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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Special Silencers Blu-ray Review



Mondo Macabro

Blu-ray Release: April 9, 2024

Video: 2.35:1/1080p/Color

Audio: English and Indonesian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (original cut); English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (extended cut)

Subtitles: English (original cut only)

Run Time: 86:38 (original cut), 90:09 (extended cut)

Director: Arizal


A corrupt politician in rural Indonesia wants to impose himself as the boss of the local territory. To eliminate the competition, he employs "special silencers" – small red pills intended to enhance meditative states, but, when taken with food or drink, erupt inside the victim's stomach and emerge through the flesh-like, ragged, blood-covered tree branches. (From Mondo Macabro’s official synopsis)



In the years following the ascension of filmmakers like Gareth Evans, Timo Tjahjanto, Kimo Stamboel, and Joko Anwar, Indonesia has become known for its bone-crunching martial arts action and gritty horror films, but there was a time when the prime cult Indonesian export was B-movie rip-offs. Though similar to Italian and Turkish Xerox cinema, these films tended to be built on a foundation of the region’s established folklore and other cultural tropes, creating a truly unique collection of films that begin as rip-offs before spiraling out into vibrant, oddball mash-ups. Meanwhile, the roots of Evans’ Raid movies (2011/2014) and Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes for Us (2018) grew from a subgenre of comic strip adaptations that had grown in popularity during the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, drawing additional inspiration from wuxia and kung fu films, and creating a local alternative to Hong Kong, Taiwanese, and Chinese martial arts cinema of the era.


Arguably, the biggest star to come out of Indonesian action was Barry Prima (Bertus Knoch), a taekwondo master who worked his way up from a small role in Sisworo Gautama Putra’s Italian cannibal and Friday the 13th cash-ins – Primitif (1978) and Wolf (Indonesian: Srigala, 1981) respectively – to a marquee name, headlining a series of films as folk hero Jaka Sembung, including Putra’s The Warrior (Indonesian: Jaka Sembung, 1981), Worod Suma’s The Warrior and the Blind Swordsman (Indonesian: Si Buta Lawan Jaka Sembung, 1983), and H. Tjut Djalil’s The Warrior and The Ninja (Indonesian: Jaka Sembung & Bergola Ijo, 1985).



Remix horror, standard Indonesian action, and Prima’s rising star career collided in Arizal’s Special Silencers (Indonesian: Serbuan Halilintar, 1982, though possibly filmed in 1979), which combines martial arts action with medicinal mysticism, political conspiracies, a love story, and slapstick comedy. The whole endeavor is built around a cheap, but earnest gore effect that is undeniably based on similar effects from the Alien series, though, instead of falling victim to chest-bursting xenomorphs, assassination targets unknowingly ingest seeds that cause tree branches to burst out of the skin around their torsos. It’s gross and extremely bloody, but not convincingly executed enough to cause anyone to faint or run out of the theater screaming. Other over-the-top, but ultimately harmless exploitation gags include two separate scenes where characters are smothered in snakes and rats (no animals are harmed, aside from a rat fed to a snake in a third scene) and an Enter the Dragon-inspired finale showdown, where baddies are delimbed with a sickle and giant circular saw. The main villain, who the film later reminds us can only be injured by bamboo, casually reattaches his leg and limps through the climax.


While not as wall-to-wall outrageous as Djalil’s mystic killer women movies (Mystics in Bali [Indonesian: Leák, 1981], Lady Terminator [Indonesian: Pembalasan Ratu Pantai Selatan, 1989], and Dangerous Seductress [1992]) or other Prima vehicles, such as Ratno Timoer’s Devil’s Sword (Indonesian: Golok Setan, 1984), Special Silencers is an excessively silly movie that throws so many giggles its audience’s way that it’s genuinely impossible to tell what's sincere and what’s meant to be funny. The action choreography isn’t quite up to the Sammo Hung standard, but it’s respectable and some of the cast, including co-star and Prima’s future ex-wife, Eva Arnaz (who is clearly doubled by a man for tumbles and flips), have the skill and athleticism to pull off credible kicks and acrobatics. Even the obvious filler exposition and other uneventful moments have an air of weirdness that should keep the pizza party crowd thoroughly amused.


Bibliography

  • Mondo Macabro: Weird & Wonderful Cinema Around the World by Pete Tombs (St. Martin's Griffin, 1998)



Video

Internet sources claim that Special Silencers has never seen a video release with the exception of a VHS tape from Dutch company Delta Video. Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray, digital media, and 2.35:1 aspect ratio debut features a 1080p transfer supplied directly by distributor Parkit Films. The fact that they had it sitting around makes me think that it aired on HD television in Indonesia at some point, but this is definitely its first appearance stateside and with English audio/subtitle options. They’ve also included two different versions of the film – the 86:38 original Indonesian cut and a 90:09 extended cut that includes deleted insert shots sourced from the Dutch VHS. Image quality naturally drops during these moments, the aspect ratio switches to cropped 1.33:1, and there are burned-in Dutch subtitles.


This is an extremely vivid transfer that pushes an already colorful film into the stratosphere and skews everything a bit yellow. Is it naturalistic? No. Is it in keeping with how the film looked on its original release? I have no idea, but I do like it. It makes the lush jungle hues really pop and makes an already bizarre film look like a demented Wes Anderson movie. The black levels are a bit harsh, but this generally helps support details, which is good, because the overall scan is pretty mushy in terms of texture. In spite of this and some pretty washed-out white/light areas, busy shots look nice and aren’t marred by obvious edge enhancement. Print damage is limited mostly to the occasional moldy blotch or tiny white dot. Some sequences appear slightly vertically smooshed, but I think this is an anamorphic lens artifact.



Audio

The original cut of Special Silencers is presented with Indonesian and English language options, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio mono sound. If you want to watch the extended cut, you will only have an English dub option. I believe most of these movies were shot without synced sound, as they were in Hong Kong at the time, so there is no original language track. I find that the awkward English dub, though a bit more compressed than the Indonesian track, adds an extra layer of goofiness to the proceedings. Either way, the audio is about as clear as you might expect, but the most obvious issues, such as flat dialogue, are inherent in the original material. Environmental ambience is actually pretty impressive for this type of zero-budget dub. Gatot Sudarto’s score alternates between cheerful bossa nova jams and relentlessly looping, bleepy-blorpy synth and the music is an absolute delight, as well as a dominant aural element on both tracks, though it isn’t commonly utilized.



Extras

  • Commentary with Andrew Leavold – The Filipino film expert and director/producer of The Search for Weng Weng (2007) explores Indonesian pop and pulp cinema, the region’s place in greater Southeast Asian genre filmmaking, the role local and world politics played in developing movies in Indonesia, the logistics of foreign co-productions, common Indonesian horror and action motifs, and the larger careers of the cast & crew.

  • Fantasy Films From Indonesia (25:07, SD) – An episode of the 2001 UK TV documentary series, appropriately titled Mondo Macabro, co-written and directed by Pete Tombs and Andrew Starke. Hopefully, the complete series will eventually have a physical release stateside, even if it’s in the form of multiple Blu-ray extras.

  • Deleted Scenes (4:28, SD) – From the Dutch tape source with burned-in Dutch subtitles

  • English Credits (2:44, SD)

  • Mondo Macabro trailer reel (13:29, SD)




The images on this page are taken from the BDs and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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