H. Tjut Djalil
Barbara Anne Constable, Christopher J. Hart, Claudia Angelique Rademaker, Joseph P. McGlynn, Adam Stardust, Ikang Fawzi
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 — even when that cost, as was usually the case, was less than a hundred thousand dollars. 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. Now, given my assumption that Teleport City readers have more than a glancing familiarity with The Terminator, I’m going to skip on providing any refresher material on that subject. As for the Queen of the South Seas, while the various recountings of her tale attribute to her an assortment of different guises and origins, all seem to agree upon the fact that she is a powerful goddess who dwells at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. This aforementioned heterogeneous quality suggests that 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, right on the heels of a bit of opening narration that not only doesn’t make sense in itself, but also has no bearing whatsoever on anything that follows it: “Sometimes the past should be left to memory, to gather dust within the cupboards of recorded time.” And as that sentiment itself takes its deserved place within the cupboards of recorded time, 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’ wangers post haste. 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.
And you though Javanese folklore would be boring, didn’t you?
Once the credits have rolled, we are taken to modern day Indonesia, and the arrival upon its shores of easy-on-the-eyes young American anthropologist Tania Wilson, whose credentials are established by having her indignantly inform people that she’s an anthropologist literally all the effing 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 an Australian woman named Barbara Anne Constable, who, in addition to also receiving a make-up artist credit for Lady Terminator, apparently never appeared as a principle cast member in any other film. It’s hard to gauge Constable as an actress here, 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 attractive female package — part Flashdance era Jennifer Beals, part Madonna, part Teena Marie of “Lovergirl” fame, part the Kids From Fame, and part, uh, I don’t know, Ms. Pacman, I guess. Why she was never cast as one of Don Johnson’s girlfriends on Miami Vice I will never know.
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 little 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 this case by becoming a flying, disembodied head with lungs and viscera still attached who goes around sucking the fetuses out of pregnant women right through their vaginas. In Lady Terminator, Tania’s transformation is no less dramatic, albeit given a more contemporary spin. In her case, the conversion to 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 her birth canal. Soon after, Tania, now possessed by the spirit of the South Sea Queen, 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. (Later, we see a fellow walk into a pub and throw a wad of cash down on the bar, saying to his companion, who entered with him, “I just won me a couple of grand from the races!” — even though that piece of information will in no way prove relevant to anything that happens subsequently.) 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?”
After chowing down on these men with her fanny fangs, 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 — albeit one of less recent construction than the one shown in the movie — and that a room there is indeed reserved at all time for the South Seas Queen as a guard against bad luck. Anyway, 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. What the hell kind of hotel is this?, you might ask yourself. But never mind; what matters most is that that Uzi is going to play a very important part in the events to follow.
As I mentioned before, due to the fact that the more high profile Indonesian exploitation films of its type depended on foreign sales for their profits (and, in case you were wondering, Lady Terminator did indeed have a brief theatrical run in the U.S.), Lady Terminator is a film that 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 necessitate 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 meant to be taking place. The Jakarta-shot locations are mostly recently developed areas of urban sprawl that could be in any number of cities on Earth, and, 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 now 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. It is only much later that we learn that the initial New York scene was meant to be a flashback to Max’s life several years previous to the film’s main action. Despite this, I have to admit that, when I first watched Lady Terminator, I thought its narrative, while unbelievably silly, seemed to reel out in a fairly linear fashion. But now that I’ve actually had to pay attention to its details for the purposes of this review, I realized that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
This aforementioned “New York” sequence also serves to introduce a few of Max’s manly American pals, who include among them the utterly generic “Joe” and “Tom”, as well as the more memorable Snake, a dude with a surfer accent who sports what is unquestionably the Platonic ideal of mullets. Seriously, the thing makes me wish I could jump in a time machine and go back to a period before mullets became passé as an easy target for internet ridicule. 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. (By the way, there appears in Lady Terminator‘s opening credits an actor named Adam Stardust, and though I couldn’t say for sure who Adam Stadust plays in the movie, I’d like to think that it’s Snake.) Anyway, 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 formerly Uzi sporting hotel security guard. One of Max’s partners remarks that each of the victims have 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. Seriously, these cops’ level of sensitivity makes that cop named “Shithead” from Naked Killer — or the cops from The Untold Story, even — by comparison seem like they could be detectives on Law & Order: Special Victims’ Unit.
Finally it comes time for us to learn who the ultimate target of Tania’s wrath is — in other words, the great granddaughter of that guy who pissed off the South Seas Queen in the first place. And, yes, I thought it was Tania, too, but no. It is actually Erica, a big haired aspiring pop star played by Claudia Angelique Rademaker. Erica has a signature song that we see performed twice in Lady Terminator, and it is a true thing of beauty, a preposterous serving of ESL word salad sung with utter conviction over the pulsating synth backing of an “Eye of the Tiger” style aspirational rock number. Of the lyrics that contain actual English (I don’t think that “solutious” is a word in any language) I could make out the following couplets, including the first chorus:
“Fight! Souls on fire!
We assist those in power!”
“Some will find the power, search within the storm,
Someone hides a weaker face, a nose gone wrong!”
It is at Erica’s big rock show — actually a performance at a sparsely attended mall disco — that 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. I should mention here that, 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 nonetheless 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 asshole buddies are also at the disco when Tania makes her appearance, and Max is able to spirit her away to the temporary safety of the “Spesial Sekuriti” offices. Here we meet Erica’s uncle, an old shaman type 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 10 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 very 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 prostrate 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. And 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 of all, we have Erica and Max, from the second they meet, constantly bickering and sniping at each other for no reason. Erica is presented as seeing the fact that Max has just obviously saved her from mortal harm as some kind of annoyance, and, when not making outraged inquiries about his intentions, 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 of course 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’s story consists entirely of him telling Erica that his wife talked him into quitting the police force, then moving to Minnesota and opening a restaurant, after which she was raped and killed. Max says that this last part was all his fault. However, based on these scant details, one could also say that the culprit might have been (a) the state of Minnesota, (b) restaurant ownership, or even, in fact, (c) the whole concept or entrepreneurship.
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. What follows is this marvelous exchange:
ERICA: Everybody’s gone! God, I’m alone!
MAX (robotically): It’ll all look better in the morning.
ERICA: Damn you! Can’t you see I’m crying for you!
Then they totally do it.
From this point on, Lady Terminator documents the treacherous cat-and-mouse game played between Max and Erica and the ever-determined Tanya, who somehow continues to commandeer nicer and nicer vehicles as she continues her pursuit — all of which, of course, end up getting spectacularly blown up in one way or another. Needlessly to say, this chase will also involve the deaths of many, many more innocent bystanders. Now and then, in the midst of the massacre, one member or another 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 truly 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, along with their toothbrushes and Axe Body Spray, 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. Suffice it to say that anyone who has made it this far into Lady Terminator without throwing their hands up is weeping tears of unbridled joy at this point.
So, have I mentioned that I love Lady Terminator? LOVE it. It’s dialog is ludicrous. It’s action is frenetic, and also ludicrous. It’s 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.
Unfortunately, Indonesia’s censors failed to recognize that awesomeness. Thanks to it having a level of onscreen nudity and simulated sex seldom seen by the predominantly Muslim country’s movie audiences, the film was pulled from the nation’s theaters within days of its release. Director H. Tjut Djalil would return to the export-friendly exploitation well again for the also pretty bonkers Dangerous Seductress in 1992, before hanging it up a couple of years later. And as for Lady Terminator‘s star cast? Well, if the IMDB is to be believed — which, well, it really isn’t — none of them went on to ever star in anything else, ever. Even if this were true, though, it’s my feeling that a sole, credited role in Lady Terminator is more than enough to trump the resume of many another, more prolifically employed actor. These people should all be proud. Very proud, indeed.
And as for me, suffice it to say I walked away from my initial viewing of Lady Terminator a changed man. Dammit, I want to marry Lady Terminator. And by that, I mean the movie, not the Lady Terminator herself. She’d probably shoot my dick off.