The Gothic tradition reimagined in a Philippine setting—more specifically in a palatial Spanish colonial-era mansion with dingy interiors—is captured in all its glory by a scene in the third installment of the Tagalog film anthology franchise Shake, Rattle & Roll, where the character played by actress Gina Alajar is shown fumbling with a flower pot to gather a handful of loose earth, which she eats. The soil-eating woman is more than just showing signs of mental instability. She is already dead, except a cult has reanimated her to a life-like state. The compulsion to ingest soil is her dead body ’s yearning for decomposition and rest, the things that the cult took away.
I cannot possibly list all the sublime Philippine appropriations of Gothic fiction here, but what I can do now is direct you to six great examples that are available online.
“The New Era” by Katrina C. Elauria
If I ever get asked to demonstrate in short fiction the modern-day Philippine transmutation of Gothic sensibility, I’d choose this story by Katrina C. Elauria to illustrate. There’s the slow-burn of terror and awe, mysterious backdrop of politically turbulent times, and unreliable narrator, who has been having fitful dreams and keeps insisting on burying the dead body being ignored by people on the streets. There are also moments when the narrative slips—without really doing a deep dive—into the trappings of paranoid fiction, all languid brushstrokes that heighten the overall sense of foreboding.
“The Art House” by Daryll Delgado
This story is the modern Gothic mood delivered in a compressed yet still very much potent form. In “The Art House,” Delgado manages to accomplish a vividly rendered psychogeography in just 594 words. Here, the central character, a woman, wisely flees from a haunted place, her source of torment.
“A Ghost Story” by Francezca C. Kwe
This story by Francezca C. Kwe is the finest specimen of the Philippine contemporary Gothic tale. There is nothing in contemporary Philippine literature that comes close to this story’s uncanny contortions of what Ellen Moers defined in 1976 as the “Female Gothic” space. “A Ghost Story” does not stop at the genius loci of “woman in white” haunting a “crumbling stone mansion.” The haunted edifice, a stand-in for the horrific contours of female pain and sexuality that link the women in the story, also becomes a staging point for a dramatic reckoning with Japanese-era Philippine history.
“The Pregnant Woman from Zamboanga” by Elizabeth Joy S. Quijano (translated from Cebuano by John Bengan)
The gendered dimensions of the tumultuously haunted place in Kwe’s “A Ghost Story” are recast onto indigenous space in this fantastic translation from Cebuano by John Bengan. Quijano’s “The Pregnant Woman from Zamboanga” layers dark lore with the grim politics of Philippine settler colonialism in indigenous lands. Interwoven are telltale strands of folk horror and the Gothic motif of a woman brutally sacrificed by men to uphold tradition.
“Sanctuary” by Eliza Victoria
Even though “Sanctuary” is set in a period when modern technological appurtenances are well within reach of the characters, it still draws from Gothic designs: two women in a seemingly labyrinthine house outfitted with mysterious installations, talks of dream prophecies and visions of death. There is a river where black water flows. There is another woman, too, and she has no face. In lieu of a face is “a depthless shadow.” She is dressed in a black hooded robe, performs what seems to be the function of a modern witch’s familiar, and of course, is created through a summoning ritual.
“The Bougainvillea” by Ma. Elena L. Paulma
The ecoGothic or environmental Gothic, a relatively new strain of Gothic fiction, finds its short-form Philippine formulation in this story by Ma. Elena L. Paulma. “The Bougainvillea” talks of a piece of tropical shrubbery that has been causing a spate of demonic possessions in the neighborhood where it is growing. The bougainvillea, representing the pastoral transplanted close to the domicile and usually pruned to control the extent of its natural outgrowth, unleashes its vengeful nature spirits. The results make for a jolting read—maybe even lead to a cursory examination of how our built environments can be ecologically destructive.
Mia Tijam’s opening story in her short fiction collection Flowers for Thursday (forthcoming from the Ateneo de Naga University Press) is inaccessible online but must be mentioned because it is a whip-smart innovation of the ecoGothic experience. The story is a terrifying take on the trope that involves a tree with malign intelligence—a dated story element that manages to endlessly fascinate. It figures in M.R. James’s “The Ash-tree,” a story first published in 1904, and is central to Algernon Blackwood’s 1907 weird fiction classic “The Willows.”
Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of nine books of fiction and poetry, including The Drone Outside (Eibonvale Press, 2017), Black Arcadia (University of the Philippines Press, 2017), Meditations of a Beast (Cornerstone Press, 2016), Butterfly Dream (Snuggly Books, 2016), Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016), and Lifeboat (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2015). She is co-editor of the British Fantasy Award-winning People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction as well as the upcoming anthology Sigwa: Climate Fiction Anthology from the Philippines. Her published book-length translation work includes Marlon Hacla’s Melismas (forthcoming from Oomph Press) and There Are Angels Walking the Fields (forthcoming from Broken Sleep Books) and Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles’s Three Books (Broken Sleep Books, 2020), Hollow (forthcoming from Fernwood Press), Twelve Clay Birds: Selected Poems (forthcoming from University of the Philippines Press), and Walang Halong Biro (De La Salle University Publishing House, 2018). Widely anthologized, Muslim’s short stories have been published in Dazed Digital, World Literature Today, and Mannequin: Tales of Wood Made Flesh (Silent Motorist Media, 2019) and were translated into Czech and Serbian.