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MAGIC OF THE UNIVERSE

Believe it or not, this Filipino freak-out was intended as a children’s film. That’s despite brain eating, a beheading, a fight to the death and an exploding forehead. Not exactly family friendly fantasy, but for fans of surreal wackiness MAGIC OF THE UNIVERSE comes highly recommended.

The Package
     As the title suggests, this 1988 film was intended as a Filipino version of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. The results, however, are vastly unlike that film, or just about anything else you’ve ever seen.
     The good news regarding this film’s availability in the US is that it can be had, and quite cheaply, on DVD from BCI Eclipse. The bad news is that their version is fuzzy and suffers from fake “letterboxing” (in which the top and bottom portions of the screen are cut off to make it look like the film is widescreen).

The Story
     In a small Filipino village a magician named Jamir makes his daughter disappear in what was intended as a trick. Unfortunately the girl vanishes for real, and so Jamir, together with his family, visits a local magician--who locates the girl’s soul in part by imbibing monkey brains straight from the skull.
     Yes, it’s that kind of movie!
     The lost girl’s mother enters into the alternate realm where her daughter resides, a freaky environ lorded over by gruesome pig men and Mikula, a witch woman with an ugly pulsating forehead. The latter informs the girl and her ma that Jamir angered her and, unable to get at him, snatched his family in retaliation.
     Jamir and his son embark on a search through a nearby forest. They encounter a laser beam shooting vampire and a tribe of cannibal children. Jamir pacifies the latter by performing magic tricks, and so doesn’t notice his son being kidnapped. The boy is taken to Mikula’s lair, who forces the kid into a fight to the death with one of her monster henchmen. The resourceful kid wins, and in the melee Jamir’s wife and daughter escape into the forest. They meet up with a sad man whose wife was turned to stone by Mikula.
     Mikula goes after them, and while she’s gone a good-hearted, frizzy-haired witch named Kleriga turns up in Mikula’s palace to save Jamir’s son. But Mikula returns and gets the upper hand, beheading Kleriga and stealing her power.
     Around this time Jamir chances upon the Regalia, a magic wand that confers “all the power of the universe” upon him. He uses it to vanquish Mikula by making her pulsing forehead explode.

The Direction
     The late Tara Esteban probably couldn’t make a “good” movie if his life depended on it, but he does know how to craft vivid scenes of kaleidoscopic horror. There are many cool creatures on display that look like psychedelic inversions on monsters seen in movies like RETURN OF THE JEDI and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE; my favorite was a fuzzy dog-thing with a TV set in its stomach named Globo.
     Esteban also attempts to humanize his monsters in various quirky ways, i.e. keeping his camera trained on a swamp creature going into a self-pitying rage after the heroes have escaped its clutches. I’m not sure the attempt works (the special effects aren’t exactly Hollywood-worthy), but Esteban deserves points for effort.
     Unfortunately Esteban insists on lensing much of the action in various shades of darkness, which often makes it difficult to make out what’s going on (especially in the muddy BCI DVD version). Yet the film works reasonably well as a blast of horrific grotesquerie, and even contains a nifty music score that alternates spooky synthesizer cues with rockin’ guitar chords.
 

Vital Statistics

MAGIC OF THE UNIVERSE
Aces Films

Director: Tara Esteban
Screenplay: Grace Hill Serrano
Cinematography: Joe Tutanes
Editing: Pat Ramos
Cast: Michael De Mesa, Gina Alajar, Armida Siguion-Reyna, Tanya Gomez, Dick Israel, Odette Khan, Liza Lorena, Ruben Rustia, Sunchine, Tom Tom 

     

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