Darna has been portrayed by no less than nine actresses in 12 feature films. Rosa del Rosario first wore the scarlet two-piece in May 1951. She reprised the role after three months. Liza Moreno, Eva Montes and Gina Pareño followed her. The inter-galactic pebble found its way to Vilma Santos’ throat in 1973 via the flick “Lipad, Darna, Lipad!” Santos, now the mayor of Lipa City (As of 2012, she is now the Governor – RV) in Batangas, is probably the most popular Darna, with a total of four movies in a span of seven years. Rio Locsin squeezed in a portrayal in 1979 with “Bira, Darna, Bira!” But Santos made a comeback, with the legendary Niño Muhlach as Ding, in 1980’s “Darna and Ding.”
Lipad, Darna, Lipad (1973) – the quintessential action-fantasy Pinoy flick that appeals to all ages, from generation to generation. This movie is a major milestone for Vilma because it proved that she could really carry a solo movie and bring in the dough (up to now of course!). Vilma’s Darna franchise is the most memorable and successful of all Pinoy fantasy-action genre. Imitated but never equalled, Vilma’s Darna lives on. Unforgettable. Memorable. It grows on you. No Pinoy kid ever grows up without being a part of the Darna magic. Vilma, practically flew at the top of the box office in Sine Pilipino’s trend setting trilogy “Lipad, Darna, Lipad!” Many fans consider Lipad, Darna, Lipad, as one of the most entertaining Darna movies ever. After all, who could forget that climactic aerial battle scene between Darna and the Impakta (Gloria Romero)? That shot of Romero impaled in a giant crucifix ensconced on top of a church tops any gory scene in The Omen. The enormous success of Lipad, Darna, Lipad led to three more Darna movies with Vilma Santos. As a result, the star for all seasons became the star for all Darnas! Santos played her four times, more than any other actress in the superheroine’s history Lipad, Darna, Lipad! were thus divided into three separate segments, directed by three different directors. In Darna’s case, the three directors were Maning Borlaza, Joey Goesiengfao, and Elwood Perez – three names that promised an adventure that could do Andy Warhol proud.
First episode “Ang Impakta” Starring Gloria Romero as Miss Luna, Narda’s school teacher who has a dark secret. She is actually a flying blood sucking creature at night. In this thrilling episode she knows the secret identity of Narda. The most memorable part was when Ms. Luna asked Narda to help her with some paper works. Little that she know, while she was busy checking the papers Ms. Luna excused herself, she then went to the next room and transformed into a scary vampire. Ding found out that Ms. Luna is the vampire and Narda forgot to bring the magical stone , he rushed to her sister who then was being strugled by the monster. As soon as he got there, he threw the stone to her much terrified sister and she immediately changed to Darna. Followed was the famous aerial fight scene. Nanette Medved and Bing Loyzaga tried to copy the infamous fight scene in 1990 Viva films Darna. Episode one was directed by Maning Borlaza. Vilma also had to battle with Celia Rodriguez, who played a campy Valentina, a super- model by day and a snake priestess by night. One scene has the actress naked in bed being caressed by a dozen snakes. Indeed, with the likes of Gosiengfao, Perez, and Borlaza at the helm, Darna is sure to get stuck in grotesque situations reminiscent of the Rocky Horror Movie. Their take on Darna is sometimes too risqué and violent for little children; but as a camp fest, the movie works.
In the next episode, Valentina, tried to steal Narda’s magical stone. Also, there was a scene where Valentina dressed up as Darna. I love the exciting part where Darna and Valentina battled on top of a high rise building. Darna, was almost a no match to her mortal enemy. Dangerously armed with lazer beams coming out from Valentina’s eyes, Darna was helpless and knocked down several times. Until, she stumbled upon into a piece of broken mirror and used it as a shield againts Valentina’s deadly lazer beams. Darna quickly made her looked in the mirror. Her lazer beams bounced back and she turned into a stone. From the roof, Valentina fell hard on the ground and broked into shattered pieces. Anjanette Abayarri and Cherrie Gil almost did the same scene in ” Darna, Ang Pagbabalik ! ” Second Episode was directed by Elwood Perez.
The final episode was “Babaing Lawin” ( Hawk Woman), starring Liza Lorena as Babaing Lawin. I barely remember this one, there was this scene where Narda and Ding got caught and almost drowned in a quick sand. In Hawk Woman’s cave there’s this stream, that can make her wings disappear by walking across to it. There was also this character named Agila, a bird man played by Rod Dasco, he’s like the Hawk Woman’s mate. There was some fight scenes in the cave between Hawk Woman and and Darna. At the end of the story Darna and Hawk Woman, mend their ways. Vilma Santos was the second actress to play both ” Narda and Darna” first was Liza Moreno in Sputnik VS. Darna. The famous expression – “Ding, ang bato…Dali” was originated in “Lipad, Darna, Lipad”. It did not come from the comics.
Vilma did have one important asset that easily made the role all her own – she had the box office clout. Lipad, Darna, Lipad, (1973) was a certified blockbuster, and not just because of the millions of Vilmanians. Local movie fans suddenly seemed to have a penchant for movies about superheroes. Darna And The Giants (Dec. 22,1973) Tagalog Ilang-Ilang Productions, Official Entry for 1973 Manila Film festival. For the second time around Vilma, proves that her first Darna was no fluke. Darna And The Giants vanquished all of her box office competitors. Very creative special effects by Tommy Marcelino consider it was made early in the 70’s. Sex kitten Divina Valencia as one of the giants as well as Ike Lozada, Max Alvarado, Zandro Zamora and many more. Vilma was the third actress to play the dual role of a teen-age Narda, Darna. Gina Pareno had two alter-ego’s in her own version as well as Liza Moreno played Narda and Darna in Sputnik VS. Darna. Vilma also changed Darna’s transformation in all of her Darna films by using a flash of light instead of the thick smoke. She dons a retro version of Darna with shiny gold and red costume and matching platform boots. In this film Vilma was no hold bars. Romy V. Susara and Leody M. Diaz choreograped Darna’s awesome fight scenes.
Darna and The Giants (1973) – Continuing where “Lipad, Darna, Lipad” left off, Narda (Vilma Santos) and Ding (Dondon Nakar) encountered their greatest challenge yet – The Alien Warrior Queen-“X3X” (Helen Gamboa) and her alien minions. In this latest adventure, X3X terrorizes Narda’s village and captures several of the townsfolk and transforming them into mindless Giants who went on a rampage across the countryside in the hopes of conquering the earth without the use of nuclear weapons. When Narda’s suitor Romy (Romeo Miranda) is captured, the threat of the alien Queen becomes personal With a Global threat such as this, will Darna’s courage and powers be up to the challenge? Watch and find out!! “Darna and the Giants” Also stars – Katy Dela Cruz as “Lola”, and an all-star cast of 70’s icons with cameos from Leopoldo Salcedo, Edgar Mortiz, Eddie Peregrina, Nick Romano, Lotis Key, Tony Ferrer (as Falcon) & more. “Darna and the Giants” produced by Tagalog-Ilang Ilang production and directed by Emmanuel H. Borlaza with Darna Theme composed by Sunny Ilacad (Vicor).
Darna VS. The Planet Women (Dec. 25,1975) – Tagalog Ilang-Ilang Productions, Christmas Presentation. In this 1975 film (the 3rd in a 4 Darna film franchise), the story of Darna is rebooted as this new installment is not a continuation of the 1st and 2nd films. In this revamped version, Narda (Vilma Santos) is a cripple who dreams of accomplishing great things for the betterment of humankind despite her physical limitations. One day, she discovers her suitor (Zandro Zamora) paralyzed after having been attacked by a UFO. Together with her brother Ding (Bentot Jr.), she prays for help and offers to sacrifice herself for the sake of her suitor’s survival. A voice from beyond answers and sends her an enchanted amulet of power. The power of Darna contained within the magic pebble. With her newfound powers, she battles The Planet Women-Alien Amazons who are trying to transport the Earth to their own star system.
Darna at Ding (Feb. 8,1980) – Produced by D’ Wonder Films – Vilma Santos donned her Darna costume for the last time in 1980 with Darna at Ding. For the first time, Ding was mentioned in the title. And why not? The kid was now played by Niño Muhlach, the most popular child star of the day. The company that produced it, D?Wonder films, belonged to the Muhlach’s family. The Wonder films tried to captured the magic of 1973 monster hit “Lipad, Darna, Lipad.” By recasting some of the original cast of Vilma’s first Darna movie. Celia Rodriguez declined to play Valentina, instead they tailored a new character for her as Lei Ming the sorceress. Then Veronica Jones was asked to play Valentina but, ended up playing the role of Hawk Woman. Max Alvarado reprised his role as the Giant. Marissa Delgado also joined the cast as Dr. Vontesberg. The movie started on how Narda got her power as Darna. As soon as Narda transformed into Darna, she quickly started her adventure with Ding fighting the Hawk Woman. And soon after Darna and Ding found a giant and both lost the fight to Darna. As the story unfold Dr. Vontesberg pretended as a good samaritan with an evil plan to destroy the towns people who killed her grandfather mistakenly accused as a devil worshipper. Dr. Vontesberg summoned the dead and terrorized the townspeople. Narda was captured by the mad Dr. Vontesberg and showed her how she operates her plans. Ding got on time to rescue her helpless sister and they both stopped Vontesberg evil plans. Then, Darna and Ding flew their way to the city. And on their way, they captured a bunch of loose prisoners, after this scene was a long lots of talking non-action scenes. Finally, Lei Ming and Darna measured their strength and powers. Lei Ming created an evil Darna to destroy the real Darna. At the end Lei Ming lose and took her own life.
Vilma finally relinquished the role of Darna to Sharon Cuneta, who appeared in a cameo role as Darna, in 1986’s Captain Barbel, also a Mars Ravelo classic creation. Years after, Dawn Zulueta was rumored to play Darna but the role of our beloved superheroine went to Nanette Medved who would have preferred to play Valentina.
Vilma Santos was indeed the most successful Darna in history of this franchise. Eric Cueto who is also the web master of the Mars Ravelo (the creator of Darna) web-site interviewed the Star for All Season about her stint as Darna. Here are the highlights and Vilma’s replies:
Favourite Darna: “Syempre Lipad Darna Lipad, yon kasi ang unang Darna ko at maganda talaga. May copy ka ba nito?”
Action stunts: “…may pagka tomboy din ako noong araw kaya madali kong napag aralan (stunts). Actually minsan nga nag karoon ng aksidente na kailangan ko na mag tumbling at sasaluhin ako ng stuntman ang nangyari nasipa ko sya sa mukha kaya putok yong ilong nya at kailangang dalahin sya sa hospital, ako naman nauntog sa bato kaya ang sakit ng ulo ko…”
Snakes: “…Oo totoo yon! natakot ako sa mga ahas first shooting day yata namin yon sa may roof top ng isang building sa may Santa Mesa. Isang lingo akong nagkalagnat yata noon – then bago uulit kami mag shooting pinahahawakan na muna nila sa akin yong mga snakes para masanay na ako…”
Villaines: “…Celia (Rodriguez), she’s really good! and Tita Glo (Gloria Romero) was so scary as Impakta, I love her so much…(and Liza Lorena) She’s good too! I remember ang costume nya ay yong parang sheep skin at may pair of wings sya. Sa may Antipolo kinunan yong episode ng Babaing Lawin…”
Her early exposure of Darna: “…Napanood ko yong Darna ni Eva Montes sa sine at yong Kay Rosa Del Rosario sa TV…”
Body Stockings: “…I remember nag paalam pa ako sa mga madre sa school na pinapasukan ko noon, kasi diba na ka two piece si Darna at okay naman sa kanila, kasi nga hindi naman daw bastos yong character ni Darna, superheroine nga sya eh. Tinanong ko rin yong mga fans noon at medyo nga worried din sila sa costume baka daw bastusin ako. Kaya nga noong una sa pictorials ng promo ng movie naka body stocking ako, kaya lang hindi talaga magandang lumabas nakakataba yong stocking. William Leary and Douglas Quijano convinced me na tangalin ko yong stocking sa press-con ng Darna. I remember nasa bathroom pa nga ako noon at mag papalit na ko ng Darna costume ko, then tinangal ko na rin kasi sabi nila: “Vi, masagwa talaga yong stocking bakit di mo sila gulatin lumabas ka ng walang stocking tutal may ipapakita ka naman” . At yon na lumabas na ko ng walang body stocking…”
Will she plays Impakta: “…Naku mukha na ba akong impakta! (sabay halakhak) actually may ginawa na kong Aswang yong “Anak ng Aswang” pero hindi ako ang aswang si Tita Glo. Actually very interesting yang role na yan at challenging, i don’t mind playing those kind of roles na kontrabida, basta ba maganda ang story…” – Eric Cueto (READ MORE)
Googling Darnas: “…I was watching an interview with Vilma Santos earlier today and she was talking about how great her experiences were being Darna. I got inspired and I started researching about the past Darna movies and franchises. Raymond and I were just telling Dominic yesterday that archiving in the Philippines is horrible. I was glad that when I was googling, there’s this whole site dedicated to Mars Ravelo’s Darna, one of his most famous stories…Anyway, it’s so interesting. I think I’m becoming a fan of Darna. I’ve seen most of the movies. I haven’t seen any of the series though. I like the idea that she really had to be voluptuous. Vilma Santos and Angel Locsin even had to fatten up to gain more muscle for the role. Anyway, here’s my Darna Gallery (I’ll even include the cameos)…The great Vilma Santos. It’s so funny how she’s the first Darna to also play Dyesebel (the second is Marian Rivera) who’s one of her allies. Multi-personality. She’s the easiest Darna to research. During the span of her four Darna films, lots of other adaptations were also released but hers were always best received…” – Sasha Limuy, scottstuart.wordpress.com, 19 September 2009 (READ MORE)