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Understanding Indonesian Horror Movies

Movies in certain Tangerang theater as per October 26, 2007:
-Get Married (Indonesian movie about a girl obsessed of getting married)
-Bobby (as in movie by Emilio Estevez about the murder of Robert Kennedy)
-Flawless (Demi Moore movie)
-Pocong 3 (tied with white cloth living corpse said to avenge sinners and whomever got a piece of its cloth would be rich and powerful. Duh!)
-Kuntilanak 2 (similar with Pontianak in Malaysian urban legend, Kuntilanak was a messy black hair cut, white cloth, could fly and pop in everywhere to avenge the world of her personal injustice of aborted baby and monstrous boyfriend who forced her and made her died)
-Legenda Sundel Bolong (I think Sundel Bolong is Kuntilanak’s sister or at least, cousin since they share similar fate)
-Suster N (post-colonial urban legend in Jakarta who believed that once there was a Dutch nurse ghost who cannot walk since her legs were broken and so she has to drag her feet with her hands and haunted hospital ward or ngesot)

The last four are horror movies. The last four always sold-out and full with screaming teenager and adult alike. The last four only some of the prove needed that Indonesian movie industry has, indeed, rising in numbers if not in quality. I don’t know if I should be overjoyed or scared with the attack of those supernatural evil spirit into my life. As a barely Indonesian nationalist who celebrates nationalism only in Independence Day, I am swollen with pride when I see Indonesian movies beat the numbers of Hollywood blockbuster in theater or made it into Malaysian or Singaporean theater. It is, afterall, demonstrate the neighbor-stealing-folk music country that Indonesia doesn’t only know the way to breed terrorist and corrupting fund aid, but also skillfull in making movies.

But I do feel scared. Not just by the daily nightmare of Kuntilanak visit into my boudoir, but what does it saying about us as Indonesian when most of the movies produced are horror movies? I am never a big fan of horror movie since I never understand what is the joy of watching a movie that frighten and haunted you when you are alone at home. Is it not enough that our life is already full of nightmare? Buddhist monks getting killed by Burmese military force, glaciers and ices in Alaska melting down and polar beer died of too much swimming. Call me a hen (I am female) but I don’t care. I am peace loving and I love having my dream free from hopping white pocong or sundel bolong with hollow tummy.

However I found this recent Asian movie industry frenzy of making more and more horror movies quite interesting. South East Asian countries share similar legend and folk stories and so it is not surprising if we love each other evil spirits (eww). What is astonishing is for countries with superstitious people who actually believe in those evil spirits is the paradoxical reality of how they also crave for more. I use ‘they’ because I definitely not a horror fan so I am out of the object study here. Isn’t that weird? So they are scared but they also love to be scared.

Case study #1: 23 years old female, Jabontor (Jawa-Ambon-Toraja) heritage, close friend
-Never miss a single horror movie in theater but the first to ask her friends to sleep over when her flat is empty and she would be ‘flat alone’

Case study #2: 21 years old male, Chinese-Balinese heritage, brother
-Always divert his gaze from the rear mirror and speed up until 120 km/hr when driving alone at night
And they still watching horror movies. Humph.

When I tracked down the rising of Asian horror movie industry, I traced my memory back when I was a small kid of 7 or 8 years old and watching movies without parental guide each afternoon after my siesta. TV station shows Hong Kong movies with hopping vampires dressed in classic court attire who would freeze when the priest put a caligraphed post-it on their foreheads. I squealed in delight. It was not as frightening as the Grande Dame of Kuntilanak and Nyi Roro Kidul role, Susanna.

Asian need its own horror movies that is not the Count Dracula, Frankenstein, Freddy Kruger or psycho murderer in shower. It doesn’t scare us (from a hen who hate horror movies, it is quite a strong statement) since we know Count Dracula wouldn’t survive in tropical climate, Frankenstein would never be in Bali since we burned the death in lavish ceremony, Freddy Krueger would not exist in city named Denpasar who doesn’t even know who he is when he pops up in our dream and that psycho would never get in to our bathroom since any respectable Indonesian always lock the door while bathing.

We have different memory, folk legend and story. Therefore we created our own creature and evil being based on those legend and culture. Below you will find Best Actor Nominee for “The Most Popular Creature in Horror Movies” presented by Julie Estelle and Susanna, the imitator of Real Thing. In random order, they are…
-Kuntilanak (Kuntilanak, Kuntilanak 2, Terowongan Casablanca)
-Anonymous black long haired woman in long dress and pale face (Ju-On, Ringu, The Eye, Shutter, The Wig, Bangku Kosong, Rumah Pondok Indah, Angker Batu and plenty more for this short blog)
-Pocong (Pocong 1, Pocong 2, Pocong 3 and hundreds of cameo appearances)
-Suster Ngesot (Suster Ngesot, Suster N, Panggil Nama Saya Tiga Kali)

The winner goes to…

The lady rose up slowly and nod her head in stacatto motion. She dragged her white silk gown gracefully and suddenly…SHE FLIES TO THE STAGE. Oh my, that is one way to enter. After shaking hands with Julie and Susanna who still trembling with either fear or admiration of meeting their source of inspiration, Kuntilanak is giving a speech. Below is the transcript (in Mother Language):

“Sodara-sodara sekalian, saya ingin mengucapkan banyak terima kasih atas penghargaan ini. Ternyata apa yang saya tidak dapatkan pada kehidupan singkat dan tragis dulu, saya dapatkan pada kehidupan ini. Terima kasih saya ucapkan kepada para produser, sutradara dan artis yang mengorbitkan dan menceritakan kisah saya dalam berbagai versi. Lepas dari benar atau tidaknya serta baik buruknya akting pemainnya, saya merasa bangga telah menjadi ikon perfilman Indonesia di samping Bang Benjamin atau Warkop. Sungguh suatu kebanggaan. Kemudian terima kasih sedalam-dalamnya kepada para fans Kunti yang setia menonton. Aneh memang, betapa kalian senang ditakut-takuti tapi tidak apa karena saya mendapat royalti. Last but not least, Kunti juga ingin berterima kasih dan menunjukkan penghargaan sedalam-dalamnya kepada sesama mahluk alam kubur yang masih suka bergentayangan. Penghargaan ini juga untuk kalian! Sundel Bolong, eat my dust! HIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHI…”

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