Just how ‘horrific’ should a horror movie be?

Saturday May 16 2009

Actor and script writer Joseph Kamau Kinuthia during the interview at the Jitu Studio in Nairobi, and A scene in the banned movie, Bloodbath. Photos/CHARLES KAMAU

Actor and script writer Joseph Kamau Kinuthia during the interview at the Jitu Studio in Nairobi, and A scene in the banned movie, Bloodbath. Photos/CHARLES KAMAU 

By PHILIP MWANIKI

It’s too horrific! That is the Kenya Film Censorship Board’s verdict on the latest horror movie from Riverwood. Last week, the board delivered the verdict, raising a debate on what really constitutes a horror movie.

Jitu Films, the makers of Otto the Bloodbath, are still trying to understand where they went wrong with the movie they describe as a horror comedy.

But a letter from the censorship board is categorical that Bloodbath is “too horrific even to an adult”. The letter signed by the board’s chief executive David Pkosing last week cited “too much blood” besides other macabre scenes.

Following the ban, the director/producer Egregious Jitu is now counting his losses after having planned its Kenyan premiere next week.

“We do agree with the censorship board that the film was too horrific but how else would you do a horror film?” Jitu asked.

Mr Pkosing said the movie shows dead human characters for too long. He told Lifestyle he would not review his position on the movie.

“I know the producers are using the media to try and harass us but we will not budge because we have set guidelines that we must follow and the movie came up short, and our word is final unless the minister decides to overrule us,” Mr Pkosing said.

Jitu Films have an option of appealing against the decision in 14 days.

“We are going to appeal, although we know we will have to unfortunately censor some scenes,” Mr Jitu said.

Joseph Kamau Kinuthia, the main actor and script writer, said he could still not understand why the film would be banned.

“The movie is a look at some of our cultures and how they treat the dead,” he said. “In Bloodbath, we examine the consequences of not respecting the wishes of the dead and how they come back to haunt the living. It is something that happens in Kenya.”

Mr Kinuthia says there have been reports of how some dead people “refuse” to leave the homestead if their wishes are not honoured. “This happens,” he said.

But Pkosing will hear none of it, saying the film is promoting witchcraft.

“You must have heard what is happening in Tanzania, where albinos are being killed for witchcraft purposes and there was a study which found out that the killings were incited by Nigerian movies which show a lot of witchcraft,” Mr Pkosing told Lifestyle.
“If we are to showcase our cultures, we might be sensitive to all the tribes in Kenya and the board will not allow anything to pass just because it is said to be Kenyan.”

Jitu refutes the witchcraft claims saying the film shows something that is in the public psyche, adding that there have been such stories even in the media.

“We have all heard about how some people strip their dead and whip them when, say, a car stalls as it tries to leave the home and we have shown that in this film. We have addressed the issue of how the dead haunt the living,” he said.

The film, which is said to premier at Oxford University next week and later at the Rwanda Film Festival, is about a family torn between selling off their ancestral land in contravention of the patriarch’s wishes.

The children of the patriarch’s first wife refuse to obey his wish and opt to bury him at the Lang’ata Cemetery in Nairobi so that they can kick the second wife and her mute son out and enjoy the proceeds. That is when the dead man returns and starts making their lives a living hell.

Pkosing said that according to the censorship board’s guidelines, the movie scored a five – the highest mark – which means a movie is not suitable for audiences of all ages.

He gave the five thematic areas that a movie must pass to be released to the public: Violence, Sex, Nudity and Profanity, Occultism and Horror and Community and Religion.

“Every movie must be rated on those five, and if it gets a five, it’s out, a four means adults only, a three is for teenagers, a two is for parental guidance and a zero means it is for general exhibition,” he explained.

So what is essentially wrong with Bloodbath? “They should not have been giving us so many close-ups of dead people in caskets or lying on the floor, just a passing shot would have done the trick. Also, there is a scene where someone dies in a bathtub full of blood, that shot is very long even for grownups, and they should also have toned down some other shots,” he said.
But Mr Kinuthia said worse shots are screened every day on television without anyone raising an eyebrow.

“After the Karatina massacre, the news was full of dead people, and they had close-ups that they kept repeating till it became scary,” he said. “Our film shows such shots for a few seconds and we get banned? I don’t understand that.”

Mr Pkosing said if somebody does something wrong and gets away with it, it does not mean it is right.

“Our broadcasting stations break so many rules but they do not dictate how we rate movies. We use our guidelines and that is all we have. These broadcasters continue to show pirated Nigerian films and they are breaking the law because we never get to rate them first,” he added.

Citing the Nigerian films which are notorious for their horrific scenes, Mr Pkosing said they are brought in by pirates and warned that they will soon catch up with them and stop the inflow of such material, including pornography.

But Mr Kinuthia accused the board of double standards. “Why do they license worse horror films from Hollywood?” he asked. Mr Pkosing promised to “check on it.”

In the meantime, Jitu Films, who have done other films such as Mob Doc, Zeinabu Rudi Nyumbani and R2 Security, are racking their brains to see what to do with four more horror films which are scheduled for release later this year.

Mr Pkosing has warned that no movie will be allowed if it contravenes the board’s guidelines. “And this is not for them but for every film which is set to screen in Kenya.”