Ghosts and goblins have made their way onto Phnom Penh movie screens, and young people are coming in droves to see them.
Ly Sokunthea, 25, likes to watch the horror movies with his girlfriend.
“When we watch the movie together, it makes us sweat more,” he said. “When the ghost scenes shock us, we are happy.”
The scary movies are good news for cinema owners, but bad news for local film makers and those who think the films have a bad influence on the nation’s youth.
Audiences prefer horror movies from the US, China and Thailand because they have better effects than locally produced movies, cinema owners said.
“When I show the ghost story, my cinemas receive a lot more people than when I show the Khmer movie,” said Sem Sovanndeth, director of Lux Cinema. “Ghost stories shock audiences. They don’t like the romantic or shooting stories because the television is also showing them.”
Lux has been drawing about 300 people a day to watch the ghost stories, about 100 more than it usually gets for Cambodian movies. Teenagers like coming to the theater in pairs so they can get close to each other when they are scared, Sem Sovanndeth said.
Cinemas may be showing the ghost stories more now because Cambodian movie producers are not releasing new movies, said Som Sokun, director of the cinema department at the Ministry of Culture.
“The producers want to release their movie during the big festival” in order to draw more audiences, he said.
He also said Cambodian movie producers need to challenge each other to produce films that can compete with those made abroad.
“In the free market, cinema owners can show any movie they want,” Som Sokun said.
And for the moment, horror movies are in.
“The ghost story is produced for teenagers,” said Bun Sea, owner of Kampul Pich cinema. “When they watch they feel terrified, and that makes them happy.”
Kampul Pich will continue showing the horror movies until another genre proves profitable, he said. But he also suspects that the teenagers might not be coming simply to be frightened.
“Some of the teenagers come to the movie to discuss about their love affair rather than watch the movie,” Bun Sea said.
Lim Mony, chief of the woman’s unit at the human rights group Adhoc, agreed that teenagers watch the ghoulish films to skip on studying and talk about love. Some of the films also contain pornographic scenes, she said.
“This is the big, bad effect to the society,” Lim Mony said.
Last month, while she watched a horror movie at Kirirom Cinema, she said that three teenage men plotted to rape a girl while she went to the toilet. Their attempts were thwarted when a cleaning lady caught them.
Police held the three boys in custody but were forced to release them because the cleaning lady was too frightened to testify against them, Lim Mony said.
If cinema owners do not provide security inside the theaters, she said, degenerates will use the scary movies as a staging ground to rape girls.
Lim Mony added that “the cinema should define how old teenagers must be to watch the ghost movies.”