This master of fantasy and horror films was born in Manila

This master of fantasy and horror films was born in Manila
Filmmaker Brian Yuzna: I always like ghost stories. And I always like weird things. I like surrealism in art. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The name of American filmmaker Brian Yuzna might not ring a bell to the mass audience of commercial films, especially from Hollywood, but he is a master in his own right.

Come to think of it, Yuzna is on a par in innovations with such legends as Alfred Hitchcock or Brian de Palma, or even Steven Spielberg or John Carpenter.

I first heard of him when the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan) held in South Korea in July sent me an invite to enrol in his virtual master class. I immediately searched online and found that he was a popular genre moviemaker of such hits as “Re-Animator” and “Society.”

Yuzna is an underrated filmmaker, but when I mentioned him to Filipino director Jeffrey Jeturian, he said he knew him. But then Jeturian is a well-rounded director with academic and practical learning experiences.

Look at what Hollywood has done to my education and appreciation of influential filmmakers outside its sphere. An entertainment writer like myself has to be oriented to all sorts of subjects concerning the movies, local and foreign, especially in this global day and age.

Yuzna was the dean of the 26 th BiFan’s Fantastic Film School of the Network of Asian Fantastic Films’ BIG (BiFan Industry Gathering). In his Instagram, he exclaimed: “…oh jeez-that is such a mouthful!”

Elevator ride

We sat down for an exclusive interview a day after we shared an elevator to the third floor of Koryo Hotel in Bucheon City. I introduced myself as a Filipino movie journalist, and his wife, who was standing beside him, blurted out in amazement: “Oh! Philippines. Brian Yuzna was born in the Philippines!” 

“I was born in 1949 in Manila,” he said on a separate occasion.

“Where in Manila?” I replied.

To which he said: “Where are the bases located?” 

“In Luzon,” I said. “Olongapo City had Subic Naval Base and Pampanga had Clark Air Base.” 

“The document says Manila,” he quipped.

One thing seems clear: Yuzna’s dad worked in either of the US bases in the country. After staying in the Philippines, the family moved to Nicaragua, Indonesia, and other parts of the world, he said.

Yuzna has a brother and a sister.

Related: An Emmy nomination for a film all Filipinos should watch

False memories

Here are excerpts from my interview with the filmmaker:

Boy Villasanta (BV): What were your memorable experiences growing up in the Philippines?

Brian Yuzna (BY): I think the memories I have are false memories. Yes, they are memories of the 8-millimeter films which my parents took. So I see movies with me in the Philippines. I would see these tall trees, grass, sidewalks, the little tricycle I rode. My parents would say they let me go around anywhere, like to a neighborhood store, and people would take care of me.

My parents have a lot of pictures about the Philippines.

No. I didn’t learn any Tagalog words, but my parents would have this Tagalog dictionary with them.

“Society”: Sci-fi horror films not meant to be symbolic but to create a new monster. —filmsCONTRIBUTED PHOTO

BV: How did your filmmaking start?

BY: Like everybody else, I love movies. At one point, when I was about 30 years old, I found a 16-mm movie camera and I started shooting with it and I got very interested. So I found someone who knew how to make movies, and I asked him to help me. I started making a movie and I thought, Wow! I love this and if I can make a living making movies, it seems like a good job. That’s what I did.

BV: I saw your film, “Society,” when I was enrolled in your master class. How were you able to gather all those visual devices?

BY: Those are not virtual. It was 1988. There’s no CGI (computer-generated images) yet. We just had to make visual effects melted out of rubber. Forever, artists have been able to make puppets, and special effects are puppets. And I found a really great collaborator, a Japanese special effects artist. His name is Streaming George. And so, he was able to get into the studio to create all those weird special effects.

“Society” is kinda sci-fi horror. It’s not meant to be symbolic. It’s meant to create a new monster. And for the inspiration of the new monster, I thought it would be fun to have the class struggle between the rich and the poor. Be the monster. You know, people say, the rich are very strange, so I thought, Yeah, very strange (with emphasis).


BV: You were born in the Philippines. Are there any influences of our culture that can be found in your movies?

BY: I presume. You see, I lived in Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico, Puerto Rico. I think the myths and the legends, … the fantastic culture of the Philippines and the Middle America (Latin/South) like Panama, Nicaragua, there are some similarities. But the biggest similarity, about 15 years ago, I moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, and made a couple of movies there and I think the culture of Indonesia is more similar to the Philippines than the Panamanian or Nicaraguan beliefs.

I think a lot of ghosts and creatures from the folklore of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries have a lot of similarities. What makes the Philippines a little different is its Spanish influence, especially Christianity, unlike in Indonesia and Malaysia which have Islamic cultures. I guess in Cambodia or Vietnam, they don’t either. 

I guess there’s some great mythology in the Philippines and Indonesia that I want to do movies about.

The filmmaker and the author. —filmsCONTRIBUTED PHOTO

BV: What makes you stick to genre filmmaking?

BY: I don’t know. I think I always like ghost stories. And I always like weird things. I like surrealism in art. I like things that are dreamlike. I like folklore. I like the crazy stories people tell in the dark. I find them interesting. It’s always fun.

BV: What’s in store for the world to see in Brian Yuzna’s new movies?

BY: I’m working on a project now based on four movies, cheap movies. They were made by English people in the Philippines in the 1960s, 1964, called “The Blood Island,” “The Beast of Blood Island,” “The Terrorist Man,” “The Bride of Blood Island.” 

I want to remake them and shoot in the Philippines so that I can also retrace my roots there.

Boy Villasanta writes an entertainment column for the OpinYon weeklies ( —Ed.

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