Lovers of good classic literature would know where the famous quote above was lifted from. The exact line is: “He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath—"The horror! The horror!".
It is from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
However, for cineastes (who may not have read Conrad), the line, for them, was a famous quote from the Francis Ford Coppola movie Apocalypse Now. In the movie, which was based on Conrad’s novel, Brando’s Kurtz lay dying and in his dying breathe, mouths the words “The horror! The horror!”
Today, the quotation is given a new meaning in Malaysia, when our former Prime Minister recently gave us his two cents worth about the state of Malaysian cinema – “Oh the Horror! The Horror!”
Whilst Kurtz was implying something else all together, Tun Mahathir was talking about the rather high number of horror movies being produced by our local film producers.
Obviously, the local media and blogs picked up on Tun M’s concerns. Him being our former national CEO and all, his words were like a clarion call for many authorities to act upon this so-called and perceived danger to local society.
In fact, Immediately after his statement, the Lembaga Penapisan Filem or the Censorship Board, invited industry players for a special round table discussion about the issue. I attended the discussion.
They even invited a representative from JAKIM to present its position on and its perspective about prescribed and allowable content for Malaysian films.
Since it was basically a closed door meeting I won’t divulge what was spoken or discussed, but, for now, the industry censorship has decided that the approach remains at status quo, due to the reason that LPF has a very liberal and understandable DG who wants to see the local industry flourish, albeit with some self restraint.
It is due to the LPF’s supportive approach to the local industry that we get to see movies like Gangster, Dalam Botol and Nasi Lemak 2.0, and of course the ‘thousands’ of horror titles that are produced.
However, LPF is not the only body that has a say in what you get to see on TV and cinemas. There are other parties, and individuals who take it upon themselves to be reactive to things they hear, and when Tun M says something, they listen.
Which is why, our local free to air TV stations will jump and cut down on the commissioning of horror titles (tv series). The lallang-mentality of local media who cover the local film industry will however throw some gasoline into the fire and suddenly flay the local film industry for making horror movies and nothing else. Only suddenly they noticed lah.
The horror genre has always been an easy scapegoat for society’s ills. Horror films it seems will “menggugat keimanan orang-orang Islam hingga percaya kepada tahyul”. Surprisingly, only locally produced horror films can do that. The zombie-fest and vampire strewn movies from Hollywood, Korea, Indonesia and Thailand, doesn’t seem to have an effect on locals - Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
I have always maintained that horror films are mere popcorn entertainment for the masses. If horror movies are so effective, turning all its viewers, or even the majority of its viewers, into a blithering mass of scaredy cat Malaysians, we should have been a failed nation ever since Cathay Keris began producing the pontianak movies more than fifty years ago.
However, somehow, much to the amazement of learned scholars who advised the government over the years, we have survived the pontianaks, the orang minyaks, the hantu pocongs, the bomohs and the pawangs and the dukuns, and have gone on to participate in the growth of a strong and wonderful democratic nation that we call Malaysia.
My problem with Tun M’s statement is Why? Why does he want to even comment on the current state of Malaysian cinema? Is it wrong that local film producers produce mostly horror movies? Is it wrong for movie patrons to spend their hard earned money to go get spooked in out cineplexes?
Why when he was PM, didn't he support the growth of quality Malaysian movies? Give grants to make the Malaysian film industry better than its neighbours? Identify filmmakers to create quality content and internationally acclaimed movies? Increase the price of commissioned television programmes by RTM, so that producers don't have to depend on producing cheap horror movies to make ends meet?
You see, the film industry, like most other industries, is business first, art second. Good or bad, this is unfortunately the case in a free competitive industry .
I am personally an avid horror film fan, but that's not to say I don't appreciate quality dramatic movies. Nevertheless, I would defend any producer's right produce horror movies - no matter how bad they are. In time, the viewers will become jaded when the quality of local horror movies go South. Film fans are a notoriously fickle crowd. Today they like horror movies, tomorrow comedies, and the day after gangster movies. So why make a big fuss?
To Tun M, whom I respect as a statesman, stick to the more important issues of nation building and acting as the voice of reason in the season of madness in local and international politics and economics.
The proliferation of local horror movies, truth be told, doesn’t affect local mentality nor psyche. Even if it does, it is really no big deal.
The phenomenon is nothing compared to the explosion of kopitiams and kedai mamaks in the country that charge obscene prices for Kopi O, Nescafe Ais, roti canai, roti bakar and nasi kandar. These establishments swipe hundreds of Ringgits per person per month out of their salaries. It is also nothing compared to the inexplicable growth of tomyam warungs all over the country as if it is now the national dish.
So Tun, trust me, horror movies do not corrupt nor pervert the minds of the Malays and other Malaysians. You know what does.