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'Halaloween' showcases Muslim horror films

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, it's Halloween. But instead of watching "The Shining" or "Psycho" for the millionth time, consider something new. Enter Halaloween, the Muslim horror film festival.

ALIYAH KHAN: All of our films are set in the Muslim-majority world. They all have directors who identify as Muslim and that have some kind of Muslim ethos while also being identifiably horror.

MARTIN: That's Aliyah Khan, a professor at the University of Michigan. The university is the host of Halaloween. This year it is free and online. Khan says the festival arose from a question. What kinds of scary movies were being made in the Muslim world? Turns out quite a few.

KHAN: Southeast Asia has a long-standing genre of films about Jinn possession. And Turkey has a more well-developed film industry where you can see, like, American horror-style movies that are, you know, about scariness and gore and so on.

MARTIN: Jinn are like spirits that can haunt or possess, and she says they are a common feature in Muslim horror. But it's also hard to find certain kinds of films, like ones about zombies.

KHAN: I wondered if that that raised some theological questions for Muslims about the status of zombies as being somewhere between the living and the dead.

SHARMAINE OTHMAN: So, like, we couldn't really go crazy "Walking Dead" for the zombies. So we kind of like just thought of, like, situations - very local Malaysian situations that might get in the way during a zombie apocalypse.

MARTIN: That's Sharmaine Othman. She is co-director of the Malaysian film "KL24: Zombies," which is part of Halaloween.

OTHMAN: And it's about a Chinese guy who brings home his Malay Muslim girlfriend. And his whole family is eating pork (laughter). And then we cut to the next shot for them, and we go to her family. And her dad's got four wives. And, you know, you kind of want to, like, minimize numbers during a zombie apocalypse, but, I mean, you have four wives. So, you know, what do you do, you know?

MARTIN: Othman says it's the only Muslim zombie film she knows about, and it features other taboo subjects.

OTHMAN: You know, having like a Chinese family eating pork, you know, like, that would be very, like, (laughter) horrible on our national TV. It will be frowned upon. It wouldn't be - it would be - like, you know, there's some, like, cultural sensitivities, which creators always have to be careful of when we create work.

MARTIN: But the film also allowed her to confront parts of her culture, like her father's polygamy. She says having a film like this at a festival on Muslim horror feels incredible.

OTHMAN: My short film was essentially about - you know, it talks about polygamy in Islam. So I guess it was a very affirming feeling that even though I'm questioning my religion, I do connect with it through my work.

MARTIN: And in case you're wondering, she did tell us the one thing that would truly scare her in a zombie apocalypse.

OTHMAN: Like, double parking. (Laughter) Malaysians love to double park. So you couldn't get away. You could not get away, no.

MARTIN: You can check out Halaloween by visiting the website for the University of Michigan's Global Islamic Studies Center.

(SOUNDBITE OF KYLE DIXON AND MICHAEL STEIN'S "STRANGER THINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.