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Bayi Ajaib

a.k.a. MIRACULOUS CHILD / INDONESIAN ‘THE OMEN’
P.T. Empat Gajah Film [1982] 94′
country: Indonesia
director: TINDRA RENGAT
cast: RIZWI IBRAHIM, RINA HASSIM,
cast: MUNI CADER, W. D. MOCHTAR

The Indonesian film industry has led an interesting, if troubled, life. Begun in 1926 by Dutch settlers and utilized throughout World War II as a propaganda machine for the occupying Japanese, the industry was turned towards nationalist and anti-Western propaganda by the post-war Sukarno government. Sukarno’s regime was overthrown in 1966, and the incoming New Order opened the medium to wider development while simultaneously restricting it with wide-ranging censorship laws. In spite of any number of political obstacles, the Indonesian film industry had come into its own by the end of the 1960’s and reached a veritable boiling point by the 1980’s.

Under the rule of Suharto’s New Order, film imports were all but unheard of [undoubtedly deemed dangerous to Suharto's authoritarian ambitions and his proposed social order] – but that didn’t stop producers from seeing the potential box office draw of productions based wholly or in part on popular international efforts. As had been the case in many other countries, Indonesia’s exploitation market, in particular, took notice of the trends around it, developing a unique and identifiable brand of horror that combined a whole world of genre traditions – from European gore to supernatural Hong Kong action.

Some of Indonesia’s prolific horror output has come to be quite well known in the West [MYSTICS IN BALI most famously] while other, not so much. BAYI AJAIB ["Ajaib" meaning "Miraculous" or "Bizarre" and "Bayi" meaning "Baby"] definitely fits into that latter category. Produced in 1982, the film takes an obvious inspiration from 1976’s THE OMEN [which had seen a popular re-release in Hong Kong in 1980], though a straight remake it most certainly isn’t.

My understanding of Bahasa is practically nil, but the story for BAYI AJAIB is relatively easy to follow all the same. It concerns two young men, both of whom want to be head of their village – Kosim [Cader] and Dorman Dominique [Mochtar]. When Kosim discovers a wealth of jewels in a local stream, it suddenly appears as though he has the upper hand in the race, something Dorman simply cannot tolerate. This being a supernatural horror film, Dorman takes to digging up his Portuguese ancestor Alberto Dominique [a terrible former ruler of the community who was executed in 1736] so that he might help. Itching for power, Alberto lures Kosim’s pregnant wife Sumi to his tomb and, molests her with a rickety skeleton, and possesses her late-term fetus.

Later that evening, with an unexplained lunar eclipse looming in the sky, the baby is birthed – it wastes no time in killing a midwife and escaping. After a long search through the nearby forest, Kosim finds the child, who is seemingly normal. Several years pass – Kosim’s son Didi [Ibrahim] has grown from a creepy baby into a creepy young boy who amuses himself by forcing street performers to hurt themselves [one cuts off his hand!], beating local children at peeing contests, and making a mockery of his own circumcision ceremony. Worse yet, religious things – like the Islamic call to prayer – drive him violently mad. While appearing to be a normal child, the demonic spirit of Alberto Dominique still possesses Didi, murdering those who get in the way of his quest for power. A photographer who snaps a picture of Didi’s possessor [who pops out of the photograph to slap the photographer in the face!] is drowned in a lake, while a psychic who warns Kosim of Didi’s possession is stabbed by a tree limb, struck by lightning, and devoured by crocodiles. Not even Didi’s mother, now pregnant with a second child, is safe from his onslaught . . .

When the election for village head is finally held [how long do these things take!?] neither Kosim or Dorman win – a third challenger, Pak Soleh, takes the throne. Dorman is so angry that his appeals to the supernatural have gone so badly that he heads out to his ancestor Alberto’s tomb and starts raising havoc, but is devoured by a horde of leaping ninja-rats before he can do any real harm. Kosim finally decides that he’s had enough with his possessed son after Didi ruins the post-election festivities and tries to kill another midwife, but a kindly old priest named Kyai steps in before Kosim can smash in the child’s head with a rock. A green laser blast from Kyai’s hand renders Didi immobile, and a few days of prayer evict the possessing Alberto from his body once and for all. With their child finally back to normal, Kosim and Sumi have the circumcision ceremony performed once more – this time successfully.

As horror films go, this is certainly an odd one. Similarities to THE OMEN are really few and far between, amounting to the presence of a possessed child, a photographer meddling where he shouldn’t, warnings from a crazy man, and the father being involved in politics. Plot-wise there’s really nothing much going on with BAYI AJAIB, just some uninteresting local politics and a lot of demonizing of the Portuguese [the first Westerners to attempt colonies in Indonesia] to string together the plentiful exploitative moments. I can’t really judge the scripting, but performances from the cast of Indonesian grindhouse regulars seem competent enough. Ibrahim [as Didi] may be the only real drawback here, as he grows steadily more annoying as the seconds tick by. The accompanying score is fitting enough, though it’s doubtful any of it is original to the production – I caught a few snippets of Queen’s work on FLASH GORDON but didn’t recognize anything else.

But when it comes to appreciating a film like this, things like plot and acting are all secondary to the seedier aspects of the production – and BAYI AJAIB is outfitted with a number of memorable horror set pieces. Seeing Dorman attacked by a multitude of physics-defying rats is worth the price of admission alone and the birth of Didi offers up some genuinely disturbing imagery. In terms of shear “WTF!?” bliss, moments like the possessed fetus leaping at a doomed midwife or a street performer thrown [by whip] into the top of an electrical pole can’t be beat. There are definitely some groaners in the bunch – the death of the photographer is pretty lame and the attack on the psychic goes on for far far too long – but most of them still manage to entertain. Some of the very best scenes even go far enough over the top that they encroach upon being scary again.

Whether or not BAYI AJAIB is worth your time and effort will depend largely on your patience for extreme low-budgetness and ability to look beyond the barriers or culture and language, which can be quite daunting at times [like in the two circumcision scenes]. Personally, it’s not a favorite, but the film’s frequent outbursts into outright insanity were enough to warrant at least one casual viewing. Those interested can find the entire film up for viewing at YouTube, and I’m pretty sure there are VCD’s of it kicking around for any of you looking for hard copies. I say see it – what harm could it do?

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