Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ten Days of Terror!: Aswang

Film: Aswang
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I often wonder what it is about making a low budget film that pairs so often with the horror genre. I understand that you can’t do a fantasy or science fiction blockbuster with a shoestring budget, but horror often requires a great deal of makeup and physical effects. Wouldn’t a drama be cheaper? Seriously, plenty of dramas require nothing more than sets and actors and have a higher budget only for name actors. Is it because people are more forgiving? Is it because ultra-low budget horror films like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity have such a massive potential upside? Whatever the reason, Aswang was made with a budget of about $70,000, which isn’t much for a feature-length film.

One also has to wonder where the idea for this came from. Aswang was evidently made in Wisconsin, but the title creature is a mythical monster from the Philippines that feeds on the unborn. The film takes place somewhere in the States as well. I think we can safely assume that it was actually filmed in Wisconsin, but the real location is never really mentioned that I can remember. A great deal of this film is done in the Sam Raimi/Evil Dead style, which is appropriate, given the genre and the basic subject matter.

Katrina (Tina Ona Paukstelis) is newly pregnant; her boyfriend Paul (Daniel Demarco) would prefer that she have an abortion, evidently, but she doesn’t want to. Instead, she enters into an agreement with Peter Null (Norman Moses) who needs to demonstrate to his ailing mother Olive (Flora Coker) that he is going to have an heir to be able to inherit the substantial family fortune. In essence, Katrina will pretend to be Peter’s wife Janine, head off to the family estate to have the baby, thereby ensuring Peter’s inheritance. Naturally, she’ll get a substantial chunk of the family fortune as well for maintaining the masquerade.

Once Katrina gets to the Null estate, we learn a couple of important things. First is that Peter has a sister named Claire (Jamie Jacobs Anderson) who lives in a small cabin near the main house. Claire, we are told, isn’t quite right in the head and Katrina is told in no uncertain terms that she cannot enter the cabin or interact with Claire in any way. Second, we learn about Dr. Roger Harper (John Kishline), who is renting a cabin nearby. Harper has been finding strange things in the forest covered in weird webbing. Katrina invites him to dinner despite Peter’s objections. We also meet the family’s Filipino servant Cupid (Mildred Nierras), who seems to do everything around the house.

You can see where this is going, right? After all, we’ve got a film named after a creature that feeds on the unborn and we’ve got a pregnant woman heading off to a secluded area with a man who we learn was raised in the Philippines. If you’re thinking that one or more people in the Null family are actually aswangs, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet.

I’m not really sure how to react to Aswang, except to say that I’m not sure if I should be proud of the fact that I own this or disturbed that I have to see this as a part of my collection every time I look at the movies I own. In a way, I’m really impressed with it for being as effective as it is. This is very much a film made in the same vein as any number of classic horror films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre designed specifically to gross out the audience as much as possible as cheaply as possible. It’s impressive in spite of itself.

What’s really surprising here is that what looks like it should be the final act of the film—the culmination of the aswang attacking Katrina and what’s going on with Claire in the cabin—happens with more than half an hour left in the film. It can only go to some weirder and nastier places from there, even though it seems like the plot should be over at this point.

The biggest problem with Aswang is the low budget and the overall quality of the film. There are serious issues with just how little was spent in making this. With a decent budget, even one double the one the film had, a lot more could have been done with effects. There are places, for instance, where a dead body is clearly breathing. While the story is a good one, there are also some clear plot issues here as well. With the big reveal coming with so much time left in the story, we know, for instance, that the runaway Katrina, when picked up by a cop, is going to be brought back to the Null house. It’s the only way this can happen with that much running time left.

Ultimately, this is a weird one. I don’t know that I’ll watch it again, and I kind of wonder what I’ll end up doing with the copy I have. But I guess I’m kind of glad that I watched it, if only to once again remind myself that interesting stories—even ones as nasty as this one—can come from just about anywhere.

As a final note, we’re told that the title creature is pronounced OS-wong even if it’s a lot funnier and more natural to call the thing an ASS-wang.

Why to watch Aswang: The monster is likely one you’ve never heard of.
Why not to watch: This is the definition of low budget.


  1. This sounds like a combination of that "zombie fungus"—the one that infects insects and takes over their ganglia—and that alien infection from John Carpenter's "The Thing." In particular, I'm remembering that gross sequence in "The Thing" in which an infected guy's head pulls itself off his body, drops wetly to the floor, sprouts legs, then becomes a hissing alien-spider for a few seconds before Kurt Russell crisps it with a flamethrower. Come to think of it, the zombie fungus sounds like John Carpenter's alien pathogen.

    No spikes, though.

    1. I think you put this on the wrong film, so I'll answer as if you posted on Splinter. And, kind of yes. The fungus in question doesn't have the shapeshifting abilities, but there are some real similarities. I think the "zombie fungus" connection is a lot stronger, and I think that's heavily implied in the film.