By PHYLLIS HO and ANGELIN YEOH
Ever watched a horror movie and think to yourself – which sick freak came up with this? Who comes up with these dark, terrifying stories for a living, and why do they do it?
Well if you have, today’s your lucky day (though some would say we just jinxed it). We found a few horror storytellers just to get a glimpse into why they do what they do, how they do it, and why people keep coming back for more of the horror they have to offer.
First up is award-winning Malaysian filmmaker Edmund Yeo, 28, who was hand-picked by the YOMYOMF YouTube network to write and produce a horror film in conjunction with Halloween.
The movie, Double, which Yeo made together with fellow filmmaker Woo Ming Jin, is part of YOMYOMF’s “Silent Terror Anthology”, made specifically to scare the daylights out of YouTube users this Halloween.
You won’t hear many people saying this, but for Yeo, the experience of watching a horror movie is a “weird and beautiful feeling”.
“The appeal of horror movies comes from the fact that it taps right into our primal emotion of fear. It can be such an engrossing experience. Especially in the cinema, when you are screaming together with other audience members, you are sharing some very private emotions with strangers around you,” he says.
Double stars local beauty Carmen Soo and newcomer Candy Lee, and the entire film is shot without any dialogue, and the everything happens during the day.
The “fun” in making a horror film, says Yeo, is playing with the audience’s perception.
“I think it is more disturbing when you can see our protagonist, a secondary school student, committing a gruesome murder in broad daylight. Nothing more is left to your imagination,” he says.
Going from YouTube to the big screen, Malaysian filmmaker Ahmad Idham Ahmad Nazri knows a thing or two about horror movies, even though most of his blockbuster hits like Jangan Pandang Belakang and Jangan Pandang-Pandang were more comedy than horror.
He’s been a fan of horror movies since childhood, and now Ahmad Idham admits that most people recognize him as a horror director.
“I’m actually the type who does all genres, but I wanted to try out my creativity in horror movies,” he says. “I have made horror action comedy, horror action, horror comedy, but horror is my forte because most of them spark a lot of interest among local movie-goers.”
The reason why horror films appeal so much to people, he believes, is simple – curiosity. “They want to understand more about the other beings that you can’t see with your naked eyes,” he says.
For Jangan Pandang Belakang, Ahmad Idham wanted to showcase a Malay urban legend; and like any good filmmaker, he had to do his research. Not quite the same kind of research you’d do for a “normal” movie.
“I went to my uncle’s who told me about these legends that were passed down from generation to generation.”
He also interviews bomohs for most of his horror movies.
“I’ve found various methods that people use to counter (supernatural) beings, but I usually choose the most unique and believable ones,” he says, adding that at the same time, he tries to avoid misleading the audience into believing superstitions.
However, he did mention that a few members of his crew mysteriously started screaming and acting hysterically during the shoot of Jangan Pandang Belakang.
“It just happened, and I don’t know whether it was because of something supernatural, or if they were just mentally exhausted,” he says.
Apart from professional horror storytellers like Ahmad Idham and Yeo, there are also enthusiasts like Richard Tan, 31.
The graphic designer is an aspiring horror writer, and he’s currently working on a few horror movie scripts. He says he enjoys writing horror stories as it forces one to think “out of the box” to frighten others.
He agrees with Ahmad Idham that horror is all about manipulating the curiosity of the audience.
“Humans are naturally curious beings. The more you can’t see, the more you want to find out. So it’s like riding a roller coaster. It’s full of excitement because you won’t know what will happen next,” he says.
Tan says the inspiration for his stories can come from anywhere. “It can be after a horror movie, chilling out at home, taking a bath, and even when I’m driving.”
In fact, Tan says writing horror stories can be an effective way of venting frustrations.
“For instance, I sometimes imagine myself getting out of my car and punching some annoying drivers, but I can’t do that. So instead, I make a horror story out of it, and use that story to ‘educate’ people not to be that way,” he says.
The ghost hunter
While most people talk about horror in terms of fiction, paranormal investigator and ghost researcher Augustine Towonsing is on the hunt for the real thing.
The secondary school teacher started researching paranormal occurrences because he was curious about the very existence of ghosts.
Towonsing conducts his research by going to places where people claim to have seen ghosts. He relies on recordings devices like digital cameras and audio equipment to help him capture physical evidence of supernatural activities.
“I usually frequent cemeteries, abandoned buildings and jungles at night,” he says. Those who wish to follow him on these ghost trails have a “standard operating procedure” they must adhere to. That’s right, there are people who actually request to tag along with him.
“I ask those who come with me to make sure they fully prepare themselves for what is to come. I will ask them to leave whatever is stressing them behind, and keep an open mind.” He also asks them to make sure their cameras are fully charged. And oh, bring extra batteries.
Also, before stepping into any “unfamiliar territory”, he first apologises to the spirits.
“I always start by saying I’m sorry, and then I explain who I am. It’s a sign of respect and I’m letting the spirits know that I mean no harm. During the research, I will advise those who came along with me to remain calm and be aware of the surroundings.”
Towonsing also explains that, prior to his investigation, he will always research the area.
“I keep track of what bugs or animals there are in the area, so if we hear any strange sounds, we can instantly recognise whether it belongs to a cricket or a bird and quickly dismiss it.”
After completing his investigation, Towonsing says they always pack up and thank the spirits.
Towonsing documents his investigations on the Malaysian Ghost Research website (www.malaysian-ghost-research.org). Visitors to the site can view footage and voice recordings from Towonsing’s investigations.
But why would anyone want to go around with Towonsing looking for ghosts?
“The same reason I started this research – to fulfill a curiosity. At the end of the investigation, some feel scared and some cannot understand what they have just experienced.”