She was a perennial movie and television extra – but her own star shone for a while when she bagged the title role that would become synonymous to a name audiences would barely even remember. The film was an episode entitled “Yaya” in the immortal horror film series Shake Rattle and Roll. But rare as the opportunity went, Lilia Cuntapay was a trained thespian whose batchmates have become acting luminaries. In fact, she had already been acting before the camera was focused on her. Back when she was still working as an office staff at the National Police Commission, she had to pass for a male – wrapping her breasts with plasters, cutting her hair short. She wasn’t a dumb character in real life either. Before going down to the big city to pursue the better life, she had an Education degree and taught grade school students in far north Tuguegarao.
It would only be in the days leading to her final breath, she would be hailed the title she had shared with the likes of Manilyn Reynes, Janice De Belen, and Susan Roces. The 81 year-old character actress was indeed a Horror Queen in her own right. While her contemporaries are crowned for the scares they received, she was the one effectively giving them.
In 2011, a mockumentary film dedicated for her enigmatic presence in Philippine entertainment was officially the marker for the stardom that eluded her for years. Her name finally became one of the lasting symbols of Pinoy pop culture. Lilia Cuntapay was not only given a chance to become the star of her own film, she even got recognized for her searing performance in Antoinette Jadaone’s Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay. She even became the toast of international film festivals a year later. International Film Critic and Pop Culture Guru Nicole Latayan even hailed her performance as one of the greatest on screen ever.
Today, as we say our final farewell to the Grand Dame of Philippine Horror Movies – let us offer a little prayer not just for her eternal repose – but also for the industry that does not always recognize gems and talents with kindness and respect they deserve.