We’re back with another Far East Extreme! You know, there are just so many damn horror movies: I will be lucky to watch 10%, or even 5% of them all in my lifetime. Then if you take into account how many low budget horror movies are made all over the world in our day and age, even scrolling through a list of a sub-genre of a horror genre is enough to give someone with even minor OCD a major aneurysm. So what’s the best unsung horror film, the most special diamond in the rough? Literally everyone has a different answer (aside from the occasional adventurous soccer mom who might have seen Re-animator or Toxic Avenger through partially covered eyes). On the other hand, the comforting thing about the classics is that they are classics wherever you go. At this point, you can spin a globe, close your eyes, and point somewhere: assuming language isn’t an issue you could talk for hours with those people about Dracula, Night of the Living Dead, Halloween, and of course, the ultimate horror classic: Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. It’s really interesting sometimes to find another country’s version of a classic horror movie: ideally you get a familiar experience from a completely different angle; at worst it’s like picking old food off your clothes after a night of dumpster diving: just the same old trash minus any sort of nostalgia.
Macabre, as it’s known internationally, is a rather infamous, acclaimed horror film in its native Indonesia. Known locally as Rumah Dara, or “Dara’s House,” has nothing to do with its English title, and being that there are many other horror titles of the same name, and as Rumah Dara rolls off the tongue easily enough, I will refer to it from now on as such. It has been often praised for its preponderance of violence and gore, and was banned in nearby Malaysia. One big reason that horror aficionados tend to be drawn to it is that, simply, it is an updated Texas Chainsaw with a new coat of goopy bloody paint. This is all good so far, right?
Now a little bit of plot for you high-fallutin’ Shakespearean types: a group of pesky kids (minus crime-solving dog) pick up a beautiful stranger who says she was mugged and give her a ride home. She invites them in, to which they oblige, in order to meet her family. It is here we get to see the highlight of the film: the family matriarch, Dara. The title character is played by Shareefa Daanish, and is the main reason to watch this film. Seeing as how Leatherface and his cinematic progeny hardly ever talk, it is nice to have an antagonist that not only speaks, but is well-spoken. Dara acts as if she is a visitor from another planet seeing earthlings for the first time, regarding her houseguests with a flat affect, an occasional quizzical head tilt, and a deep menacing voice, so that even when she acts friendly you swear that she’ll fillet somebody in the next scene.
“It has been often praised for its preponderance of violence and gore, and was banned in nearby Malaysia.”
As for the rest of the plot, it’s classic Texas Chainsaw. Just about every reader of this column should be able to guess what the family “secret” is. And, unfortunately, that’s about all Rumah Dara has to offer. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems as though the filmmakers were more inspired by the Texas chainsaw remakes – this film has nothing of what made the original scary. Rather than the slow burn, being able to take in all the creepy off-putting stuff around the creepy house, or hearing footsteps or breathing and trying to figure out what might happen, instead it’s just blood and parts thrown at the screen a mile a minute. Without a way to build tension, the film becomes a roller-coaster ride into hell; indeed it never stops falling, never giving you a minute to catch your breath or develop except when absolutely necessary because a character needs to speak. The plot is not only paper thin, but still manages to contain plot holes regarding other cannibal families that goes nowhere. It’s disappointing because on a technical level the movie works, and the acting is fine, and the setup is perfectly adequate, but then it’s just more of the same old thing that any cinematic slasher does in any cinema anywhere. It even has the same old cynical moral “lessons,” i.e. don’t talk to strangers, don’t trust anyone, etc. By the time the stereotypical idiot cops die and we get to the final girl you may as well close your eyes: anything you imagine will probably be more impressive than what is actually on screen.
To be clear, the movie is not without merits, especially in its proper context. Indonesian horror fans like this movie, and for good reason. For the rest of us, without that context, Rumah Dara is unfortunately little more than bargain bin fodder, another Macabre lost in a pile of Macabre’s.