When our ScreenAnarchy-O-Meter column reached number fifty we did something cool: ten writers gave a list with five of their favorite directors, creating one huge ScreenAnarchy-O-Meter which we lovingly called the MEGA-ToM. However, the next big round number is already upon us: 128, which in binary is 10,000,000.
It’s a 10 megaton MEGA-ToM!
Therefore this whole week will be devoted to a huge multi-article ScreenAnarchy-O-Meter. And this time, the writers will give us their top 1,000 of favorite movies (which, thankfully, is only eight in non-binary...).
Third in line is our mysterious visitor from the far East: The Visitor!
The Chronological Failing Of My Fear Threshold
Or How 8 Horror Movies Gradually Made Me Lose My Nerve
My earliest memory of cinema is going to see Westworld with a bunch of kids from my neighbourhood when I was about 5. I remember till today how Yul Brynner’s face was melted by acid to reveal the circuitry underneath. That disturbed a 5-year-old no end.
But it also fascinated me.
From thereon began my journey into the heart of darkness, to speak in overdramatic terms.
Or in simpler terms, I entered pants-wetting territory and never looked back. So here, in chronological order, is how my horror diet developed:
(Find the list after the break!)
0001. The Pontianak films (1970s on TV)
An indelible image from childhood: It’s a moonlit night. A man walking in the jungle encounters an incredibly beautiful woman. He speaks with her for a while. Then she walks behind a tree, and when she reappears, she has transformed into a hideous monster – the female vampire known as the Pontianak.
My hair is standing on end even as I write this more than 30 years after. This is how much the Pontianak films affected me as a kid. And believe me, to a kid, these black-and-white films from the 50s and 60s are the stuff of endless nightmares. Made during the studio era of the golden years of Malay cinema, these movies fed on our fear of the Pontianak, a folkloric creature said to be the spirit of a woman who died during childbirth. The only way to destroy her is to drive a nail into the back of her neck.
The first Pontianak film ever made, simply titled Pontianak, in 1957, is no longer in existence. The story is that Cathay Keris owner Ho Ah Loke threw the prints of the movie into a mining pool due to, of all things, lack of space in his home! But some years ago, I was very fortunate to have met and spoken to screen siren Maria Menado who played the titular vampire.
OK, so this isn’t really a horror movie. But it scared enough people into staying put on land. I wasn’t scared; I was more intrigued by a giant shark gobbling up people on a small island. Jaws was probably my first taste of B-movie goodness; I was still a kid back then. Suffice it to say, I found it as delicious as Bruce the shark must have found Quint equally delectable in that famous gobbling scene. By the way, that was the only scene that scared the hell out of me. The rest was just wide-eyed wonder. Yes, including the severed leg. Jaws has since become one of my all-time favourite movies which I watch at least once a year.
The toyol of Malay folklore and superstition is literally an LGM (little green man). But no, he’s not from Mars. The toyol is created from a dead foetus and fed with blood; it goes around stealing from neighbours for its owner. This movie, made in the 80s, was one of the horror flicks that made me soil my pants when I first saw it. Unfortunately it’s also one of those horror films that don’t hold up well against time. Seeing it again now, it’s just not that scary. The pacing is all wrong, with long, useless scenes, too drawn out for their own good. Then there’s the bad dubbing and cheesy music, and inconsistent lighting. But it remains the only film about the toyol ever made in Malaysia. You can actually watch the entire film on YouTube (no subtitles though).
0100. Hong Kong and Taiwanese horror
There was a slew of Hong Kong and Taiwanese horror films on TV when I was growing up in the 80s. They’re very vague in my memory now, but I do recall staying up really late into the night to catch these movies, sometimes with a parent’s company, and in the worst case scenario, all alone with the ghosties. These were the days of ghosts with green faces. One movie I particularly remember features a female ghost playing the piano in the middle of the night. And there’s a comedic scene where a ghostly hand comes out of the toilet bowl to give a guy toilet paper. If anyone can identify this movie, please do let me know what it is.
Then of course, there’s Mr Vampire, the ultimate horror-comedy that manages to elicit equal amounts of scares and laughter. It still is very entertaining on DVD today.
0101. The Omen
I didn’t see it when it first came out in 1976. It was only in 1981, when Omen III: The Final Conlfict came out, did I finally see it, because the cinema in town played all three Omen films for three consecutive days. I remember it got very, very, VERY cold in the cinema during the scene with the dogs in the cemetery. And when the decapitation scene came on, my jaw was literally on the floor.
Years later, I couldn’t believe Lethal Weapon was directed by the same guy who did The Omen - Richard Donner.
This came at a time when I was rather jaded with horror films. Nothing really scared me anymore, and I couldn’t get my proper horror fix. Then I heard about a little horror film from Japan with a rather scary-looking poster. I got a copy, switched off all the lights in the living room, and watched it alone in the dark. Big fucking mistake. When it was over, I couldn’t move, couldn’t get out of my chair to switch on the lights. I remember going straight to bed; I can’t recall if I switched off the TV. But I must have, because no way in hell would I have left the set on in the middle of the night after what I saw. Then I spent the rest of the week suspiciously glancing at my TV every time I passed it. Thank you, Sadako, for renewing my faith in horror.
This was the first Kurosawa Kiyoshi film I’d ever seen, and I caught it at the Singapore International Film Festival at a midnight screening some years ago. At the time, I was staying alone at a small hotel across the road from the main festival venue. The screening was great; the crowd squealed and screamed. And then I had to go back to my hotel room. That was when the real fun began. I spent the night wide awake, watching the shadowy corners of my hotel room, and began noticing a black splotch on the wall that didn’t exist.
1000. The Eye (Gin Gwai)
This is still the only horror movie I cannot, absolutely cannot, watch alone. If there is a movie that really, truly takes its scare cues from Asian superstitions and beliefs, The Eye is it. It has everything that anyone growing up in Asia listening to ghost stories and urban legends will be familiar with.
So, please, don’t make me watch it alone.
Please, I beg of you!
Please … no … no … noooooooo!!!!