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February 23rd, 2000

The Penanggalan

Forgive me in advance — this may be one of the more bizarre Pings you read.

In Asian folklore, there is a being named a “Penanggalan,” a woman’s head that floats around in the air, dragging her spine and internal organs with her. The word itself means “head with dancing intestines.” They feed on the blood of children, especially infants or the unborn.

A bit strange, but I’m not making this up.

I first saw a Penanggalan in the movie Le?k (aka Mystics in Bali). Le?k is a rare Indonesian horror film that features an American (or Australian, depending which dubbed version you see) visiting Bali to learn about black magic first hand. She runs into all sorts of mayhem, and while the movie isn’t particularly scary, the flying head is one of the coolest “bad guys” I’ve seen in a horror movie!

There’s a particularly disturbing scene in Le?k that has the Penanggalan sucking a baby out of the body of a mother as she gives birth. Interestingly, the scene itself is not at all gory, and the subtlety with which it’s presenting is impressive — the pregnant woman simply “deflates” while the Penanggalan rejuvenates itself on the newborn’s blood.

There’s only one other documented movie that deals with the Penangglan, and that is The Witch with Flying Head (yes, that is how it is gramatically presented). Apparently this movie is only available in a dubbed-Vietnamese version, but I’m really looking forward to seeing it if I can hunt down a clear copy.

For more information on the Penanggalan, check out, and for more information on these two movies, visit the Video Vulture on FFWD. -ram

Posted in Just Plain Odd

FROM: Paul
DATE: Wednesday February 23, 2000 -- 12:43:08AM
Hm. Ryan? You okay? ;)

FROM: Ryan
DATE: Wednesday February 23, 2000 -- 9:21:21AM
Sure... just having a heck of a time trying to type with my intenstines. They keep dancing.

... Ryan

FROM: Joan
DATE: Wednesday February 23, 2000 -- 6:43:50PM
I wonder to what kind of music the intestines dance. Do you thing it changes over the years? You know, keeping with the times.

FROM: Aaron
DATE: Wednesday February 23, 2000 -- 8:22:27PM
When I read this, it reminded me of "Lilith"; the demon of Jewish legend (or godess of Sumerian legend, or vampire of medieval legend -- depending on who you ask).

They are not the same, but there are some similarities: blood sucking, and flesh eating, and killing infants in their sleep.

Good ol' Google turned up some interesting Lilith links:

It seems that more than one ancient civilization needed a myth (or at least adapt one) to explain sudden infant death syndrome.

FROM: Ryan
DATE: Wednesday February 23, 2000 -- 11:36:42PM
Joan --

My bet is that the Balinese percussion keeps the dancing intestines happy... it's always inspired me when I haven't been up to my bloodsucking responsibilities.

Aaron --
That's pretty cool... I guess with something as traumatic as an infant dying, people are bound to look for some sort of reason.

... Ryan

FROM: Joan
DATE: Thursday February 24, 2000 -- 7:03:31AM
That's an interesting theory about the myth being created to explain miscarriages and infant death syndrome. The "Pananggalan" certainly seems to represent the horridness of those two events. Who originated myths in ancient times? Religious representatives or just everyday people? I find it interesting that the creature that consumes babies would be depicted as female.

FROM: Franko
DATE: Thursday February 24, 2000 -- 8:31:12AM
This puts me in the mind of a recent article I was reading in the granola-for-wannabe-adventurist-type-yuppies (i.e. me) rag Outside. It's about the NYPD scuba team. They tell stories of pulling human remains out of the various waterways around NYC where the upper part of the body will cleanly detach from the lower portion due to 1) decomposition from being immersed in NY's polluted waters, and more importantly 2) the fact that the feet are firmly set in crate-sized cement blocks. Perhaps the origins of all these myths traces back to the ancient Mafioso diety "Tony".

FROM: Aaron
DATE: Thursday February 24, 2000 -- 1:56:08PM
I wonder if this is where they got the idea for the detached-head-and-spine scene in "Star Trek: First Contact" where the Borg Queen first appears.

FROM: Matt
DATE: Thursday February 24, 2000 -- 11:55:52PM
Speaking of Outdoors a writer from that mag is coming to speak to my Journalism Practicum class on wednesday. He wrote a big feature on shark attacks sometime recently

FROM: Ryan
DATE: Friday February 25, 2000 -- 12:06:44AM
Did he interview the sharks? That would have been cool. :)

Matt, remind me sometime to show you a classic Shark v.s. Zombie underwater battle. Very cool.

... Ryan

FROM: Jean-Claude Michel
DATE: Saturday April 21, 2001 -- 6:46:18PM
hello... you must be kidding! there are MANY more than 2 films on the Penanggalan - or the Manananggal, as it is known in Malaysia! I have at least 3 Indonesian movies on video dealing with this creature (including LEAK), plus the Hong Kong film you mentioned, and Thai posters of other films depicting the same monster... In 1997, in the Philippines, Mario O'Hara directed "Manananggal sa Maynila" depicting the horrors caused by the arrival of the creature in Manila, etc!
I'm sure at least 15 or even 20 films were made about this strange myth...
Jean-Claude (France)

FROM: Jean-Claude MICHEL
DATE: Saturday April 21, 2001 -- 6:53:38PM
Hi... I forgot to tell you: my tape of "The Witch with the Flying Head" came from Tai Seng Video Marketing, Inc.
their adress: 170 South Spruce Avenue, Suite 200, South San Francisco, CA 94080, USA - Tel: 415-871-8118, Fax: 415-871-2392. But apparently this tape was manufactured in 1993 so I don't know if it's still available. The tape is good, but unfortunately the image is cropped (it was a wide screen film originally), but the color is good. It's of course in the NTSC system. Tell me if you have problem for getting the tape, I could eventually made a copy for you.
Best always,

FROM: Ryan
DATE: Saturday April 21, 2001 -- 9:08:22PM
Jean -- I'd be interested in seeing some of those other films. Drop me a line sometime.

I will check with Tai Seng about WITCH WITH FLYING HEAD. I didn't realize that such a large distributor released that movie in the last decade. What language is your copy in? The only existing copy I had heard about (from Video Search of Miami) is dubbed in Vietnamese with no subtitles.

FROM: Jean-Claude Michel
DATE: Friday June 1, 2001 -- 11:33:34AM
Ryan, sorry for the delay in writing, I was not in Paris recently. The language is Mandarin or Cantonese I think, not in English...
I'll tell more about the other versions of this myth I have on video in e next mail.

DATE: Saturday January 1, 2005 -- 2:11:48 pm

Ryan February 24, 2008, 3:31 am

By a crazy coincidence, Mystics in Bali is the disc I currently have out from Netflix and I’m in the middle of watching it now, eight years to the day after this Ping. I forgot how great this movie is.

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