movies

Will the Real 'Queen of the South Sea' Please Stand Up?

From sex symbol to loving grandmother, Nyi Roro Kidul has been it all.
illustrated by Farraz Tandjoeng
29 October 2018, 11:00am
Nyi Roro Kidul illustration

When it comes to Indonesian horror, Nyi Roro Kidul, or the Queen of the South Sea, reigns supreme. She's been in so many horror movies she might as well be a genre unto herself. But she's also something of a chameleon. The character has been portrayed in sinetron (soap operas), campy B-movie softcore flicks, and dozens of legitimate horror films. She's been a superhero and a supernatural temptress who shoots keris, sacred knives, from her nether regions. She was even once a topless, Terminator-style cyborg hell-bent on revenge. So which version of Nyi Roro Kidul is the truest queen of them all? VICE investigates.

Everyone's Great Grandmother

As the ruler of Java's South Sea, Nyi Roro Kidul likes to lure young women to her palace (to be her royal escorts( and young men to her underwater bedroom (to have sex with them). Now, just taking a look at the fact that she has 1) reigned over part of Java for centuries as its queen and 2) has a insatiable thirst for young men it's not a stretch to imagine that she has a lot of kids as well (unless she is using some from of undersea birth control). She might have so many kids in fact that it's not a stretch to imagine that she is gave birth to an entire tribe of Indonesians. No wonder so many movies feature a heroine who is the titisan, or incarnation, of the queen herself. Now, of course, there's no way to prove that Nyi Roro Kidul is actually our great grandmother. There's no DNA tests for supernatural linage. But I still like to imagine I have a bit of the queen in me.

Nyi Roro Kidul Project (2014) in which the present-day protagonist descends from Nyi Roro Kidul and is therefore cursed for life.

The Jealous Nymphomaniac

Since she is never satisfied with just one lover, Nyi Roro Kidul is often portrayed as a crazy nymphomaniac who always ends up a scorned lover when one of her men chooses to settle down with a flesh-and-blood woman, instead of an eternal sea spirit (go figure?). But instead of swiping her way to a rebound, she goes all witchy and starts to cast crazy spells to break up these new lovers, like this:

The Lady Terminator

When it comes to batshit crazy interpretations of the queen, the campy action movie Lady Terminator takes the cake. This movie, a knockoff of The Terminator mixed with some Indonesian mystical stuff is as ridiculous as it's amazing. Here's the rough plot: a foreign anthropologist discovers she's a reincarnation of the queen or something when an eel swims out of the sea, into her bedroom, and up her vagina. She then turns into a possessed man-killing machine who, donned in a leather jacket and not much else, goes on a machine-gun killing spree across Jakarta. This is the movie that gave us the queen with a weaponized vagina as well. She seduces men and then kills them with the keris hidden in her... well... you get it.

The Action Superheroine

Sometimes Nyi Roro Kidul is the star of an action saga who needs to overcome a series of dramatic challenges along the way. The sinetron Legenda Ratu Pantai Selatan reimagines Nyi Roro Kidul as the main character's great grandmother—a man who has a mistress he no longer loves. When the mistress comes around looking for revenge, it's up to Nyi Roro Kidul to save her great grandson with some flashy kung fu moves.

Suzzanna

Honestly, Nyi Roro Kidul may be a centuries-old mythical creature, but the real queen was flesh and blood. I'm talking about Suzzanna, a woman who played the queen not once, but four times, in some of her most-iconic turns on the silver screen. Suzzanna was the perfect embodiment of what makes Nyi Roro Kidul such an enduring, and complicated, character. She was mythical, sensual, and downright terrifying when she wants to be. Suzzanna went all-in on her portrayals of Nyi Roro Kidul, even going as far as going into solitude in a hotel in the south of Java to commune with the goddess before each starring role.

Her movies, the best of the bunch, portray Nyi Roro Kidul as a sultry supernatural being, a woman who can mix sex and sadism in equal measures. The movies helped make Suzzanna a star, and her willingness to embody the queen in a series of films chock full of bizarre special effects, nudity, and sex made her a favorite of moviegoers in the '80s and '90s.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think we've found our true queen.