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An Introduction to Filipino Horror

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Vernieda Vergara

Staff Writer

Vernieda Vergara is a freelance writer who loves anime, manga, and all things creepy. Her work has appeared on Den of Geek, Women Write About Comics, The Comics MNT, and other venues scattered across the internet. She lives in the Washington DC suburbs where she takes care of far too many plants and drinks even more tea. Twitter: incitata

I love horror. It is, shall we say, my favorite genre. Horror movies, horror manga, horror podcasts—I adore them all. But for all that I inhale horror media like no one’s business, I sometimes feel a disconnect. Where is the Filipino horror lore? Where are the Filipino monsters?

To be clear, plenty of Filipino horror fiction is available in English. It’s just not easily accessible in North America. You can find entire anthologies of horror stories if you live in the Philippines. I’m not saying publication in North America is required for legitimacy. That’s ridiculous. But many Filipino Americans who grew up on stories of Filipino monsters yearn to see our childhood terrors reflected in fiction on this side of the Pacific.

Before we begin, I want to give a blanket content warning for the recommendations here. The Philippines has a long history, much of it violent. If gory imagery and assault of all kinds make you queasy, perhaps Filipino horror is not for you. Take care of yourself and respect your limits.

Trese 1 - Murder of Balete Drive - Budjette Tan & Kajo Baldisimo

Trese: Murder on Balete Drive by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldismo

Well known within the Filipino horror comics scene, this award-winning series finally has an official English release. (The forthcoming Netflix adaptation might have had something to do with that.) It follows Alexandra Trese, a young woman who investigates supernatural crimes. If you know nothing about Filipino horror and the monsters that lurk within, this is the place to start. Trese’s cases provide a great overview of the Filipino paranormal canon from the horse-man hybrids known as tikbalang to the white lady ghost who haunts so many streets in the Philippines.

Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez by Isabel Yap

Don’t you love a good ghost story? My family does. Every single one of my relatives has at least one ghost story to share. Some they heard. Some they experienced themselves. Allegedly. Yap’s story not only captures that sharing aspect, but it also shows the way ghost stories evolve and change over time.

Seek Ye Whore by Yvette Tan

To give some context, Siquijor is a Filipino province associated with the supernatural. We can debate all day whether those associations are rooted in fact, but its tourism industry wants you think so. Now what if you combine the supernatural province of Siquijor with the innate horror of mail order brides, a system that thrives on gender, class, and race disparities? (Yes, the title is a pun.)

Santos de Sampaguita by Alyssa Wong

If there is one monster I most associate with the Philippines, it’s the manananggal. When I visited the Visayan provinces as a child, my relatives refused to let me sleep next to the window. Why? Because manananggal might eat me. The manananggal belongs to the umbrella category of aswang, which has become a catch-all term for most iconic monsters of the Philippines: our brand of vampires, our black magic witches, and our shapeshifters. If you’d like to learn more, former Rioter Angel Cruz wrote a piece about aswang and manananggal and their significance in Filipino culture. (Full disclosure: Angel’s a pal of mine.)

Diwata - Barbara Jane Reyes

Diwata by Barbara Jane Reyes

This isn’t a horror recommendation per se, but this poetry collection captures the real-life horror threaded through Filipino history and culture, especially in relation to the subjugation of Filipino women and our bodies. It’s a running theme in this list, can’t you tell?

Bonus: Stories After Dark

This is a horror-adjacent recommendation: Filipino true crime! True crime podcasts are rightfully criticized for the way they center white victims and crimes committed in North America and the UK. It’s recently improved with regards to the former, but the latter still needs some work. This independent podcast looks at true crime in the Philippines. Absolutely worth a listen if you’re a true crime junkie.

The Philippines consist of over 8,000 islands. Our diverse folklore varies from region to region. That’s what makes Filipino horror so memorable.