“First She Mates — Then She Terminates!” — Advertising Tag-Line for “Lady Terminator”
Your host is debuting a new semi-regular feature here at TFG where we take a look at some of the more bizarre Z-grade exploitation fare from around the globe, since, as the Japanese, Italians, and others have proven over the years, the English-speaking world doesn’t hold a monopoly on head-scratchingly bizarre cinema — in fact, you could argue that we’re in the minor leagues compared to plenty of other countries. And I can’t think of a better place to begin our occasional examination of international film absurdities than with the 1988 Indonesian gem (and I use that term advisedly — context, people, context!) “Lady Terminator.”
First thought upon seeing the title is, naturally enough, “looks like a cheap ‘Terminator’ rip-off only with a chick.” Which is, of course, true. First impressions don’t lie — all the time. But there’s a lot more to this film than just that, as it incorporates local legend, aimed squarely at a largely working-class local audience, to deliver a truly Indonesian take on James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster, all while trying its level best (and failing) to look like an American Hollywood special effects extravaganza.
If blending the local with the desperate desire to appear like it was filmed somewhere — anywhere — else sounds incongruous to you, rest assured that it is, and it’s this attempt to both speak to, and simultaneously disguise and/or escape its roots, that gives “Lady Terminator” a unique personality all its own — albeit a highly schizophrenic one. The cheesy special effects, horrendous dubbing, lame acting, and cheap production values are just icing on the cake. The funnest thing about this film is watching how it tries to pitch itself to audiences at home by giving the story a distinctly Indonesian (specifically Javanese) backstory while trying to hustle its wares to audiences abroad by doing its level best (and, again, failing) to look like an LA-based production.
Our story begins hundreds — shit, maybe even thousands, by the look of things —of yea ago in an ancient, foreboding castle by the sea. There, the evil South Seas Queen slakes her apparently endless sexual thirst on an apparently endless succession of local men. The only problem : they all end up dead; their cocks chewed off mid-intercourse, a stream of blood spurting up their bodies. I know what you’re thinking here — the old “vagina dentata” myth, most recently explored cinematically in “Teeth.” Hold on a second, though – one day, a mysterious (white) foreigner shows up and tames her with his John Holmes-like appendage. He also learns the secret to why every other guy who got tried on for size (pun sort of intended) ended up quite literally emasculated : there’s a sea serpent living inside the evil queen’s snatch, and he grabs it out, turns it into a dagger(?), and she ends up dead — but not before vowing that, in one hundred years’ time, she’ll have her revenge upon his great-granddaughter.
This, friends, in the ancient Javanese legend of the South Seas Queen (raise your hand if you knew that one — I admit I didn’t). Yes, it’s a variation on the “vagina dentata” theme just mentioned, but probably the type of variation that could only come from an island culture, fused as it is with “sea monster”-type legend.
Fast-forward 100 years and we’re in the present day (well, 1988). I know what you’re thinking — I said that whole castle scene looks like it took place centuries ago. And it does. But whatever. In our new, modern segment of the story we’ve got a beautiful, ethnically vague (my guess is half Indonesian half white) young anthropologist named Tania (Barbara Anne Constable) about to head underwater for a diving excursion. She’s investigating the legend of the South Seas Queen and believes she’s located the whereabouts of her castle so she wants to see if there are any artifacts from it lying on the sea bed. I didn’t know anthropologists were interested in shit that’s only 100 years old, either, but again — whatever. It’s called suspension of disbelief, people, and trust me when I say that if you want to keep up with events in “Lady Terminator,” your very survival depends on it.
Anyway, Tania’s boat is capsized by a tsunami and soon she finds herself on the bottom on the sea. In a bed. in a dry room. Naked (she spends a good 50% of her screen time at least topless, if not fully nude, although there’s very little by way of full frontal stuff). Whereupon the evil sea serpent that had possessed the wicked queen enters her (entirely unconvincingly) vaginally.
Then it’s back up to the surface to pick up right where our evil snake left off — Tania and her new body-sharing mate are determined to fuck, then kill, every guy in sight, and to track down the granddaughter of the guy who put a stop to their last round of carnal homicide. The Lady Terminator is born!
This is the point at which the movie moves firmly into Cameron clone territory, albeit with a few twists — for one thing, the Lady Terminator is not half-robot, or whatever the hell Ah-nuld was. But she’s every bit as indestructible. Apparently, the cops — as well as hotel and mall security guards — in Indonesia have an endless supply of automatic weaponry, but all the uzi fire in the world, even at point-blank range, doesn’t stop this lady. Nor do helicopter-fired missiles. Or fiery car wrecks. When her eye gets bloody, she just pops is out of its socket, washes it off with a combination of water and crackling electricity, and sticks it back in. The only thing that can harm her is an ancient amulet worn by Erica (Claudia Angelique Rademaker), the granddaughter she’s hunting down. But will out erstwhile heroine figure this out in time?
The other areas in which this film deviates from the James Cameron blueprint are in the sheer amount of sex and violence packed into its 85-minute runtime and the rushed mouthfuls of dialogue that fly non-stop. It almost feels like a Reader’s Digest condensed version of a longer film. And the action almost feels like it’s following the script of the original “Terminator” film and turning it up a few notches just because it can. In fact, it’s got almost as much non-stop mayhem as “Terminator 2,” and almost bears a closer resemblance in many key respects to that film, even though “Lady Terminator” came out a few years earlier. It’s enough to make you wonder if Cameron had actually seen this thing before starting work on his sequel — in which case “Terminator 2″ would be a copy of a copy of his original.
But back to the story, such as it is. Erica’s an up-and-coming wannabe actress/pop star, and the only recognizably Indonesian member of the principal cast (even though her great-granddaddy was supposedly white).She’s protected by a stereotypical tough young cop named Max McNeil (Christopher J. Hart), who is obviously American (and working for the Indonesian cops — don’t ask me how that works), and equally obviously only speaks English. In fact, a good half this movie looks like it was shot in English but then dubbed over anyway. Max got put on the case when a bunch of dickless dead bodies started turning up at the morgue. Soon he’s trying to protect Erica from her indestructible pursuer and starting up a romance with her at the same time. That’s generally how these sorts of things work.
The action all takes place at decidedly American-looking locales, from shopping malls to hotels to airports (all with signs in English). It’s as though director H. Tjut Djalil (given a phony Anglicized name in the credits, as are all the cast and crew) and screenwriter Karr Kruinowz figured they were done with the Indonesian part of the story after the opening set-up and, having captured the interest of the locals, would spend the rest of the film trying to make as American-looking a production as possible in case they could actually pick up some overseas distribution (which, in fact, they did — “Lady Terminator” actually played a few 42nd street grindhouses in the waning days of the pre-Disneyfied Deuce).
The final climactic battle is pure Cameron rip-off, albeit on steroids, with an emaciated, disfigured, grotesque Lady Terminator engaging in a last, desperate, ultra-violent battle with our heroes. The only thing missing is the red eye and dangling robot parts. Then we’ve got some voice-over narration at the end that takes everything back to the realm of ancient Indonesian legend even though the previous 70-plus minutes have been a desperate attempt to look as American as possible. Go figure.
“Lady Terminator” is available on DVD from Mondo Macabro. Despite not having featuring a commentary track, which probably would have been almost impossible to produce given the language barriers involved even if they had managed to track down all the principals behind the scenes, it’s a truly excellent package. The anamorphic transfer is generally sharp and crisp aside from some entirely forgivable and excusable grainy spots in parts, the digital mono soundtrack is perfectly fine, and the extras include a superb mini-documentary on the history of Indonesian exploitation cinema and an extremely thorough and comprehensive text essay on the origins and production of “Lady Terminator” that includes some still photos as well as promotional artwork for this film and Djalil’s previous cinematic offering, the equally-befuddling, but ultimately less engaging, “Mystics in Bali.” All in all, an extremely worthy addition to your DVD library.
“Lady Terminator” is a singularly bizarre movie experience, and one not to be missed. In attempting to appeal to both a local audience and to the international — specifically the American — market, Djalil and company ended up making a film that feels like it was made not in America or in Indonesia — or even on the planet Earth for that matter — but one that landed here from another dimension altogether.