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REVIEW: KMJS 'Gabi ng Lagim' taps into the horrors of Baguio, dolls, and mysterious forces

By Matthew Escosia Published Oct 30, 2023 6:25 pm

Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho’s (KMJS) Gabi Ng Lagim returns in time for the Halloween season. It’s the 11th edition of the program’s annual horror-themed special, which throughout the years, has dared to document spooky stories about urban legends, public sightings, and unexplainable spiritual occurrences.

Show producers have noted how Gabi ng Lagim was used as a creative exercise for the KMJS crew, as the special not only demands in-depth research for their subject matters but also brings their stories to a more terrifying light with cinematic reenactments. 

“In each of these steps, the KMJS crew would flex their wit, smarts, muscle, and sometimes, even their bravery in facing the unknown, to truly serve as the strong foundation to every story,” GMA News’ Franchesca Viernes wrote about the popular Halloween special.

Gabi ng Lagim has since become more than just an annual tradition for the KMJS show, but is the new landmark program that Filipino viewers need to look out for when it comes to horror fix. Production value has also improved over time, with last year’s 10th edition milestone recruiting notable Filipino directors like Jerrold Tarog, Adolfo Alix Jr., Topel Lee, and Derick Cabrido to helm respective segments. 

Only Alix returned for this year’s special, which once again boasts four horror stories that are equally promising.

Ang Pagbabalik sa Diplomat Hotel directed by Aaron Papin Mendoza

 First up is Ang Pagbabalik sa Diplomat Hotel, the show’s much-awaited return to one of Baguio City’s most feared spots.

It’s an institution that remains intact despite being abandoned since the 1980s, the Diplomat Hotel is notorious for its horrific history that involved raping, torturing, and murdering individuals (some are nuns and priests) in the now popular tourist location.

This story can easily be accessed online, and more in-depth articles will tell you why the Diplomat Hotel will never be forgotten. This new KMJS segment only touched the history on a surface level and focused on bringing the program’s resident paranormal investigator Ed Caluag to talk to the spirits/ demons present.

If you’ve seen Caluag on the show before, this is nothing new. It’s the same mission that he always gets drawn to but in just a different setting.

 This is one of those rare segments where the reenactment sequences are better than the documentary footage shot by the KMJS team. One could hope that the filmmakers just show the dramatized footage and place a voiceover on top.

 Haunted Manyika directed by Adolfo Alix Jr.

A notable segment in this year’s special, Haunted Manyika documents the chilling story of how a man encloses the spirits he encounters to dolls. He sees each doll distinctively, painting and dressing each one in the same way he envisions them.

Haunted Manyika knows that the subtle way to tell its horrors is by simply focusing on the anthropomorphic nature of these dolls. There are no extremely dramatic reenactments, just spooky fun.

Alix had a lot of creepy shots here, and his directing voice was visibly present across the dramatizations of the stories told by the subjects. GMA could easily bank on this as a full-length horror feature and will still be equally thrilling.

Hiwaga sa Loakan Road directed by May Delos Santos

Hiwaga sa Loakan Road goes back to Baguio, specifically in the Loakan Road where apparitions of ghosts reportedly appear to taxi drivers who pass by.

It’s not the scariest segment of the entire special but its introspection on the history of the road makes it the best. Hiwaga sa Loakan Road combines unsettling video footage from taxi rides and inputs from historical experts that reveal how Loakan Road has a high number of reported rape cases, some of which are presumably made by taxi drivers thus the alleged ghost appearances in cab rides.

This is a segment that could also be a promising subject for GMA Network’s documentary programs, where the recorded past becomes scarier than what is being shared about the present. The dramatizations feel unwarranted since actual footage is being shown, but what we have here is already good.

Levitation directed by Michael Christian Cardoz

And finally, Levitation goes on to explain how a boy mysteriously levitates after being presumably summoned by a bad spirit.

It’s the segment that leans the most to KMJS’ investigative nature, trying to exhaust possible means that may debunk the case of levitation by interviewing several experts. Levitation ended with them forcibly removing the spirit from the young man as if it were an act of exorcism.

The show treats this as their highlight segment for the special by dividing it into the middle and closing parts of the air time. Levitation is not as captivating as the rest of the segments but for sure it will get the job done for some Filipino viewers in terms of scare factor, especially for kids who will watch with their family.

In terms of cinematography, Levitation features overtly dramatic lighting that makes everything look artificial. The other segments in this year’s Gabi ng Lagim are going for a more grounded atmosphere. Unfortunately, Levitation fails to achieve this.

Overall, the 2023 edition of Gabi Ng Lagim isn’t as impressive as some of the specials from previous years (most notably last year’s).

A lot of it still feels artificial and too focused on ticking off a checklist of Filipino television tropes, which makes them look like heightened soap operas. While the production value has greatly improved in terms of cinematography and editing, I wish KMJS would bravely take on bigger swings and creative risks in approaching their stories in the future. 

You may watch the replay of KMJS’ Gabi ng Lagim XI on GMA Public Affairs’ YouTube channel here.