Although horror films have been around in the Arab world for decades, they have never been prevalent enough to make a dent in the culture. The films that do exist are sparse, and quality is hard to find, but the Arab horror film genre has begun to grow in the past few years. Here is a list of six entertaining Arab horror films to check out during this spooky season!
Madayen (2016) dir. Ayman Tamano / Saudi Arabia / 62 min
Three young Saudis are researching the old town of Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia for their documentary. They visit the notoriously haunted ruins of Madayen Saleh, investigating the myths and the truths behind the cursed place. It seems fine at the start–but everything changes once they spend the night. Harmless at first, this found-footage style film will have your heart pounding by the end. Madayen was screened as part of our #AFF2017 Saudi Showcase, and we actually sat down with writer and actor Hakeem Jomah for an interview about the film (read that here.)
Join us for a special Halloween screening of Madayen, now through November 1st, for free, on Arab Cinema Reimagined!
Warda (2014) dir. Hadi El Bagoury / Egypt / 73 min
Vlogger Walid and his new girlfriend Amna, return to his home in the Egyptian countryside to look into stories of possession. Though his family seems alright at first, we learn of conflicts involving the mother, uncle, Walid’s dead father, recently deceased middle sister and his youngest sister, Warda. Warda has still not gotten over her sister’s death. When the couple arrive with their cameras, her mental and physical condition begins to deteriorate, and strange things begin to happen. A short watch, it’s Egypt’s first found-footage-Paranormal Activity style horror film.
Djinn (2013) dir. Tobe Hooper / UAE / 85 min
In this UAE-produced film by American director Tobe Hooper, Djinn follows newlywed Emirati couple Khalid and Salama after the traumatic loss of their baby. They move back to the UAE in a new apartment called Al Hamra–which, unbeknownst to them, was built on the site of an old abandoned village, known for its multiple hauntings. Salama is unsettled by her new surroundings, and Khalid worries her mental health is declining. But the reality is something far more sinister.
Dachra (2018) dir. Abdelhamid Bouchnak / Tunisia / 113 min
Dachra is Tunisia’s first ever entry into the horror genre. The story follows journalism student Yasmine and her friends as they try to solve the two-decade old case of Mongia, a woman imprisoned in an asylum for suspected witchcraft. They find themselves in the mysterious town of Dachra, where they uncover horrifying secrets of the people there. Inspired by true events, there are plenty of frightening scenes (beheadings, cannibalism, you name it) to chew on.
The Blue Elephant 2 (2019) dir. Marwan Hamed / Egypt / 130 min
The Blue Elephant (2014) is a bit hard to track down online, and it’s a full forty minutes longer than the sequel. Like its first iteration, The Blue Elephant 2 follows Dr. Yehia, a genius psychotherapist and struggling alcoholic. Now, he meets criminal inmate Farida, who claims the death of his entire family will occur in three days. Watching the original will explain references, but the story here is relatively removed and just as much fun. With several entertaining and psychedelic scenes to enjoy, make sure you check out the highest-grossing Egyptian film of all time.
Humans and Djinn (1985) dir. Mohamed Radi / Egypt / 134 min
Here’s a throwback for you! Humans and Djinn (El Eens Wa El Jinn) is considered by many to be a Arab horror classic, and stars famous Egyptian actors Adel Emam and Yousra. After the death of her boyfriend by car accident in the US, Fatma returns to Egypt after some time away. She starts seeing someone new, but then she meets the off-putting Galal, who reveals himself to be a djinn. He has fallen in love with Fatma and warns her not to remarry. When she doesn’t obey, he uses his powers to terrorize her.
If you’re interested in learning more about Arab horror, here is some further reading:
“The Supernatural in Contemporary Arab Films” by Dr. Mohammed Ahmad Ameen Al-Shamiri
“Why Do Arabs Love Horror?” by Marwa Hamad (Gulf News)
Also check out the first (and currently only) MENA horror/fantasy/”genre” film festival in Beirut!
Easily add all of the films in this post to your horror night watchlist using this handy Letterboxd list.
And finally, make sure to join us this week for a free screening of Madayen on Arab Cinema Reimagined!
Written by Eman Ibrahim