If you have any interest in extreme cinema, you really have to seek this out. The UK Mondo Macarbro DVD seems to have disappeared without a trace, so thank goodness that this re-issue has surfaced with a better print, although it apparently leaves off a short documentary extra that the Region 2 disc had. But if you do see "Mystics in Bali" at all, you'll be in for a bizarre treat.
An American tourist named Cathy decides to investigate the art of black magic known as "leyak", and she gets her Balinese boyfriend to introduce her to a powerful leyak witch, in the hope of becoming an apprentice. The witch takes Cathy on, and over the course of a few nights teaches her some weird and wonderful magic, but unfortunately for Cathy, the price for such knowledge is becoming a slave to the witch's lust for fresh blood...What follows is one of the oddest spectacles you are ever likely to see in horror cinema. The witch controls Cathy by casting magic on her that causes Cathy's head to lift from her shoulders, pulling her spinal cord and internal organs out along with it! The whole head then flies off in search of blood, and in it's first hunt, succeeds in sucking an unborn baby out from a woman in labour, feeding on it from between her legs. The impact of seeing this on screen is hard to put into words. Despite some pretty low budget effects, the fact that such a thing is represented on screen at all is pretty fantastic.
Now this is probably down to the relatively low exposure of us westerners to obscure ethnic world mythology, as I have read that the main device in the film (a floating, blood-sucking head) is a staple of supernatural folklore in Indonesia. There is a previous film about it from the late 1970's called "Witch With Flying Head", although this does not seem to exist anywhere in English. I have seen it, and the spectacle of the head is just as impressive, plus it gets a lot more screen time, although the film was made in Hong Kong and sets the action in a more fantastical period setting, so such things seem easier to accept among the general mythical atmosphere. But with a western heroine and the modern setting that we have here (it's set in the contemporary 1980's and Cathy and her boyfriend wear t-shirts and swimming clothes), it's pretty startling.
The impact of the film certainly does not come from any technical or artistic excellence, that's for sure. The dubbing is atrocious, and I suspect the English dub was made up based on what the foreign language team felt needed to be made clear in the script at any time. Even so, it's still hard to keep track of the action. There's no sense of pacing at all. Events just pile into each other like a car crash. Scenes switch from one day (or night) to the next without any warning. Sometimes the only way you are supposed to know that time has passed is by checking what the characters are wearing. Neither of the two leads can act (Cathy is wooden and catatonic most of the time, although this does allow her to play an effective evil flying head), however the actress playing the leyak witch throws herself into the part with enthusiasm. Actually, the film certainly manages to build up a mood of hysteria, with a great soundtrack that shakes and rattles at you throughout the many scenes of supernatural mayhem, and underscores each moment of Cathy's head splitting from her body with a ominous drone. There are lots of other effects in the film, including flying fireballs, lightning shooting from fingers and transformations of people into pigs and snakes, and they all rattle off the screen at an alarming rate, leaving you hardly able to take in what you have just seen before the scene changes to something else.
In any other film this disregard for basic cinematic ettiquette would have rendered the final result unwatchable, but with it's the whole flying head thing , "Mystics in Bali" is just too memorably freaky to be ignored or forgotten.