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Film Events

Halaloween: A Muslim Horror Film Fest
Tuesdays, October 1-29 / Michigan Theater

All film screenings are free, open to the public, and will include English subtitles. Seating will be first-come, first-served.

This film festival was co-sponsored by the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, The Digital Islamic Studies Curriculum, and The Department of Film, Television, and Media.

If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation to attend this event, please contact us at islamicstudies@umich.edu, we'd be happy to help. As you may know, some accommodations may require more time for the university to arrange, so please let us know as soon as you can.

This series explores horror movies made by and for Muslims. Jinn possession movies have long been popular in South Asian cinema, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia. For an American audience, these movies look a lot like demonic possession movies in the tradition of The Exorcist. But family is at the heart of these stories. They focus on a central figure - usually a man - who is pushed to heroism to defend his family and community from evil. Franchises like Munafik (from Malaysia) and Siccin (from Turkey) watch families blown apart by the presence of evil, and have as much in common with soap operas as horror movies. The new Jordanian series Jinn (now streaming on Netflix) moves that formula -- horror + soap opera -- to a new platform, long-form TV, and a new demographic, a high school clique.

Horror is an emergent genre in the Middle East today. Iranian directors use horror movies to make statements about family dynamics and political tensions in movies like Under the Shadow and Zar (2017). Turkey has entered the jinn-dustry with three franchises, Siccin, Three Letters and Dabbe. An Arab horror renaissance may be on the horizon, with movies like 122 (Egypt, 2019), Dachra (Tunisia, 2018), The Blue Elephant (Egypt, 2015) and Kandisha (Morocco, 2008). And Egyptian political movies like Clash (2016) and 678 (2010) use horror tropes to explore the nightmare of contemporary Egyptian politics.

We dedicate this festival to the memory of Moustapha Akkad - the great Syrian producer who brought us Halloween, the original slasher movie, and seven other installments in that franchise, and directed The Message (1976), a movie about the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Akkad and his daughter died in the 2005 terrorist bombings in Amman, Jordan, demonstration that life is sometimes scarier than the movies.

All of the movies in this series are genre movies: they exploit the possibilities and accept the limitations imposed by the horror film. Some may transcend genre; others, unapologetically, do not. If you’re squeamish, read on for descriptions and content warnings!

October 1A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour; USA, 2015)
This film festival favorite was shot in Persian in the San Joaquin Valley, in brooding and beautiful black & white. It is often (accurately) described as a Western-vampire-noir. Gender revenge themes and mild violence. In Persian with English subtitles.

October 8: Ritual (dir. Joko Anwar; Indonesia, 2012): A master class in cinematography and editing for horror movies. The first half of the movie is essentially silent, as the protagonist regains consciousness in a shallow grave, learns the gruesome fate of his wife, and flees an unknown enemy through the pristine Indonesian forest. Who is he? What is the meaning of the mysterious and violent ritual he seems doomed to repeat? The ending only doubles down on the mystery; this is Lost for horror fans, but taut, beautifully paced, gorgeous and well-acted. The violence is horrific, but mostly off-screen. Fridged women; fridged families; sinister home movies. Smile for the camera! In English.

October 15: Siccin 4 (dir. Alper Mesci; Turkey, 2017): The fourth installment in the Turkish jinn possession franchise, and the horror movie equivalent of sketch comedy. Don’t come to this movie for character development or thoughtful statements about Turkish politics or culture. For true horror fans, it’s a treat. Body horror, jump scares, a Dark Shadows vibe with a Dario Argento aesthetic, evil children and evil old people in a creepy, fantastically decorated old house. In Turkish with English subtitles.

October 22: Dachra - دشرة (dir. Abdelhamid Bouchnak; Tunisia, 2018): The Blair Witch Project meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, seasoned with a dash of political satire. College students seek out a legendary lost village while filming a documentary for a class project. Jump scares, cannibalism, an ageless creature in red who might be a nod to Don’t Look Now, and man’s inhumanity to man - along with a mysterious, much-discussed ending. In Arabic and French with English subtitles.

October 29: Under the Shadow (dir. Babak Anvari; Iran, 2016): set in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war, this movie is celebrated as a meditation on the fallout of the Iranian Revolution from a feminine perspective. A woman and her daughter hunker down in their Tehran apartment during the Iraqi bombardment. Did the missile that struck their building bring a jinn into their lives? Jump scares, demonic kids, revolutionary misogyny, mother-daughter and husband-wife tension, and violence against furniture as a mom fights to save her child. In Persian with English subtitles.