived from them are mere byproducts of their commercial
goals. The series has never been a bastion of originality. However, either by
sheer luck or actual inspiration, several episodes like Ishmael Bernal's Fridyider, Richard Somes' Ang Lihim ng
Shake Rattle and Roll 12's first two episodes, Mamanyika (Mama Doll), directed by Zoren Legaspi, about a murderous doll that purports to be the mother of a little kid who lost her mother, and Topel Lee's Isla Engkanto (Enchanted Island), directed by Topel Lee, about a group of friends who become victims of engkantos in an island, are slightly entertaining but hardly memorable additions to the franchise. Jerrold Tarog's Punerarya (Funeral Parlor), however, is something else. It is that rare deliberately graceful horror short that is made even more special by the fact that it seems to be a piece of treasure in a sea of junk.
Punerarya starts inside a funeral parlor where a young teacher (Carla Abellana, who magnificently avoids all clichés in horror film acting to deliver a refreshingly relaxed but intense performance) is introduced by the funeral parlor's owner (Sid Lucero) to her children, her new students --- a morose girl and her friendly brother who are curiously sensitive to light. What follows is a slow yet delicious unraveling of mysteries closeted within the confines of a morbid but otherwise normal business operation.
Tarog has mastery over the time and thematic limitations of his medium. He withholds telling too much plot to the disservice of creating an atmosphere that accommodates the episode's mix of the real and the bizarre. The episode seamlessly shifts tones and modes, incorporating Tarog's own musical score that delights in what is overtly fanciful and subtly sinister, making most of the carefully mapped visuals.
Punerarya is a near-perfect use of the thirty-or-so minutes of its running time. Like Bernal before him who in Fridyider created a wildly horrific view of Philippine suburbia with his newly relocated family who gets terrorized by a murderous refrigerator, Tarog eschews the built-in thrills of his already strange subject matter, a family of aswangs who hide behind their business for survival, to create something more intelligent, something more horrifying. Sadly, the episode exists as a washed-out and perhaps shortened version of what it should have been, thanks solely to the indomitable power of the purse who regard what could be a future masterpiece as just another Christmastime commodity.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)