By Franchesca Viernes
October 30, 2022

Since it started airing in 2013, Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho's Gabi ng Lagim has set the standard in horror storytelling on Philippine primetime television, and its esteemed host couldn’t be any more proud.

“Dito ipinapamalas ng aming staff ‘yung kanilang creativity na talaga namang, I’ve always been proud of,” Jessica Soho said.

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KMJS host Jessica Soho

Based on the idea of GMA Public Affairs Asst. Vice President Lee Joseph Castel, Gabi ng Lagim became an annual special after KMJS released a series of Halloween episodes of different titles every year.

"Ang hirap mag-isip nung title. So parang naisip ko, 'What if magkaroon na lang tayo ng isang title na taon-taon ike-carry ng Halloween Special?'" he recalled, remembering the conversation took place at a conference room on the 8th floor in 2012.

Also suggesting dramatizations, echoes of worries on how to pull it through due to lack of budget and equipment arose. Despite these, they committed with a "Bakit 'di natin i-try?"

It premiered in 2013, and when it was followed by another set of stories in 2014, it made the audience think, "Wow, taon-taon pala 'to." This motivated the whole KMJS team to keep at it and finally create a "legacy," now recognized all over the country. 

One of the things that make GNL unique is real-life footage — not only photos, but actual videos and actual audio. Castel said this is essential in choosing stories to feature.

"Ito 'yung nagpapatunay na meron talagang mga ganitong paranormal na pangyayari sa ating paligid. 'Yun ang nagdadala eh, more than the dramatization."

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Gabi ng Lagim IV: Diplomat Hotel

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Gabi ng Lagim IV: Sanib

Having fresh stories every year, KMJS Acting Program Manager Joselito Tan said they treat GNL as their own "film festival."

First they collect footage and then the team would dedicate months to research, to interviews, and to oculars before they are ready to produce it into a show.

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.

Video journalist Leo Marzan has been with KMJS since the show began in November 2004. Present in every shoot, he considers himself and his team as "front liners," especially when working on Gabi ng Lagim specials.

"Kami ang unang sasabak sa location na may kwento nga na merong kababalaghan," he said. "Sa shoot, tayo lang ng balahibo talaga eh. Nararamdaman ko naman eh. Bawat madaanan mo, 'yang mga puno, nararamdaman mong umaangat, yung tenga ko parang pinipingot. Sabi ng [paranormal expert], ibig sabihin, sa punong nadaanan, may nakatira."

Gabi ng Lagim VIII: Ghost Bride sa Paco Cemetery, a film by Aaron Papins Mendoza

And then there’s Segment Producer Norman Baldomar Jr., who witnessed a talent thrown away by a force bigger than what meets the eye.

"Yung ghost bride na talent namin, sa last sequence niya, pinagpahinga namin siya," he narrated. "Nagulat na lang kami, tumilapon siya. Yung binagsakan niya, sobrang layo."

"Kahit siya, nagulat daw siya na gano'n yung nangyari sa kanya," he added. "'Yon yung explanation niya. Parang may force na tumulak sa kanya. It makes sense na rin kasi sobrang layo nung tinapunan niya from kung saan namin siya iniwan."

While shooting "Ngisngis," he saw how a talent’s hair suddenly rose after a paranormal investigator said a creature was asking to touch it.

"Katabi ko kasi si [talent] tapos biglang out of nowhere, as in umangat talaga ‘yung buhok! Hindi kami makatakbo or anything. As in nakikita ko yung [mga] cameraman, nasusuka na. Nangyari talaga siya," Baldomar recalled.

"Siyempre natutuwa ako kasi may materyal pero parang at the back of my mind, parang 'Oh my God, nangyari talaga siya.' Hindi ako naniniwala sa mga maligno o elemento," he said. "Pero grabe ‘yung experience sa GNL kasi icha-challenge yung belief mo."

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Gabi ng Lagim V: Junjun

There's also Psyche Salvador, whom her fellow segment producers describe as "habulin." As in: She once had a spirit following her after an ocular in an abandoned hospital in Pampanga.

"Inikot ko ‘yung ospital nang mag-isa tapos nung pagbaba ko, sabi ng mga jeepney driver do'n, 'May kasama kang bata.' Hindi ako naniniwala nung una," she said.

"Nung nag-shoot na kami, 10 days kami sa location. Parang hindi namin alam na may mga na-capture kami kasi during shoot, normal lang. Pero may mga times na [nasisira] yung audio namin," she added. "Hindi namin naririnig sa audio pero may times nga na naghi-hiss lang siya, nagfa-flat lang yung audio."

"From the title itself, sa totoo lang, ka-lagim-lagim ang production, ang pre-production, at post-production ng Gabi ng Lagim. Sobrang nakakalagim yung mga pangyayari kasi kailangan mo siyang pag-isipan," said Executive Producer Katrina Marjorie Agno.

From intense physical fatigue — and strange paranormal experiences that come with the shoots — each episode of GNL also passes through meticulous editing, usually the last step before an episode gets aired on television.

It might sound as a chance to breathe, but doing the finishing touches itself is a bloody task. Take it from Noli Enero, one of the show's master editors.

Enero said it's definitely more than just compiling content together until it makes sense. There should be balance between facts and cinematic license, he said.

"Merong tamang timing kung kailan mo ipapasok yung interview, tamang timing kung kailan mo ipapasok yung reenactment o yung drama. Pero at the same time, sa kabuuan, dapat yung konteksto, totoo," he said.

Additionally, there's the audio that master editors hold to high regard. According to Enero, audio is just as important as the visuals in presenting a horror story. 

Gabi ng Lagim VI: Haunted Hospital, a film by Aaron Papins Mendoza

Despite all the nitty-gritty that GNL requires in the past 10 years, each member of the KMJS crew will tell you: It’s worth it.

"Napaka-fulfilling,” Agno says. “Masarap sa pakiramdam na tumatatak sa mga tao, napapanood nila, pinag-uusapan siya. Halimbawa, sasakay ako ng bus, nanonood sila ng Gabi ng Lagim o kaya sa isang tindahan, bibili ka, Gabi ng Lagim ang pinapanood ta's natatakot sila."

"'Yon yung mga priceless moments na hindi mo siya makukuha sa ibang ginagawa mo eh. Kapag nakikita mo yung reaksyon ng mga tao," Agno added.

"Ginawa na nilang tradisyon na taon-taon na nilang gawing manood kasi excitement nando'n, kinakabahan ka. Yung mga kwentong imposibleng nangyayari, do'n mo pala malalaman," said, Roberto Daliba, Jr., a compound president.

"Naka-plano na 'yan na maglalagay naman ng malaking TV at sama-sama naman namin lahat panoorin. Nando'n yung suspense, excitement," he added.

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Gabi ng Lagim VIII: The Exorcists

The GNL crew can proudly say they’ve produced a series of iconic episodes that have become the talk of the town at one point or another. There’s “Sundo (2019),” which is the most watched GNL episode to date with 36.4 million views across all media platforms, staying in worldwide trends along with other stories from GNL’s year 7.

And then there’s the others: Adolfo Alix Jr.’s "Flying Ataul (2019)" with 9.5M views, "Diplomat Hotel (2016)" with 14.2M views, and "Bita (2020)” with 19.8M views, just to name a few.

Since 2016, KMJS’ annual Halloween Special is a consistent top trending topic on Twitter worldwide.

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There’s the tangible effects of the special to the industry, too. As in: Episodes that have been recreated into movies. There’s “Sanib (2016)” by director Derick Cabrido that eventually became the 2019 hit movie "Clarita."

Starring Jodi Sta. Maria, the film circled on Clarita Villanueva who was believed to have been possessed by demons. Cabrido said GNL was a bridge for him to create the film.

"Unique kasi yung story ni Clarita eh. Ito yung panahon na nauuso yung 'Conjuring' ta's yung mga foreign movies na based on a true story," he said. "Dahil ginawa ko yung 'Sanib,' 'yon ang pi-nitch namin na pwedeng gawin for a film."

Another is Cabrido's "Junjun (2017)," which features a young boy who haunts the halls of a BPO company. Inspired by its story, director Carlo Ledesma remade it into "Sunod (2019)" that starred Carmina Villarroel.

"Do'n ako na-inspire mas lalo to delve into the script kasi sabi ko, 'Okay, so may basis pala talaga ‘yung kwento ng 'Sunod,'" he said. "It's based on real life situations and a real-life legend which is Junjun."

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Having achieved these in a decade-long journey, KMJS host Jessica Soho said she cannot help but be proud of the annual Halloween special even though she is not a fan of horror stories. She takes pride in the episodes that her team is able to come up with every year.

Soho even dreams of the special being a "Gabi ng Lagim: The Movie" in the near future.

On its 10th year, GNL will surely wow again with four different stories hailed from across the country: “Tiyanak” is based on an incident that happened in Sarangani, while “Pinoy Shutter” is inspired by a strange occurrence in Agusan del Norte; “Unit 771” is based on a weird tale that took place in Taguig, and finally, “Auditorium,” which is based on something that happened in an Iloilo school.

Gabi ng Lagim VII: Sundo, a film by Joseph Israel Laban

What more, award-winning directors will be at the helm: There’s Cabrido, Adolf Alix Jr., and Topel Lee on the roster, with Jerrold Tarog of 2015’s “Heneral Luna” fame, joining GNL for the very first time.

For Soho, GNL X Soho is the best time to enjoy, and test your limits on fright and fear, with your loved ones.

“Matatakot po kayo garantisado, pero ma-e-entertain din po kayo at mamamangha sa mga kwento,” she said.

“Gabi ng Lagim X Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho Halloween Special” airs 8:50 PM this Sunday, October 30, on GMA-7.