If you’ve watched a number of Malaysian horror movies, you’re probably familiar with the pontianak. Often depicted as a disheveled woman with long hair and nails wearing an oversized white gown, pontianaks (as well as their knockoffs) had been the go-to Malay ghost for our movie producers, and if we’re being presumptuous, it’s not hard to see why. Slap some makeup on to a popular actress, and you’ll have a ghost that instills fear into the heart of moviegoers, while still looking vaguely attractive.
In fact, the only other ghost with a lower budget would probably be invisible genies or spirits possessing the love interest of the main character, and… oh god is that why almost all of our horror movies are either genies or pontianaks? We dunno.
What we do know is that we’re so used to the same makeup and convulsing actresses that they’re hardly scary anymore. If it weren’t for the jumpscares, we’d watch Malaysian horror movies like we watch the news, except with less emotion. Well, what can we do about it? you might ask. It’s not like we have other, scarier Malaysian ghosts to make movies about… right?
Right, if your inspiration only comes from previous movies. If you look a bit deeper into Malayan folklore, you’ll find other, creepier beings just waiting to be summoned on to the big screen. Today, we’ll be looking at a sampling of them (and their movie potential), starting with…
1. Hantu Pemburu: The ghost that hunts down strangers who enter his jungle
Dangerous to: Essentially anybody who isn’t part of his bloodline.
Back in the time when Malaya had more jungles, the hantu pemburu (aka the Spectral Huntsman) was the Big Bad Ghost to be feared of. Walking the jungles in the form of a man in hunting gear, the Huntsman has a permanently upturned head with a plant growing in his gaping mouth, with seven ghostly hunting dogs accompanying him on his rounds. Running into him means death, and even walking across the path he took was said to bring life-threatening diseases that needs to be fixed by a bomoh. That’s how scary he was.
There were many versions of how the Huntsman came to be, but the most convincing one we’ve found comes from Walter William Skeat, in his book ‘Malay Magic‘ (1900). As the story goes, the Huntsman used to be a peerless hunter, and one day his pregnant wife was hit with a terrible craving for a very special kind of meat: a big pregnant pelanduk carrying a male offspring. So he went into the forest with his seven hunting dogs… and he had a Homer moment.
He mistakenly thought his wife wanted a pregnant male pelanduk carrying a big offspring. Despite the impossible task, he set out hunting every pelanduk he saw, cutting all of them open and never finding a pregnant male pelanduk. This went on for years, and he soon killed every single pelanduk in the forest. You’d think this was when he decided to give it up and go home to his probably born son by then, but nooo. He sent his hunting dogs to search the skies next.
During that search, he looked up for so long that he can no longer look down like a normal person, and he presumably died staring at his dogs in the sky. It is said that a leaf fell into his mouth and grew there, and these events explain why the Spectral Huntsman looks the way he does. We dunno how he survived as a hunter for so long with that kind of critical thinking, but so far everything that happened was kind of his fault, right? So why the vengeance against humanity?
Well, apparently he kept looking for the pregnant male pelanduk even in his death, and villagers who went into the forests saw his ghost. Somehow they knew who the ghost was, and his son got bullied by the village children, presumably for having a ghostly walking flowerpot as a father. In his dejection, the kid went to the jungle looking for his dad’s ghost, and on the way an old man neighbor stopped him and asked where he’s going. After learning of his mission, the old man told him to ask about a chisel he lent the Huntsman some years back and never returned. Priorities.
Anyway, the kid managed to find the Spectral Huntsman, and since he managed to call him and his dogs by their real names (plus the message about the chisel), the Huntsman was convinced that the kid was his son. The kid then proceeded to tell on the kids that bullied him. After telling the kid to take care of his mom (and to return the chisel), the Huntsman promised to repay the kids that bullied his son… by eating their hearts and drinking their blood. He kind of didn’t ask what they looked like, though, so mankind have been slaughtered by the Huntsman since then.
How to counter: There are talismans and charms to ward off the Huntsman, but really, you just need to convince the Huntsman that you’re his descendant and you’ll be fine.
One way is by calling him and his dogs by their right names. According to an old folks’ charm, his name is Si Jidi husband of Mah Jadah, and five of his dogs are named Si Langsat, Si Kumbang, Si Nibong, Si Pintas, and Si Aru-Aru. Another charm was simply to say “Nenek, bawa hati nia” when you run into him, meaning “Great-grandfather, bring us their hearts”. This will trick the Huntsman into believing that you’re his great-great-great-great-grandchild.
Or just simply run when you know he’s nearby. You can always tell he’s coming by the ominous howling of hunting dogs, or the sound of the birik-birik bird at night, which is said to sound like that second charm from earlier. Wherever you run to, don’t climb a tree: remember, his head is always looking upwards.
Movie pitch: Essentially a re-enaction of his life story would make a good movie. If you’re ambitious, you can do one of those teen flicks where a group of teenagers go camping in a forest and everyone gets hunted down except the last one. She will proceed to remind the ghost that his wife and son are still waiting, even after all these years. The Huntsman will cry tears of remorse and turn back into his human form, and go floating towards the sky.
2. Hantu Pisang: The ghostly equivalent of a call girl
Dangerous(?) to: Desperate men with no qualms about necrophilia. Equally desperate lesbians.
This ghost didn’t have much of a legend like the Spectral Huntsman, but it’s kind of interesting to note that we have a kind of ghost that people voluntarily have sex with. And unlike the succubus of legend, who are in it for that sweet life force from the men they bang, sex with the Hantu Pisang seemingly comes with no strings attached. Well, maybe just one string, which we’ll get to shortly.
This ghost was written about in a 2013 journal by Nicholas, Ganapathy and Mau, and she was also showcased in an episode from the Bilik No. 13 series on TV2 back in the 2000s. According to stories, banana tree clusters usually has a beautiful female ghost living in them, and you can command her to have sex with you by wrapping a long piece of red string around one of the trees, and leading the rest of it back to your bedroom. In the TV show, there seems to be extra steps, like using a metal nail in the setup and stuff.
Apparently, the ghost has no choice in the matter. Her existence seem to be linked to the lust of men, and if the visit is successful, it is said that you will have a wet dream. So what’s the catch? Seemingly none, but some have said that the red string connecting the ghost’s dwelling to the bedroom represents her destiny, so there’s a chance that you’ll end up married to a ghost. A banana ghost.
How to counter: Just get on Tinder or something, and don’t be so desperate. A word of caution, though. It seems the ghost isn’t very LGBTQ+ friendly, so lesbians stand a risk of being attacked instead if they try this. We wouldn’t advise inviting her over to a threesome as well, no matter how dull your married life had become.
Movie pitch: Something like American Pie, but one of the dudes decides to get supernaturally-laid instead. We can call it Pengat Pisang. For Pengat Pisang 2, the banana ghost got pregnant with a half ghost baby. For Pengat Pisang 3, we see how the dad struggles to remain relevant to his group of friends with his ghost wife showing up for social events. For Pengat Pisang 4: Band Camp, the half-ghost son joins his school band and plays the obooe.
We expect this is when Metrowealth finally decides to buy the franchise, so for Pengat Pisang 5, it turned out that the banana ghost was the daughter of some rich billionaire pretending to be a ghost, just so that she can get close to the gangster guy living in a kampung with banana trees outside his window. The mother-in-law disapproves of the obooe playing child at first, but she finally accepts him as the rightful heir to their mafia empire. There will be no Pengat Pisang 6.
3. Hantu Kum-Kum: The modestly-dressed ghost out for virgin blood
Dangerous to: Naive menstruating virgins with a fondness of door-opening.
This is actually a pretty recent ghost story, and according to some sites, this urban legend caused quite a scare in 1980s Malaysia. Hantu kum-kum, as the ghost is called, got its name from its habit of knocking on your door and saying a corruption of the Islamic greeting ‘Assalamualaikum‘. It appears as a young woman in modest Islamic clothing, with the long tudung, gown, and most importantly, a cloth covering the lower part of her face (known as a purdah).
There are many versions of the story, but essentially hantu kum-kum was a young woman who was taught a dark magic ritual to make her face beautiful, and one of the taboos of the ritual was that she cannot see her own face in the mirror for 40 days. However, people around her kept commenting on how pretty she looked, and on the 30th day her curiosity got the better of her. She looked in a mirror, and she instantly turned as ugly as a burnt telur dadar.
To reverse the effect of breaking the taboo, she was told that she needed to drink the blood from an unspecified amount of virgins. So to hide her ugly appearance, she covered herself from head to toe and went around town looking for houses with virgins in them. However, due to some part of her ritual, she can’t say Arabic words properly, so she had to knock on random houses while calling out ‘Kum… kum…‘ instead of the usual ‘Assalamualaikum‘.
You can probably guess what will happen if you open the door to her. No, she won’t be selling a water filter.
How to counter: Fortunately, she can be dispelled using a simple talisman.
Movie pitch: A horror-action-street racing movie, with romance thrown in to attract local moviegoers. Like, a girl who loves to chat with the pizza guy one day opens the door to find the kum-kum ghost waiting for her. She tried to escape, and an action-packed car chase scene ensues, with some drifting shots thrown in for good measure.
The pizza delivery guy then shows up on his bike and joins in the chase, and in the climax of the film he rams into the kum-kum’s car, causing her to swerve and hit the curb. He defeats her by showing her a piece of broken side mirror, preferably with a quip like “That’s why you always check your mirrors while driving. Kum kum, cucumber.” The car explodes. The couple reunites by the wreckage, finally free of the kum kum menace. Doves fly off in the distance, a white contrast to the billowing smoke from the burning kum kum mobile.
4. Hantu Kuali: The ghost… pretending to be a wok in your kitchen
Dangerous to: People who have anger issues in the kitchen.
The hantu kuali seems to be a rarely acknowledged spirit, as the only mention we could find comes from an encyclopedia on ghosts, which said that it was mentioned in Anthony Burgess‘s The Malayan Trilogy. It’s essentially a ghost in the form of a wok, and according to the encyclopedia, although it’s dangerous at all times, the hantu kuali is especially lethal at night.
It hangs out in the kitchen of some poor Malayan lady pretending to be a wok, and woe will befall her if she is foolish enough to use the hantu to fry stuff. Fish fried in it will break apart, and don’t even try to make sunny-side up eggs: the yolks will break. But perhaps the true horror of the hantu kuali is that if you get angry and bang it on the stove, it will BURN YOU. Okay, maybe it’s not as lethal as it is petty, but there’s another same same but different version.
There’s a Facebook post by a supernatural page mentioning the ghost, and while it has the encyclopedia entry as a reference, it seems to embellish the story a bit. In this version, the hantu is not the wok itself, but rather a spirit that manifests randomly in the kitchen and frantically cooks fishy-smelling stuff (like eggs and fish) using a wok. If you attempt to stop or disturb its cooking in any way, it will freak out and burn down the kitchen.
How to counter: Just don’t bang your woks, we guess? And don’t cook char kuey teow or fried rice at home.
Movie pitch: A comedy-horror movie set in the 1950s about a boy who finds a living wok. The father was a struggling street hawker in KL, selling fried rice at a street corner. The hawker’s son chanced upon a magical, sentient wok one day, and after giving it to his daddy, their life turned around. His fried rice became a huge sensation, and they became rich. One day, their neighbor, who was jealous of their success, discovered the truth about the wok and stole it to start his own business.
However, the yolks in the telur mata he makes keep breaking, and in his anger, he banged the wok with his spatula. The wok comes to life and burns everything down. We insist there be at least 5 minutes’ footage of the guy getting slowly burned alive. After everything burned down, the boy was reunited with the wok in the ashes, and as they hug, the wok says “Guess that’s too much wok hei”. The whole cast inexplicably lines up like a standard conference group photo and laughs. Big dance number to a KRU song. The end, roll credits.
With everything said and done…
[P/S: If you’re making a movie out of any of this, we want a cut pls. Kthnxbai]