Shake, Rattle and Roll 9 (Paul Daza, Mike Tuviera & Topel Lee, 2007)
When Regal Studios decided to revive the Shake, Rattle and Roll franchise (a franchise that temporarily ended in 1997 with its 6th reincarnation) for the 2005 Metro Manila Film Festival (a yearly festival which starts on Christmas Day where all movie theaters in the country are blocked in favor of the nine or so entries, all of which are products of the mainstream, with fairly big budgets and riddled with big-name stars), it was met, mostly by more discerning film viewers, with a disapproving groan. Has the mainstream lost all originality that it needed to dig its dusty archives to capitalize on the two week-long film festival? The cornered audience however mindlessly bought the idea and gorged on the three horror episodes like Christmas fruitcake, prompting Regal to turn the franchise into a yearly film festival tradition, and earning tons of money in doing so.
I thought the revival of the Shake, Rattle and Roll franchise was a great idea. The mainstream film industry is too old-fashioned and shrewd to invest on new filmmaking talents that it seems like the industry was never going to grow up (and every Metro Manila Film Festival looked like a reunion of fossilized commercial directors like Joel Lamangan, Jose Javier Reyes and Gil Portes, most of which are directing more than a single film in the roster of entries, turning the event into a bland, uncreative, and very exploitative event). The Shake, Rattle and Roll franchise provided cheap entry points for new filmmakers to penetrate the mainstream, and more often than not, their short film contributions to the horror triptych turned out to be the best films in the festival (like Richard Somes' Ang Lihim ng San Joaquin (The Secret of San Joaquin) in Shake, Rattle and Roll 2k5 (2005) or Topel Lee's Yaya (Nanny) and Mike Tuviera's LRT in Shake, Rattle and Roll 8 (2006)). I have to admit that I was quite satisfied with the resurgence of the horror franchise. Sadly, Shake, Rattle and Roll 9 finally broke this satisfaction. The latest addition to the franchise is an indubitable disappointment, each of the episodes evoking a frigid creative energy from start to finish.
The first episode entitled Christmas Tree is directed by newcomer Paul Daza, his credits include co-writing the screenplay for Mike Tuviera's Txt (2006). It's essentially about the titular Yuletide ornament, which we find out early on as having been imported from the heart of the Amazon jungle, who has an appetite for human beings. It's a humdrum affair. The hero of the picture is a little kid (played by Nash Aguas, terrific child actor who impressed me in Topel Lee's Yaya but here, has nothing else to do but wallow in shallow and mechanical line reading and cued crying), traumatized by the death of his father (underutilized Tonton Gutierrez) and is now tasked to be the sole man in their family, which includes his mom (Gina Alajar) and two sisters (Lovi Poe and Sophia Baars). Half of the short is spent on trite characterization and repetitive montages of holiday cheers, before engaging us with the final showdown between the extended family (now including grandmother (Boots Anson-Roa) and uncle (John Prats)) and the silly-looking Christmas Tree monster, an evident letdown considering that Daza had to bore us to death first before torturing us with this cheap special effects spectacle. It must be noted that in the first Shake, Rattle & Roll (Emmanuel Borlaza, Ishmael Bernal & Peque Gallaga, 1984), Bernal crafted a horror short entitled Pridyider about another inanimate object, a refrigerator, that rapes and murders. Bernal's short was scary, funny and inspired while Daza's is just annoying.
Bangungot (Nightmare), the Mike Tuviera-directed middle portion, is much better. He tells the story of Marionne (Roxanne Guinoo) who is in love with her employee Jerome (Dennis Trillo). Unfortunately, Jerome is already engaged to another girl Florence (Pauline Luna), signaling Marionne to light a candle one night and recite Latin incantations that would magically have both her and Jerome dream about each other. Of course, things go awry when a mysterious being robed in red starts haunting both of them in their dreams, threatening to suck the life out of them (with effects clearly stolen from the Dementors of the Harry Potter franchise).The story again relies on a twist to complete the dread, and it's a good thing that the twist, more than being a story cliche, adds depth, teeth and danger to Marionne's chronic obsession. It's all good and clever I thought, but it barely compares to Tuviera's own LRT, a monster flick that fed on the very plebeian necessity of commuting before transforming into an allegory on the callousness and selfishness of the powers that be.
Finally, Topel Lee's Engkanto (Enchantress) is about a band (think teenage amateurs complete with facial make-up, tattered faux goth clothes, and an abundance of shallow angst, all played by local television's teen stars --- Melissa Ricks, Mart Escudero, Jewel Mische, Felix Roco and Matt Evans (as the band's roadie with a distracting afro)) on their way to a provincial gig. They get lost on the road, spends the night in an abandoned resort which also turns out to be the home of an engkanto (an Earth spirit which takes the form of a lovely enchantress, played by a very dull and surprisingly un-seductive Katrina Halili). I had very high hopes for this episode despite the fact that Lee seems incompatible with the mainstream (the two feature films he made for Regal after Yaya were disasters of different degrees --- Ouija (2007), a ghost story with some good ideas sullied by the absolute lack of subtlety; and My Kuya's Wedding (My Brother's Wedding, 2007), a genuinely likable rom-com that had serious storytelling and originality problems). Since the would-be victims are all walking stereotypes (even the emotional tension that supposedly exists among them feels unreasonably banal, a worthless attempt to put personality into what essentially are fodder), a gargantuan weight falls upon the shoulders of the engkanto to redeem the short. Unfortunately, she's a confused creation, a seductress who is barely seducing, a monster who is barely terrifying (she controls a horde of frenzied zombies; sadly, all they do is run and grab). Lee seems to be banking on Halili's sexual stature, but she's hardly sensual with a virginal white dress wrapped all over her. In Peque Gallaga's Manananggal (Monster), final portion of the first Shake, Rattle and Roll film, sexy actress Irma Alegre is both seductive and horrifying as the titular creature; and she only needed half a body to be an effective onscreen monster.
Alas, it seems that the franchise has finally lost its steam. Instead of being the vehicle for pumping young blood into the decaying mainstream, it has removed all pretenses of being anything other than a shameless cash cow. If Shake, Rattle and Roll 9 is a barometer for the state of Philippine mainstream cinema, I am quite saddened to say that it's moribund beyond any type of salvage.
This review is also published in The Oblation.