“I want to be remembered the way Mars Ravelo is remembered.”
— Peque Gallaga speaking to High Life in 2015
By Sam L. Marcelo, Associate Editor
PEQUE Gallaga, the multi-awarded director best known for Scorpio Nights (1982) and Oro, Plata, Mata (1985), died on May 7 due to complications arising from past health conditions. He was 76. The Gallaga family announced his passing on social media. “He was a visionary director and artist; a loving husband, father, and grandfather, and a dear friend. He has brought so much joy to so many people and he will always live in our memories and in his art,” the statement read.
Maurice Ruiz de Luzuriaga Gallaga was born on Aug. 25, 1943, in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. His home province featured heavily in Oro, Plata, Mata (1982), a three-hour epic portraying the fate of two haciendero families caught up in the violence of World War II. Considered his most important contribution to Philippine cinema, Oro, Plata, Mata won six Gawad Urian Awards, including Best Direction. It was also nominated for the Golden Hugo Award for Best Feature in the Chicago International Film Festival (1983); an Award for Best Direction from the International Film Festival of Flander-Ghent, Belgium (1983); and a Special Jury Award from the Manila International Film Festival (also in 1983).
Gallaga recruited several members of Champoy, a 1980s TV sketch comedy show that he also directed, to star in what would become his masterpiece: Mitch Valdez; Joel Torre, who, before Oro, was a production assistant on Champoy; and Cherie Gil, who also starred as a washed-up opera singer in Gallaga’s Sonata (2013) — written by Gallaga’s youngest son, Wanggo — and in the yet-to-be-released Magikland.
Gallaga cemented his reputation as an auteur with Scorpio Nights (1985), an erotic thriller that became the talk of the town for its explicit sex scenes. Critics celebrated Scorpio Nights for elevating titillation to high art, an act they interpreted as defiance against the Marcos regime.
It was also this film that birthed a professional partnership that would last Gallaga’s lifetime:
On Dec. 4, 1984, shortly after dress rehearsals for a Tessie Tomas dinner comedy, Gallaga suffered a heart attack and had to be confined in a hospital. Five weeks later, prior to being officially discharged, Gallaga left the hospital to start filming what would become the notorious Scorpio Nights.
The film’s production manager was Lore Reyes, serving Gallaga for the second time in that capacity. (The first time was on Virgin Forest, a period drama set in 1900 starring the late Miguel Rodriguez and Sarsi Emmanuel.) It was because he was in bad physical shape that Gallaga began thinking of asking someone to co-direct future films with him. “I looked for a partner primarily for help with the physicality of making a movie. I was a cripple and I couldn’t stay awake for 24 hours straight like I used to,” he says. Gallaga approached two close collaborators during the Scorpio Nights shoot — Don Escudero (who passed away in 2011) and Uro de la Cruz — both of whom turned him down.
(“The unsung, ignored half of the Gallaga-Reyes movies,” High Life, September 2015)
With Reyes as his co-director, Gallaga embarked on the second phase of his career, which consisted of horror films and children’s cinema: Shake, Rattle & Roll 2 (1989), deemed among the best in the franchise; Tiyanak (1988), whose catchphrase “Ayan na ang anak ni Janice!” entered the lexicon of Philippine pop culture; Batang X (1995), the science-fiction hit that spawned a pair of TV series as well as a comic book series; Magic Temple (1996), which was nominated for 14 awards at the 1996 Metro Manila Film Festival and won all of them, including the best director nod for Gallaga and Reyes; and Magic Kingdom (1997), which gave us Anne Curtis.
“I want to be remembered the way Mars Ravelo is remembered,” Gallaga told High Life in an interview in 2015. “Our work, especially on Philippine lower mythology, is in the consciousness of our people, and it’s not a Hollywood consciousness. Lore and I have somewhat affected Philippine consciousness on a cultural level, hopefully like Ravelo. And in the case of fantasy and horror, the fact that we captured something more atavistic of the Filipino soul is something really important that I don’t think the critics or those who write about Philippine Cinema have acknowledged.”
Ravelo (1916-1988) was a Filipino comic book cartoonist and graphic novelist who created Darna, Dyesebel, and Captain Barbell.
In 2015, Gallaga shared yet another part of his creative life when he held his first solo exhibition at Art Verite Gallery. Titled Gray Matters, Gallaga’s debut as a visual artist — at the age of 72 — consisted of pencil drawings of Negrense youth. He followed this up in 2017 with Gray Locutions, another suite of drawings meditating on the youth of his home province.
Gallaga, with his glasses and his snow-white beard and flowing mane, was expansive in both presence and personality. On the morning of his death, a message from Gallaga’s wife of 52 years, Madeleine “Madie” Gallaga, circulated among the director’s friends and colleagues: “His body has completely broken down. The doctors can’t do anything more but make sure that he is comfortable and not in pain. … I know he’s ready and willing. But we also know that the body will hold on until the motor finally dies.” Later that day, the motor did, allowing the 76-year-old giant of Philippine cinema to rest.