Not to be confused with Norman J. Warren’s identically titled 1976 effort or Joko Anwar’s 2017 remake Satan’s Slaves, this is the milestone Horror effort that Sisworo Gautama Putra directed in 1982, freaking out a whole generation of young Indonesian viewers and outraging the country’s conservative religious establishment. Two years earlier, of course, Sisworo had authored that astonishing pastiche of the Italian cannibal film tradition, Primitif aka Savage Terror (under which title it appeared on the “Section 3” appendix to the “video nasties” list).
Pendabdi Setan (to give this film its original Bahasan title) takes a more eclectic approach, grafting elements from the (then recent) likes of Phantasm, Salem’s Lot and (briefly) Zombie Flesh Eaters (all 1979 offerings) and any amount of Chinese vampire / ghost films onto its fokeloric and mythological story stock.
Fachrul Rozy plays young Tomi Munarto, the Michael Baldwin surrogate from Coscarelli’s film. When his Mom dies unexpectedly, he notices a mysterious woman (Ruth Pelupessi) smirking at her funeral. Islamic piety dictates a quiet period of dignified mourning to help guide Mom’s soul to its heavenly destination, but Tomi’s more interested in having fun on his motor scooter, sister Rita (Siska Widowati) attends louche disco parties with her cousin Herman (Simon Cader) and their Dad (W.D. Mochtar) is too focussed on the family business to correct their errant ways. Rita compounds her sins with her rude treatment of the family’s faithful, ailing retainer Karto (H.I.M. Damsyik), who dares to question the appropriateness of her lifestyle at this time. The Munartos aren’t exactly the world’s most diligent Muslims then and as we are reminded throughout the film, the faithless are particularly vulnerable to the attentions of The Devil.
In a blatant pinch from Salem’s Lot, Mom turns up at Tomi’s window and he communes with her bug eyed spirit in the garden, witnessed by his sister (“You’ve been acting weird, the last few days” she tells him.) He also dreams that he’s being ritually murdered in a cellar by what appears to be an Indonesian chapter of the Templars. A friend who recently lost his own Mon urges Tomi to visit a psychic (further shades of Phantasm), another vaguely sinister and enigmatic woman who warns him that his family are the focus of evil and he should protect himself with black magic. A local Imam advises him that it would be a better idea to improve his practice of Islam but of course Tomi gives more credence to that sinister fortune teller, developing his occult studies by meditating and reading magazines (including Issue 21 of Dez Skinn’s Halls of Horror!)
Satan does eventually turn up in the shape of Darmina, sent to keep house by a domestic agency but instantly recognisable to Tomi as the the smirking woman from Mom’s funeral. As spooky occurrences in the house accelerate, Dad relents and calls in a shaman to exorcise the evil presence but after the usual indoor gales and furniture upheavals, the shaman comes off second best in an encounter with a chandelier.
With the atmosphere around the Munarto household becoming ever heavier, Karto discovers a satanic shrine in Darmina’s quarters and shortly afterwards is found hanged… Herman gets wiped out in a traffic accident… and still the family won’t mend their irreligious ways! Ultimately Darmina leads a gaggle of goggle-eyed deadites (Mom, Karto, Herman) to attack the Munartos (things get a bit Scoody Doo-esque around here), only for a deputation of Imams to turn up outside the house, chanting Islamic prayers until the zombies crumble to dust, while Darmina herself bursts into flames.
A voice over urges fidelity to Islam and indeed, the closing shots depict the family as model Muslims, visiting the mosque regularly and now apparently happy. So the film makers get to have their cake and eat it, moralising while indulging all sorts of profane stuff. Indeed, in the final shot, saved as they are supposed to be, the family clock another mysterious dark haired woman watching them, testifying to ongoing tensions in Indonesian society between religious orthodoxy, primeval paganism and the Modernising influence of soft / hard Western power, the continuing relevance of which is evidenced in the extras here…
In “Satan’s Box Office”, producer Gope T. Samtani staunchly maintains that Satan’s Slave is an entirely original production that didn’t borrow anything from anywhere. Sure thing… in “Indonesian Atmosphere“, screenwriter Imam Tantowi is significantly more candid about the film’s obvious, er, influences. “Satan’s Slave Obsession” is an audio interview (because of Covid-19) with remake director Joko Anwar, who confesses that he saw the original when he was eight (!) and that “it scarred me for my lifetime”. In case you didn’t get his point, we’re also treated to his 2016 shorts Jenny and Don’t Blink, which he shot to convince (successfully) Rapi Films that he was the man to direct the Satan’s Slave remake for which he’d been intensively lobbying.
Severin have scanned this one from the original negative, doing full justice to the splendid cinematography of F.E.S. Tarigan. Special mention also to Gusti Anom’s atmospheric score, which recalls Popol Vuh when it’s not reflecting Philip Glass.