CHOK SUAT LING
Movies so dumb you'd demand a refund
2009/12/24, The New Strait Times.
SANTAU was touted as the scariest local horror film ever made.
The movie, about black magic and possession, promised moviegoers they would not be able to look at scrambled eggs quite the same way again. Or step into the bathroom alone.
A warning appeared on screen before the opening credits: "Pregnant women and those with weak hearts should not watch this." Toes curled in anticipation.
But there was no scare, shock or awe. There were no premature deliveries or cardiac fibrillations. There was, however, a primordial reaction from the audience: the cineplex reverberated with uproarious laughter, at moments when the actors on screen were deadly serious.
As anyone would be, no doubt, if they had to eat animal entrails and rubbish and were being possessed, chased or strangled by pesky demons every few minutes.
A power outage or menacing storm in almost every scene probably added to their sombre disposition. But the audience was tickled nonetheless.
The chuckles began as soon as the lead actor, Esma Danial, came home to find not his wife in bed but a bedraggled apparition looking uncannily like veteran actress Mariani Ismail. (Why is it that distinguished actresses such as Mariani and Ruminah Sidek are only called upon to act as ghastly old ghosts these days? But that's another story.)
Santau made a killing at the box office, collecting RM1.5 million in its first four days of screening.
But despite the professionally made-up ghouls, the film was run-of-the-mill; an amalgamation of everything we have seen in J- and K-horror flicks and the Twilight Zone television series of the 1960s. And it was supposedly one of our best this year.
The last "scariest movie ever", Jangan Pandang Belakang, promised to thrill in 2007, but also relied heavily on sudden loud noises, screaming fit to wake sleeping moviegoers, and ghost-behind-you-in-the-mirror shots to deliver the scares.
Want to be scared into insomnia? The vengeful croaking ghost in Ta-kashi Shimizu's Ju-On will give you more sleepless nights than all the bedsheeted spirits, pocong, momok and zombies in Kampung Pisang put together.
In Thailand's Shutter, the scene showing the mournful ghost Natre clinging to Ananda Everingham's neck was seared into the minds of moviegoers. It stopped them from taking gratuitous photos of themselves for their Facebook profile. At least for a while.
Shutter spawned an inferior Hollywood remake, as did Ju-On, Hideo Nakata's Ringu, and the Pang brothers' Jian Gui ("The Eye").
What's up with Malaysian horror movies? Or Malaysian movies in general? The fare that's churned out studiously by our studios -- notable exceptions include Bernard Chauly's Gol & Gincu, Kabir Bhatia's Cinta, Erma Fatima's Diva Popular, and Afdlin Shauki's Papadom -- are far deadlier than weapons of mass destruction. They can vaporise brain matter faster than bazookas.
We are not even talking about coming up with something of international standard, in the league of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters of the 3D alien warriors or humankind on the verge of extinction variety. Just something palatable enough, and more entertaining than an empty carton of popcorn.
Is it possible to have local movies where the actor's mouth is synchronised with the dialogue?
In Santau, for example, how is it that the bomoh is all dressed, prepped and ready for an exorcism when the demon-possessed wife is brought to him unannounced on a stormy night?
(nota aku: Sebenarnya, para penonton ketawa bukan kerana si Bomoh itu sudah sedia berpakaian lengkap, Suat Ling silap, malah kalau dengar dialognya, jiran Esma sudah memaklumkan kepada bomoh itu, iaitu tok guru kepada jiran Esma. Penonton ketawa kerana kemunculan Bob Lockman sebagai BOMOH. Suat Ling tidak tahu bahawa Bob Lockman merupakan pelawak terkenal Malaysia di televisyen. Pengajarannya ialah, jangan ambil Saiful Apek dan kawan-kawannya untuk berlakon sebagai bomoh, melainkan anda Afdlin Shauki yang diketahui mempunyai landasan pelbagai dimensi dalam lakonan dan perwatakan)
Where are the movies that take time to tell their stories and set up their characters? Such efforts have been made in the movies of Yasmin Ahmad, Ho Yuhang and Teck Tan, but when it comes to horror, where is the atmosphere, suspense and creeping dread?
Why do such movies elicit laughter when comedies do not?
All movie buffs want is something that won't make them flinch, double up in pain, or long for the last two hours of their life back. Is that asking for too much?