Southeast Asia is a hot-bed of horror. The region is saturated with dark histories and even darker mythologies. From the krasue from Thailand to hantu tetek from Malaysia and Singapore, legends and stories are rife with things that not only go bump in the night, but are more blood-thirsty than your average Northern Hemisphere ghosts. Centuries of years of trade, migration and settlement brought in more scary spirits and monsters. The Southern Chinese diaspora celebrate Hungry Ghosts Festival for an entire month. Don’t go out at night. Don’t swim in the sea. Don’t kick offerings on the floor. People often breathe a sigh of relief once the month is over. Similarly, the bloodshed and trauma of many wars have left the imprint of haunted memories and hauntings by restless spirits displaced by massacre, starvation and pain.
Southeast Asians love horror. Horror movies are extremely popular. Horror and ghost stories are consumed avidly by fans of this genre. In Singapore, a series of ghost stories is still on-going, fueled by the popularity of ghost stories and our obsession with the paranormal. The stories are ghost-written (pun intended, as claimed by the author who collects personal accounts from fans of the series) and range from poignantly sweet to downright horrific. Some remind me of the composition writing I received when I was teaching. Some are real and make me shiver at the sheer terror they evoke in me. We all grow up listening to stories about the pontianak, the penanggalan and the manananggal. The region shares similar stories about female ghosts who would detach their heads from their bodies. Their heads fly in the night, organs and entrails dangling beneath. the organs apparently glisten or shimmer. My relatives would talk about planting cactii around the house as protection. In the morning, so they say, they would find the penanggalan with her entrails snared and tangled by the cactii.
For this SEA horror special, I will focus on two Southeast Asian horror writers.
Tunku Halim (full name: Tunku Halim bin Tunku Abdullah) is a Malaysian writer and lawyer. He is known for his horror stories inspired by Malay myths and folklore. His novels include Vermillion Eye, Last Breath and A Malaysian Restaurant In London. His short story collection titled Horror Stories is extremely popular in Malaysia.
I first came across Tunku Halim’s story “Biggest Baddest Bomoh” in The Apex Book of World SF II (ed. Lavie Tidhar). The story was creepy and hilarious at the same time, in parts a comedy where a man tries to woo the beautiful girl, in parts a horror story when he enlists the help of a bomoh which is a Malay sorceror and traditional medicine practitioner. They often act as intermediary for the spirit world and deities. The Indonesian equivalent is dukun.
Eve Shi is an Indonesian writer who writes primarily in Bahasa Indonesia and English. She is known for writing wuxia stories, but her focus is mostly on horror. Her novels include Aku Tahu Kama Hantu, Lost, Sparkle and Unforgiven: Hantu Rumah Hijau. She is also in Asian Monsters, an anthology published by Fox Spirit Books.