In 2008, Mamat Khalid turned out to be a revelation at the FEFF with two films presented internationally: the charming parody of classic Malaysian cinema Kala Malam Bulan Mengambang and the successful midnight comedy Zombi Kampung Pisang.
The unexpected commercial success of the latter convinced the production company Tayangan Unggul to produce a sequel, Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah (literally, Mrs Limah’s Ghost Returns Home). A film that not only beat the takings of the first film of the saga of the Banana Village, but which also became a phenomenon, positioning itself among the top three successful Malaysian films of all time – and therefore Mamat Khalid is already planning the production of a third episode!
In Hantu Kak Limah, Zombi Kampung Pisang’s hero, Hussein (an Awie who is a perfect combination of a braggart and naive romantic), returns to his home town aboard his roaring motorcycle, after working in Singapore for a long time. But as soon as he returns home he notices something strange: the neighbour in the house opposite his, Limah, remains immobile at her window without uttering a word.
After a troubled night following the apparition of Limah in his bed, Hussein reveals to everyone in the town that he thinks the woman has turned into a ghost. The entire community mobilizes itself, at first with scepticism, but when the apparitions continue, the town is pervaded with a sense of terror and impotence. In fact, numerous attempts to exorcise the evil presence miserably fail, one after the other, until...
Mocking with witty verve the inexhaustible low-budget horror genre which has dominated Malaysia’s box office in recent years, Mamat Khalid hits the bullseye: whereas Zombi Kampung Pisang laid down the foundations of a cult success, Hantu Kak Limah expanded this success to a wider audience of horror fans. Because, in actual fact, the Malaysian public is well aware of the strategies, variants, and tics of the genre; Mamat Khalid’s calibrated parody has therefore fully adhered to an awareness already present in the public, rendering the comedy implied in the predictability of the situations and the plots obvious.
The scene of Hussein’s first night at home is in this sense a brilliant comical re-invention of the terrifying appearance of an evil spirit. And generally, the moments of candid visual comedy and editing are the most successful – and they have more scope beyond the local borders: we see all the hilarious chases scenes, the opening sequence that is reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the flashback that shows how the dancer, Usop, lost the use of his legs (with “Con te partirò” as the soundtrack!) or the evocations of spirits by the Thai guru (with the apparition of a ghost with numerous breasts that protrude from its body like tentacles – an image which surprisingly passed the draconian local censorship test).
As with Zombi Kampung Pisang, the dialogues are full of references to celebrities and to local films (the public in Udine will recognise the reference to Pontianak by Shuhaimi Baba, seen at the FEFF 2005) which at times slows down the rhythm and kills the comedy for the international audience. In this context we will mention the irreverent tribute to the veteran local critic Hassan Muthalib, in actual fact one of the greatest supporters of Mamat Khalid’s films: the crazy zombie films whose exhilarating trailers are shown at the beginning and end of Hantu Kak Limah, Zombies in M.R.Z.M. and in particular, the musical Zombiku... Zombimu Jua! in 3D are attributed to him.
Successfully following the conventions of the local horror genre, at the end of the film Mamat Khalid reveals that the real ghosts are not where the protagonist thought they would be and he opens the road for a third chapter for which it is rumoured that after zombies and ghosts, the Banana Village will see the arrival of vampires!