When I found the articles about Suzzanna in "The Jakarta Post" I also made an all-round search for articles about her and found this article that isn't so much about her as it is an Indo look at the state of horror movies there today. Interestingly enough, the writer states the old movies were much better than what is being produced today. "Interesting" cos usually I get the impression people in Indonesia quite look down upon the old movies nowadays.
The Jakarta Post | Wed, 01/23/2008 3:38 PM | Center Piece
A new breed of ghost ‘n’ gore horror films is packing them in at local movie theaters. But a common complaint is that they don’t make horror flicks like they used to. Rizal Iwan reports.
It’s no shocker that horror movies are the champions of local cinema today. Ever since Jelangkung’s huge box office success in 2001 resurrected Indonesia’s then moribund film fortunes, the horror genre has become the designated money-machine to keep the industry’s head well above water.
In September, two local horror films were released almost simultaneously. By the end of October, no less than four local horror films were in theaters, with several more waiting for release.
However, when you’re walking out of the theater trying to shake off the lingering fright – either from real terror, or the horror of poor production values, campy acting or a horridly written screenplay (or lack of story altogether) – the complaints start coming. The most frequently heard gripe is that today’s horror films are nothing compared to their forerunners of the 1970s and ‘80s, and, more often than not, the name of Indonesia’s legendary horror movie queen Suzanna is uttered in the same breath.
Horror films cut a wide swathe through the Indonesian cinema landscape 30 years ago. There were varied themes – from the very traditional black magic, such as Guna-Guna Istri Muda (Second Wife’s Sorcery, 1977) to the very much universal pack of terrifying zombies, to be found in Pengabdi Setan (known as Satan’s Slave in English-speaking markets, 1980) among others. Still, there were common threads that distinguished them as truly Indonesian creations, unlike today’s standard teens-in-trouble flicks.
First, a lot of films were about murdered women who come back from the dead for vengeance, including Sundel Bolong (1981), Beranak Dalam Kubur (Giving Birth in the Grave, 1971) and Cincin Berdarah (The Bleeding Ring, 1973). Suzanna in particular, along with several other actresses such as Ruth Pelupessy, Farida Pasha and Conny Sutedja, achieved iconic status in such movies.
Second, the evil supernatural forces were always ultimately vanquished by the power of religion. Cue the climactic scene of a Muslim cleric banishing ghosts while muttering holy scriptures.
“I guess what makes the era’s horror films so appealing is that they were so specific. Back then, filmmakers were not really exposed to foreign influences. So their works were very unique and atmospheric, as reflected in their camera work, angles, locations and acting,” says filmmaker Joko Anwar, a horror movie aficionado who grew up watching Indonesian shlock-horror movies.
“And there’s always a good story to it; it’s not only about a bunch of teenagers getting spooked like in today’s horror flicks,” adds Rusli Eddy, the director of SCREAMFEST INDO, the first ever horror film festival in Indonesia, slated to be held in Jakarta on November 28-December 2.
Rusli and Joko acknowledge that some of the movies borrowed liberally from foreign films. Scenes in Ranjang Setan (Satan’s Bed, 1986), Joko contends, appear to be variations on A Nightmare on Elm Street. Pengabdi Setan, which both Joko and Rusli hail as one of their all-time favorite local horror movies, bears some resemblance to 1979’s Phantasm.
“But the stories are wrapped in a very Indonesian package,” Rusli says. “It’s not necessarily original, but it’s relatable.”
Interestingly, despite their distinctive Indonesian qualities or because of them, the films also have a cult following overseas. Films like Pengabdi Setan, Golok Setan (The Devil’s Sword, 1983), Mistik (Mystic in Bali, 1981) and the controversial Pembalasan Ratu Laut Selatan (a.k.a. Lady Terminator, 1988) are reportedly among the best-selling titles in the collection of Mundo Macabro, a UK-based film distributor which imports lesser-known horror films from around the world.
“Production-wise, [the old films] were really creative. Despite the limitations in make-up and special effects, they managed to come up with something that can’t be found in other films,” muses Joko.
That uniqueness has been lost in the post-Jelangkung era due to new realities. The face of the filmgoer has changed as older consumers prefer to stay home and watch TV, and there is a dwindling number of theaters in rural areas.
The target audience has become the niche but still large segment of hip, urban youngsters.
The setting of mist-shrouded village fields has moved to modern city scapes, such as an office building in Lantai 13, an apartment in Pocong 2 or even a discotheque in its sequel, Pocong 3. The characters are mostly groups of teenagers thrown into harm’s way (Tusuk Jelangkung, Malam Jumat Kliwon, Lawang Sewu).
Religion no longer serves as salvation, but urban legends have become an enticing theme (Hantu Jeruk Purut, Terowongan Casablanca, Rumah Pondok Indah). The scare tactics often rely on stylized editing; the filmmakers seem to spend all their time trying to make the films look good with overdramatic lighting and camera techniques, rather than creating some genuinely spooky moments.
Some of the films are shameless rip-offs of Hollywood or Asian horror hits. “A lot of today’s horror films are trying to be Scream, Final Destination or some other slick Hollywood horror film,” observes Joko.
For Rusli, there is a fundamental problem with the new movies: they don’t scare audiences.
“They’ve become too Americanized and far-fetched. And most of the time they don’t scare us at all, because they are not the ghosts that we know.
“That’s why I quite like the [recently released] Legenda Sundel Bolong, because the film returns to the traditional roots.”
Joko faults the overriding profit-orientation behind the making of the movies.
“In Indonesia nowadays, everybody is making horror films because it’s about business,” says the director of 2007’s suspense thriller Kala. “So a director can easily switch from drama to horror in a snap, perhaps due to a producer’s demands.
“It’s important to have filmmakers that have a genuine passion for horror movies, so they’ll know which schemes can still be used, and which are worn out already.”
Probably the biggest problem with contemporary Indonesian horror films lies in the story department. For most filmmakers the storyline is an after-thought.
This lack of attention is especially obvious when it comes to exploring urban legends. Filmmakers simply borrow the evocative setting – a haunted deserted home in an elite suburb or strange goings-on at a downtown underpass, for example – for a commercially attractive title, and then concoct a story that has nothing to do with the urban legend at all.
“A horror film is still a film, and a film is built on a story,” says Joko. “You can put in as many scares as you want, but it still won’t scare you if you can’t relate to the characters. You won’t care whether the characters are going to be killed by the ghosts or not.
“A character in a horror movie is a character that represents our fear. When we don’t believe or don’t like the character, then what’s the point?”
This perennial flaw could reinforce the perception that the genre, especially in Indonesia, is not a serious branch of film. It’s a perception that Rusli would like to change with his festival showcasing quality horror movies.
“We want to show that it still takes effort, passion and talent to make horror films. It takes the same skills and crafting that it takes to make an Academy Award-winning picture.”
Hopefully it will be the inspiration needed by Indonesian filmmakers to try something new, especially amid the glut of horror film releases. When all the traditional ghosts have been laid to rest, the urban legends bled dry and sequels done to death, what will be the future of Indonesian horror movies?
“I would love to see our horror industry venture into the area of psychological thrillers, not necessarily supernatural, but more about evil in the works,” says Rusli.
Joko, on the other hand, is a bit cryptic about the films’ future.
“Filmmakers will be forced to be creative and come up with something new. No one can really tell where the genre is going, but it’s heading to a very interesting place.”
Perhaps then our long-dormant celluloid fears will rise again.