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INDONESIA’S HORRORMOVIES BETWEEN LOCAL GHOST-STORIES AND GLOBAL POP CULTURE

“A world without any ghosts? Isn’t that boring?” (Indonesian native, 26 years)

Who believes in spirit and fables? Even the western world is mostly dedicated to reason-based perception of paranormal activities. In Indonesia the world is still a magical place full of mysterious creatures. While in most Western countries adults who tell about supernatural encounters are quickly dismissed as fanatics or lunatics, in Indonesia, however, the surrounding nature is still animated by spirits. And this concept is not only for a child’s fantasy. In contrary, it is part of everyday life in Indonesia. From the Angkot driver, to the rice farmer, hipster student and the successful business man in Jakarta. Most of them report on supernatural experiences. Deep-rooted mythological worlds meet with vibrant pop culture and form the basis of a transitional experience in contemporary Indonesia. Sensitive travellers won’t deny the energetic places during their stay, and even the rational person is put to the test by travelling this mystical country. The good news: Travelling Indonesia, you definitely will never be completely alone!

Self-made puppet of the Indonesian ghost “pocong” in front of a house in Cianjur/Westjava.

 

GHOST-STORIES IN INDONESIA FUNCTION AS HYBRID TREASURE TROVE FOR POP-CULTURAL PHENOMENA

Shaped and continuously transformed by animistic beliefs, Hindu-Buddhist cosmology and Islamic mysticism, Indonesia created the scariest ghost-spirits I personally ever faced. Through plural influences and historical shifts, which partly overlap and partly contrast, Indonesia has created a fantastic world of ghosts, legends and myths. These beings reflect the historical overlaps and cultural strands and become hybrid legends, which are continuously transformed due to current longings and fears. If you think the subject matter Hollywood horror movies are made of, always derives from a creative disturbing mind-set of some script-writers, Indonesia contradicts this common assumption. These thrilling, terrifying and sometimes funky real-believed characters are probably main reason why western horror movies still cannot compete with their Asian counterpart. The Asian horror characters don’t just emerge from a blossoming fantasy, but from actual local belief.

On the filmset of Jose Poernomo’s (Indonesians most famous horror-movie director) latest production. The movie will be shown in Indonesian cinemas during 2017.

 

FAMOUS INDONESIAN GHOSTS, MYTHS AND LEGENDS

Did you ever come across the name pocong? This Indonesia-based ghost is wrapped in a white shroud from top to toe so that it can hardly move, and his creepy appearance derives interestingly from Islamic burial method. In Islam, the dead person is traditionally only buried in white clothes. More than that many Indonesian ghosts are actually related to threatening birth-giving myths. Kuntilanak for instance, who died whilst pregnant – her entire face covered by her black long hair. Doesn’t that sound familiar somehow by the way? Or let’s have a look at Sundel Bolong, who painfully passed away after being raped. Her son was born in her own grave and when she appears, you’ll recognize her bowels almost oozing out the huge whole in her body. Keep an eye on your child when meeting her. She is specialist in stealing newborns. But my personal favourite, or let’s say the one I first shockingly heard about, is Tuyul, a small child spirit invoked from a dead human fetus. Got an impression? There’s surely a lot more to explore in Indonesia! This comprehensive insight into Indonesia’s world of famous ghost icons is infinitely achievable and varies by local traditions and conceptions in the different regions in Indonesia.

 

THE EMERGENCE OF INDONESIAN HORROR MOVIES IN 1967

Therefore it is not surprising that Indonesian film industry quickly adopted the local legends and brought everyday ghost stories to the cinema screen. But when did these monstrous creatures actually become part of Indonesian’s entertainment program? Corresponding to the New-Order-Regime by Suharto in 1967 the way for more artistic freedom was paved and Indonesian’s pop- and folk-stories entered the narratives of horror movies. The genre flourished and until today horror movies are still crucial part of Indonesian movie production. Local ghosts as well as mythical narratives were used as inspiration for a globally growing genre. Horror is still one of Indonesia’s most successful genres, and the inexhaustible paranormal activities always provide enough material for new releases. Haunted colonial buildings, parks or cemeteries are favourite film locations for Indonesian horror-movie directors. Additionally TV and radio programs started to feature supernatural phenomena and mysterious encounters between the worlds of realism and spiritualism. Indonesians who got obsessed are favourite candidates for reality-shows and competitions. The horror is booming in Indonesia and the reasons are deeply buried in the multiple historical and cultural entanglements.

On the movie set of Jose Poernomo’s newest horror movie: With his first movie “Jelangkung” in 2001 he made his breakthrough and paved the way for the genre in Indonesia.

 

HORROR MOVIES AS PLACES OF IMGAGINATION FOR LOCAL BELIEFS

Until today spirits are deeply rooted and embedded in Indonesian culture, shaping daily life and multiple realities on world’s largest archipelago. Packaged as commercialized global mass culture products, Indonesian horror movies still heavily relate to local beliefs and myths throughout whole Indonesia. Even when stories are shortened or altered by scriptwriters, they still reflect and mirror Indonesian’s soulful cosmological perception of the world – the secret receipt of its maintaining success. Spirits, myths and legends animate land, nature and water and are the expression of a transcendent cosmology.

Movies are intricately concerned with culture. They are cultural texts, embodying within their frames the entire range of cultural behaviour from artifacts to motivation. (Heider 1991, p. 1)

 

INDONESIAS HORROR FILM AS A CULTURAL ICEBREAKER

Watching a horror-movie during your journey in Indonesia is therefore a good possibility to further approach this multi-faceted country and get in touch with Indonesia’s world of ghosts! Immerse yourself into Indonesia’s nightmare and don’t care about the Indonesian language. This kind of genre is internationally understandable. Most Indonesian cinemas are located inside a shopping mall and belong to one of three Multiplex chains (Cineplex 21, CGV-Blitz and Cinemaxx). Here I provide three nicer options in Jakarta:

CGV – Blitz Grand Indonesia (Grand Indonesia, West Mall, 8th floor, Jalan MH. Thamrin No. 1, Central Jakarta ◊ 50.000 IDR| person from Monday – Thursday, 60.000 IDR| Friday, 750.000 IDR| Weekend): this well equipped cinema, located on the 8th floor of one of Jakarta’s shopping malls, offers everything you need for a comfortable and enjoying visit to the cinema.

XXI – Metropole (Komp. Megaria, Jalan Pegangsaan 21, Central Jakarta ◊ 40.000 IDR| person from Monday – Thursday, 50.000 IDR| Friday, 60.000 IDR| Weekend): housed in an art-deco building this cinema is the oldest in Jakarta and therefore the ideal setting for a creepy atmosphere!

Djakarta XXI (Jalan. MH Thamrin No. 9, Central Jakarta ◊ 35.000 IDR| person from Monday – Thursday, 40.000 IDR| Friday, 50.000 IDR| Weekend): centrally located this cinema is also one of the older ones and therefore a suitable environment for creepy encounters.

 

Heider, Karl. G., Indonesian Cinema. National Culture on Screen, Honolulu 1991.

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