From Scary to Scarily Bad, Four Arabic Horror Films
The Malek Al Akkad-produced Halloween, fresh from making $76m on its opening weekend in the US, is set to open across the Middle East this weekend just in time for the festival of ghosts and spirits that gave it its title.
Forty years on from the original Halloween, produced by Malek’s father Moustapha, the new, direct sequel to the 1978 classic, already looks set for cult status among horror film fans.
Arab cinema may not have a strong tradition in this genre, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been the odd (or very odd!) effort at horror film in the past.
Indeed, Arabic folklore has a long tradition of spirits - jinn or djinn - that roam the afterworld.
From the scary, to the scarily bad, here are four horror films with distinctly Arabic take.
Produced by Abu Dhabi’s Image Nation, this 2013 film tells the story of a newly-wed Emirati couple, traumatised by the loss of their child, who return home only to suspect it’s haunted.
Local folklore has long passed on spooky tales of “djinn”, or spirits, which roam the mountainous regions of the Northern Emirates. Starring Khaled Laith, Razan Jamal, and Aiysha Hart, director Tobe Hooper’s film draws on that tradition in a modern setting, with the titular spirit, the famous djinn figure "Oum Doueis", haunting Khalid and Salama’s new home.
Unlike other films on this list, this is a serious, high-quality production that plays it for scares and for the most part succeeds.
Another serious take on the genre, this Moroccan film from 2009 sees Nayla, gifted lawyer get involved in a case that involves Kandisha, a mythical ¬– yes, you’ve guessed it – spirit or djinn.
Nayla (Amira Casar), attempting to come to terms with the death of her daughter, is tasked with representing a woman who is accused of murdering her husband, but who maintains her innocence.
The film succeeds in portraying the lawyer’s dark world as she discovers that there is more to the case than she could have imagined.
Directed by Jerome Cohen-Olivar and starring Said Taghmaoui, Asaad Bouab and David Carradine, the film is mostly in French, with English and Arabic thrown in.
Al Ins Wal Jinn (Humans and Jinn)
Adel Imam is arguably Egyptian, and Arab, cinema’s greatest actor.
His unrivalled body of work has established him as a comedy genius. Even when attempting to play it straight, his famed facial contortions and one-liners cannot help injecting laughs in more serious fare. But in this 1985 venture into the horror genre, also starring, Youssra and Ezzat Al Alayli, he more restrained than usual.
Imam plays Galal, a demon masquerading as a tour guide, who pursues Fatima (Youssra) and attempts to break up her upcoming marriage to Osama (Al Alayli). Fatima, back in Egypt after completing a doctorate degree in the US, attempts to repel Galal’s advances as the film, unusually, tackles paranormal and religious themes.
Imam is less funny than usual, and all the better for it.
Al Raqss Ma Al Shaitan (Dancing with the Devil)
This 1993 film, despite its tantalising title is not scary in a traditional sense. Or any sense.
Unless you have phobia of terrible films, that is.
A chemist, played by Egyptian superstar Nour Al Sharif, finds himself drawn into a world of hallucination after ingesting “satanic” herbs. It all sounds far more exciting on paper than in this badly produced nonsense. Al Sharif is one of Arab cinema’s most cherished actors. But here he delivers an over the top performance, with a sequence in which he is meant to transform into a werewolf (we think) nothing less than laughable.
Not even in the “so bad its’s good” category. Enough to scare away any evil spirits.