In “No Zombies in Gaza: Horror in Arabic Cinema” — published last Halloween — Yazan al-Saadi wrote that, “Horror’s appeal is universal, deeply rooted in our common primordial desire to experience a controlled state of fear. The experience is essentially cathartic.” What, then, is horror literature? In a world filled with so many legitimate horrors, what’s the point?
Just as there are horror films, there is Arabic writing that is self-consciously “horror” — similar to that in the Western tradition — which usually calls for the supernatural to heighten fear. Ahmed Khaled Tawfiq’s ما وراء الطبيعة or Beyond the Natural World series, which brought Dracula to Arab readers; Ashraf Fagih’s The Impaler, another take on the House of Drăculești.
But fantastic horrors — as Ali Abdel Mohsen describes in “Laser Goats and Chicken Blood” — can sometimes be fantastically un-scary and, well, a little silly.
Lebanese filmmaker Tarek Jammel also noted that horror needs to be fitted to its particular audience. He told al-Saadi, in “No Zombies in Gaza,” that zombies are hardly going to phase an audience who live in an open-air prison, because:
“Zombies are not as terrifying as an Israeli bombing, and other real life horrors and tragedies. Zombies are commonly representative of various fears arising within affluent societies. People who are under constant attack by Israelis or whomever else aren’t going to be frightened by zombies.”
But there are reasons to explore our fears, certainly, and it’s easier to experiment with horror literature than it is with horror film.
It was 2011 when blogger and horror writer Ahmed Khalifa wrote that, “There seems to be a horror literature renaissance taking place in Egypt. With more and more horror titles coming out every month, it isn’t an overstatement to say that Egyptian horror fiction is alive and well. Pardon me and other fears [أعذرينى و مخاوف أخرى], a collection of horror short stories by up and coming Egyptian writers, is one of the best of these titles.”
More than a dozen writers contributed to the collection, and Khalifa wrote that, “this collection covers almost all of the standard plot devices (monsters, ghosts, demons, vampires . . .) and then some.”
There is no shortage of terrifying stories in Arabic that are not “horror” but nonetheless pin the reader to her chair. Hassan Blasim’s “The Truck to Berlin” — which follows refugees in a flight to Berlin — is at least as frightening as any ghosts or demons, and Anouar Benmalek’s Abduction — which tells a horror story from contemporary Algeria that’s based on fact — twisted my nerves into knots several times over. Sherine Hanaay’s Necrophilia, reviewed here by Nada Adel, shows familial abuse and a character moving through government hospitals in Egypt, which can be fairly frightening places.
But “horror,” according to Noël Carroll’s Philosophy of Horror, has both a menace that is “threatening” and a menace that is “impure,” that violates cultural categories: a monster, a demon, a girl who has terrible powers.
Karim Safieddine, CEO of Cinemoz, told al-Saadi that there was a strong craving for horror from the Arab public. And al-Saadi concludes that “the desire for a fantastical, indigenous fright fest stirs quietly, waiting to break free.”
The first UAE horror film:
Reader Bhakti Shringarpure also points out: