Hazlin Hassan – Straits Times Indonesia
Kuala Lumpur. Horror movies have always scared up large audiences in Malaysia, but fans have been screaming for even more of them in recent years.
Since March, five made-in-Malaysia fright films have played in cinemas here back-to-back — much to the horror of some Malaysians such as Islamists. An estimated three out of five of the country’s top-grossing films are horror or horror comedies, earning more than RM 8 million ($2.5 million) each.
While the home-grown crop of creepshows is not as gory as Japanese or Korean horror movies because of censorship, some Malaysians fear that scenes of supernatural goings-on such as black magic rituals could corrupt young minds.
An uproar erupted over the latest Malay horror flick, Hantu Bonceng (Pillion Rider Ghost), which opened to huge crowds in cinemas in late August and is now showing on pay-per-view Astro satellite television, after opposition fundamentalist Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) said some of its scenes insulted Islam.
Its youth wing chief Nasrudin Hassan said the movie shows a mat rempit, or illegal street racer, uttering a line that means “Prophet Muhammad is Satan.”
It also makes fun of the Muslim call to prayer, and someone wearing a T-shirt with a cross on it enters a mosque in the film, he added.
Nevertheless, Malaysians have been flocking to the movie, which cost RM 1.5 million to make and has raked in at least RM 8.53 million.
Last week, its director Ahmad Idham Ahmad Nadzri met Mr Nasrudin to address his concerns.
“We came to a mutual understanding, it is settled and we will move forward,” Ahmad Idham said.
But the controversy continues on Internet blogs and Web sites, where Malay and Islamic groups warn that locally produced horror movies could turn Muslim viewers into polytheists who worship more than one God.
“Many [movies] touch on idolatry,” said PAS Johor youth chief Suhaizan Kayat. “While the overall message may be for viewers to avoid idolatry, the worry is that young viewers who are immature will be influenced.”
Razak Idris, a lecturer in Islamic philosophy at National University Malaysia, said: “The fear is that horror movies can leave a message that supernatural beings are powerful and can determine your fate. This is against Islam.’’
Such movies should be monitored to ensure that viewers do not deviate from their faith or worship supernatural beings, he added.
But Fidah Rashid, a film lecturer from Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, said: “Viewers don’t see the belief in supernatural beings as blasphemous because it’s part of Malay culture; it is still widespread among Malays. The film-makers are cashing in on this, judging by the rise in the number of horror movies.”
Media consultant Rafizah Amran, 33, who watched Hantu Bonceng, felt the scene in which the mat rempit utters the controversial Satan line was not intended to insult the Prophet, but should not have been used at all.
She said some horror movies have shown characters befriending supernatural beings or asking them for help. “In our culture, where animist beliefs and religion are mingled, the content and execution of horror movies should be handled responsibly and sensitively.”
Civil servant Lin Shuib, 40, an avid fan of horror movies, said some films impart good Islamic values, while undoubtedly others may extol anti-Islamic values.
“But I think viewers are discerning and will be able to figure out fact from fiction. After all, those who flock to horror movies know that it’s just a form of entertainment.”
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 021 2553 5055.