1988 | Indonesia
AKA: Pembalasan Ratu Pantai Selatan; Revenge of the South Seas Queen
Director: H. Tjut Djalil
I think it’s safe to say that the average 1980s video store patron who took home a rental copy of Lady Terminator got a lot more than he or she bargained for. That’s far from saying that he or she was disappointed, however. While most corners of the exploitation film world specialized in selling as much sizzle as possible while delivering the absolute minimum of steak, the Indonesian version of same was marked by a commitment to entertain that was almost poignant in its sincerity, even though that commitment was typically made good upon by way of boatloads of frenetic violence and nauseating gore.
Lady Terminator (Pembalasan ratu pantai selatan) came toward the end of what was something of a golden age for Indonesian exploitation cinema, one that started in the early 70s with the relaxation of censorship standards (followed soon after by mandatory Government quotas for local film production) and ending at the turn of the ’90s with the drying up of the export market for Indonesian productions and the resulting move of many of the industry’s key players into television. Given this, it’s fitting that the film embodies three of the prevailing trends in Indo exploiters from the period. The first of these is the aforementioned devotion to providing the audience with thrill-a-minute spectacle at all cost. The second is the strategy of catering to the international export market by dressing the finished product up to look, as much as possible, like a Western production. And finally there is the somewhat contradictory practice of drawing heavily upon Southeast Asian folklore and mysticism for subject matter.
Thus it is that Lady Terminator is not only, as its title implies, a sexed-up knock-off of James “Piranha: The Spawning” Cameron’s hit action film The Terminator, but also a supernatural horror film based on the hundreds-of-years-old Javanese legend of the Queen of the South Seas, a powerful goddess who dwells at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Hers is a story that invites embellishment as the teller sees fit, and in that spirit, the makers of Lady Terminator have cast her as an evil succubus complete with vagina dentata.
Our introduction to the Queen is provided during Lady Terminator‘s initial minutes, as we are shown the Queen, sheathed in a sheer sarong, huffing away as she straddles atop one of her male minions. Romance is in the air, it would seem, but it’s not all red roses and Godiva samplers, for, just as the Queen seems poised to take this fellow to his happiest of happy places, she sets the Little Queen to work on his nether bits, sending a geyser of blood shooting up out of his crotchal area.
Moments later, as the Queen’s handmaidens carry off the corpse, she wonders aloud whether she will ever find a man who can truly satisfy her. This cues the arrival of a handsome new prospect at her castle door, one who, once invited into her bed, does indeed prove adept at finding her sweet spot. This occasions, as it might, the ejection of a live eel from her vagina, which, upon being captured in the man’s hands, immediately transforms into a magical dagger. Having now apparently seized hold of the Queen’s mojo, the man undergoes an abrupt change in demeanor. He turns upon her, righteously demanding that she stop all of her wanton chomping off of fellows’ bits. Outraged at this betrayal, but powerless to fight against it, the Queen vows to take revenge on this man’s great-granddaughter one hundred years hence, after which she walks off into the crashing surf and disappears beneath the waves as a cheesy synth wash wells up on the soundtrack.
Once the credits have rolled, we are taken to modern-day Indonesia, and the arrival upon its shores of American anthropologist Tania Wilson, whose credentials are established by having her indignantly inform people that she’s an anthropologist literally all the time. “You speak to me of legends in this day and age? I’m an anthropologist!”, she says to the requisite elderly spouter of dire portents, and then somewhat paradoxically runs off in pursuit of the very artifacts that would prove those legends true. “Stop calling me lady,” she says on another occasion. “I’m not a lady. I’m an anthropologist!” Upon which she doffs her clothes to reveal the barely contained lady parts spilling out of her over-stressed black bikini.
Tania is played by Australian Barbara Anne Constable, who, in addition to also receiving a make-up artist credit for Lady Terminator, apparently never appeared as a principal cast member in any other film. It’s hard to gauge Constable as an actress, not only because she spends most of the film portraying an unspeaking, robot-like killing machine, but also because, in those few early moments when she’s not doing that, her dialog, like that of all of the other players in the film, is dubbed, and quite poorly at that. What I can say, though, is that Constable’s look is a perfect compliment to Lady Terminator‘s function as a time capsule of 1980s visual aesthetics. She’s like a whole decade of MTV viewing wrapped up in one package, part Flashdance era Jennifer Beals, part Madonna, part Teena Marie of “Lovergirl” fame, and part the kids From Fame.
Lady Terminator, released in Indonesia as The Revenge of the South Seas Queen, was directed by H. Tjut Djalil, who several years earlier had helmed a truly wonderful movie called Mystics in Bali. In that film, just as in Lady Terminator, a white lady from America comes to Indonesia to poke her nose into ancient magics, with the result that she becomes possessed and causes all kinds of problems for the locals, in Mystics in Bali‘s case by becoming a flying, disembodied head with lungs and viscera still attached who goes around sucking the fetuses out of pregnant women. In Lady Terminator, Tania’s transformation is no less dramatic, albeit given a more contemporary spin. In her case, the conversion to a troublesome demonic vessel occurs after she goes diving in search of the magical dagger seen in the film’s prologue. Within no time, she finds herself tied spread-eagle on the Queen’s bed, a cartoon eel shooting up inside her. Now possessed by the spirit of the South Sea Queen, Tania rises naked from the waves, ready to begin her career as a soulless instrument of destruction.
Tania’s first victims are a pair of drunk buddies who are spending their Saturday night on the beach. “Saturday night on the beach!” exclaims one of them, because Lady Terminator is the type of movie in which peripheral characters shout out pointless fragments of exposition in a totally implausible manner. The other drunken man bemoans the pairs’ sexual prospects for the evening: “Remember the legend of the South Sea Queen? Wouldn’t it be nice if she could come now?” And then appears a naked Tania, ready to do some killing.
Tania proceeds to a high-rise hotel. Here she makes her way to and enters a suite that has been set up as a sort of shrine to the South Seas Queen. This might seem like just another of Lady Terminator‘s crack-headed inventions, until you learn that such a hotel actually exists in Indonesia and that a room there is indeed reserved at all time for the South Seas Queen as a guard against bad luck. Once in the room, Tania, entranced, sits in a lotus position before the portrait of the Queen that hangs on the wall, after which we begin to see little cartoon lightning bolts shooting out of her eyes. Meanwhile, Tania’s entrance has been captured by security cameras, and a hotel security guard armed with an Uzi is sent up to investigate.
Lady Terminator is trying very hard to pass itself as a typical American action film from the 80s. At the same time, the local specificity of its folklore-based plot and the need to not alienate its home audience also necessitates that it not completely obscure its Indonesian origins. As a result, the film takes a kind of cagey, neither-here-nor-there approach to establishing its settings, with no one ever explicitly mentioning where all of these things are taking place. The Jakarta-shot locations are mostly recently-developed areas of urban sprawl that could be in any number of cities. On other occasions, the narrative simply fudges the particulars, like someone who, while telling a story, mutters certain, less well thought-out details from behind a cupped palm.
For instance, immediately preceding the scene in which we are introduced to our bland, white guy hero, policeman Max McNeil (Christopher J. Hart), we’re shown a brief establishing shot of the New York skyline. However, when we see Max again, just a couple of scenes later, he is obviously in Indonesia, though he’s not working as a policeman anymore and is instead now employed by something called “Spesial Sekuriti,” although he still gets to do policeman-like things like investigating murder scenes and going to look at bodies in the morgue. Later, we learn that the New York scene was meant to be a flashback to Max’s life several years previous to the film’s main action.
This aforementioned “New York” sequence also serves to introduce a few of Max’s manly American pals, who include the utterly generic “Joe” and “Tom”, as well as the more memorable Snake (Adam Stardust), a dude with a surfer accent who sports what is unquestionably the Platonic ideal of mullets. Of course, the fact that it also appears to be a wig makes it that much more perfect, for there’s no way a beast so magnificent could be allowed to actually exist in nature. Though these fellows disappear from Lady Terminator for a long stretch, their names continue to be invoked as if they themselves had some kind of mystical power, cluing us in that we will be seeing Joe, Tom, and, most importantly, Snake again before the closing credits roll.
Max’s duties at “Spesial Sekuriti” somehow require that he go to the morgue to examine the corpses of Tania’s recent victims, which include the two drunk guys, as well as the Uzi sporting hotel security guard. One of Max’s partners remarks that each of the victims has had their “cocks bitten off”, and opines that the culprit “could be a small animal”. Then another one of them makes a grade school level double entendre and they all laugh like idiots and head off to the bar.
At Erica’s big rock show (actually a performance at a sparsely attended mall disco), Tania finally catches up to Erica, making her entrance in the iconic, tube-top with black leather pants and jacket ensemble that she will wear for the rest of the film. She also has that Uzi with her. And it turns out that it’s one of those magic Uzis that makes its own bullets, because Tania is able to squeeze endless rounds out of it into everybody at the disco except for, for some reason, Erica. This allows a large number of extras to put on their best death agony face as squibs and bags of fake blood do their delicate dance of enchantment within their clothing. While Tania fires about a bazillion bullets into people, mostly innocent bystanders, throughout the course of the film, she also has about a giga-bazillion bullets fired into her, all to no effect, which never causes those aligned against her to reconsider their mode of attack. “What does it take to kill you anyway?”, Max cries desperately at one point. I only have a partial answer to that question: Not bullets. (Max’s reply? BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM!)
Fortunately for Erica, Max and his buddies are also at the disco. He’s able to spirit her away to the temporary safety of the “Spesial Sekuriti” offices. Here we meet Erica’s uncle, an old shaman who, after making his expected “I knew this day would come” speech, gives her some kind of protective object that we, the audience, are not allowed to see. Then Tania storms the offices and the uncle has a brief magical battle with her, which ends when Tania kills him by machine-gunning him in the balls for a full ten seconds. Tania then methodically strides through the entire office and mows down absolutely everyone in sight, which turns out to be quite a lot of people; “Spesial Sekuriti” is obviously well staffed. In the cases of the men, she adds a little extra coup de grace by kicking them in the groin once she’s fired enough bullets into their bodies to kill them several times over.
In its efforts to be a 1980s American action film, Lady Terminator makes a sincere attempt, in the midst of providing as much wall-to-wall carnage as possible, to also contain within itself everything else that a 1980s American action film should contain. That includes 1980s American action film style character development, which, given that the characters here are even more two-dimensional than those in the typical Golan-Globus film, makes for some pretty credibility-stretching scenarios. First, we have Erica and Max, from the second they meet, constantly bickering and sniping at each other for no reason. Erica sees the fact that Max has just obviously saved her from mortal harm as some kind of annoyance. When not making outraged inquiries about his intentions, she keeps haughtily demanding to be taken home. In turn, Max, between squeezing off rounds at the pursuing Tania from behind the wheel of his speeding car, keeps telling her to “shut up”, and, in effect, that no uppity dame is going to tell him what to do.
Finally, during a brief, fireside respite, the two bond, which involves each telling the other about loved ones who have died violently because, in a 1980s action film, you cannot be a person of substance unless you have lost a wife, child, parent, or all of the above to the hands of lowlife criminal scum. Max tells Erica that his wife talked him into quitting the police force and moving to Minnesota to open a restaurant, after which she was raped and killed. Max says that this last part was all his fault. Erica takes up her part in this tit-for-tat by lamenting the fact that now, not only is she an orphan, but also minus a best friend and uncle thanks to Tania’s ravages. Then they do it.
From this point on, Lady Terminator documents the cat-and-mouse game between Max and Erica and the ever-determined Tanya, who somehow continues to commandeer nicer and nicer vehicles, all of which, of course, end up getting spectacularly blown up in one way or another. Needlessly to say, this chase also involves the deaths of many, many more innocent bystanders. Now and then, in the midst of the massacre, a member of the star cast will randomly assign a name to one of these anonymous casualties (“Damn, she got Betty!”, “Tom, my buddy!”). I see this as Lady Terminator‘s humble attempt to put a human face on the tragedy, whose scale would otherwise be too much for the human mind to grasp.
Finally it becomes clear that it’s time to call in the big guns, and so, as we have so eagerly anticipated, Max’s much-heralded buddies from the States, Tom, John and Snake, are called in to try their hand at mopping things up. High-fives are exchanged. Cries of “Let’s kick ass!” are roared to the heavens. And, in a climactic nighttime battle at the airport, we see that the boys have packed a rocket-launching helicopter. Unfortunately, even this heavy ordnance proves no match for Tania’s bottomless Uzi. What then follows is a line from Max that will send shudders of ecstasy down the spine of any engaged viewer:
“Snake, get the Panzer!”
And with that, Lady Terminator descends/rises to a point where it could not be a more lacerating parody of 80s action movie cliches had it intended to be, with Snake riding around on top of an armored assault vehicle, mullet flying in the wind, multiple explosions going off on all sides of him, as he yells things like “Fuckin’ A!” and “Alright!” all to the end of subduing a lone, Uzi-wielding woman who looks like she stepped out of a Def Leppard video.
So, have I mentioned that I love Lady Terminator? LOVE it. Its dialog is ludicrous. Its action is frenetic, and also ludicrous. Its gore is gratuitous to the point of being… well, ludicrous. Everything about it is so much more than it needs to be that it takes one past the point of feeling satisfied to feeling engorged. So generous is its bounty that to merely sing its praises seems like inadequate thanks. Like the Queen of the South Seas, it should be worshiped, with palms upturned to the heavens and mouth agape. We should give our bodies to it, and let it make of us soulless meat puppets for the purpose of whatever unholy errands it sees fit. In short, Lady Terminator is just a really, really awesome movie.
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