Goodbye, Peque Gallaga

This is my undergraduate thesis from film school, the only written one at the time. Everyone was doing film but I wanted to do film criticism (partly because I liked writing, mostly because I’m extremely uncomfortable around people).t

I was developing an interest in horror, so of course, I wanted my thesis to be about the films of one of the directors whose name was synonymous with the genre: Peque Gallaga.

I had to go to ABS-CBN to watch all the films I needed because it was the only place with a film archive. I didn’t know then that I would later be working for that station, first as a segment producer and writer as my second job after college and later as a freelance magazine writer. My dad would take me. We’d go inside the editing room and he’d patiently wait beside me while I watched Tiyanak and some of the Shake, Rattle, and Roll films. I saw Sa Piling ng Aswang in the theatre. Now that I think about it, the late 90s and early 2000s were ripe with aswang lore. The year after, I saw Gilda Cordero Fernando’s Luna: An Aswang Love Story on stage, also under the guise of research for my thesis.

I thought this would be enough but my adviser, Nicanor Tiongson, wanted an interview with the director as part of my thesis. I had no idea how I was going to reach Mr. Gallaga. Fortunately, I hung around DLSU a lot in college, and had a huge crush on Peque’s son (Hi, Wanggo!). I asked a friend who knew him if I could interview his dad for my thesis and that’s how I got Peque’s number (Thanks, Wanggo!). I was a sheltered kid from an all-girl Catholic high school. I didn’t know it was possible to meet your idol!

I remember being very surprised to find out that he lived a tricycle ride away from my house. I remember being very scared to be interviewing someone whose ideas inflamed a nation, so scared that when he asked if I wanted to switch places with him so he wouldn’t be backlit in my video, I refused. But most of all, I remember hanging on to his every word.

Before the first Shake Rattle and Roll, horror movies were kind of an afterthought. Under Peque’s watchful eye, it became an art form. He told me about the lengths he went through to make sure that what he put on screen would be as ‘real’ as possible. What would a manananggal’s wings look like? Would it be more like a bat’s? Would it have veins? What would a Filipino zombie look like? How would it act?

Some aspects, he admitted, where there for color, such as the wolf howling in “Manananggal,” which starred Herbert Bautista and made the fear of aswang go mainsteream.

Others were drawn from true stories, such as “Yaya,” which stars Kris Aquino and is noted for catapulting Lilia Cuntapay to horror movie cult stardom, and “Ate,” with Janice de Belen and Gina Alajar. Both are from Shake, Rattle, and Roll III, as is “Nanay,” starring Marilyn Reynes and the undin, who, like the tiyanak, would enter the Filipino pop lexicon of creatures to fear. He said that he knew where the house that the event of “Yaya” took place was, and that it was still standing, and that “Ate” was a story that happened to either someone he knew, or a friend of a friend, I forget which.

“Ate,” which I feel is underrated, is my favorite Shake, Rattle, and Roll short because it is so very sad. And when you think about it, it really is how a creature of that sort would act.

It was only one afternoon, but I learned many things that I would apply in my career as a writer, both in essay and fiction. Mr. Gallaga taught me that character is important, that you sympathised with a person, not the plot. Most of all, he emphasised what every horror nut knows: that the genre isn’t so much about getting scared as it is about examining what it means to be human.

Peque Gallaga is a stalwart of Philippine cinema, but he’s also touched a lot of random people such as myself along the way.

Thank you for taking time out to let a shy college kid interview you twenty years ago, Mr. Gallaga. That afternoon helped shape who I am today. Rest in Peace.


Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.