The Pontianak is especially dangerous to men. It takes the form of a beautiful, pale-skinned, long-haired woman dressed in white to lure its victim close. When the unwary male comes near the creature, it suddenly turns into an ugly, sharp-toothed hag, digs its razor-sharp fingernails into his stomach, and devours his intestines and blood. Those unfortunate individuals the Pontianak has a particular grudge against face an even more gruesome fate: the demon rips out their sexual organs with its nails.
The Pontianak is said to relish the blood of newborn babies. It may kill the pregnant mother and eat the fetus, or alternatively attack during childbirth.
Some believe the Pontianak seeks out its prey by sniffing clothes hung out to dry. That’s why some of the more superstitious Malays never leave any of their clothing outside overnight.
There are a few of signs that tell a Pontianak is in the area. In folklore, it usually makes its presence known through baby cries. If the cry is loud, then the danger is not immediate – the Pontianak is still far away. However, if the cry becomes faint, it means the Pontianak is very close. Likewise, a howling dog indicates a Pontianak is far, while a whimpering one warns of the bloodthirsty creature’s immediate proximity.
When the Pontianak draws near, its presence is accompanied by a sweet, floral fragrance that quickly turns into a putrid stench.
There is only one way to stop this violent creature. If an iron nail is driven into its neck, it turns back into the woman it used to be. However, if the nail is ever removed, the Pontianak reverts to its monstrous nature, free to continue preying on humans. Some legends also state that if one were to tie a red thread from the banana tree the Pontianak resides in to the foot of one’s bed, the Pontianak would then become bound to that person’s will.
A popular Malaysian legend tells of a husband and his pregnant wife who are on their way back from the man’s hometown when their car breaks down. As this is presumably before cell phones became common items, the husband decides to walk to the nearest gas station for help, while the wife stays behind in the car.
For a while, everything is normal and uneventful. Then a slow, gnawing dread begins to creep up the wife's spine – not unexpected, considering she is trapped on a deserted road in the middle of the night. But all of a sudden she feels very cold, and the scent of sickly sweet incense fills the air before gradually turning into a rotten stench.
The woman is suddenly scared out of her wits by a loud banging on the roof of the car. The banging becomes more and more aggressive, as if something was trying to coax her out of the car, and the woman is too terrified to move.
Then, a police car pulls over nearby and the officer begins shouting at her to get out of the car and walk to him, slowly and carefully, and to not look back under any circumstances. She manages to overcome her terror enough to do as he says. But the banging persists and, unable to help herself, she turns around to see what it is. That’s when she sees a bloodied Pontianak leering at her, banging her husband’s severed head against the roof of the car.