A Different Kind of Religious Horror: Innocence of Muslims

 A few weeks ago I wrote a post here about some of my thoughts regarding religion in horror. It was mostly just me riffing on the christian iconography in the Nightmare on Elm Street series and laughing at the christian scare-films of old. In the last couple of days we’ve been hearing an awful lot about a completely different kind of religious horror. One which really brings out the anti-theist in me, if I say so myself. This is real-life horror inspired by the, awkwardly titled and now notorious, film “Innocence of Muslims” and it is beyond senseless. Obviously killing people because someone the same nationality as them showed a picture of an important character in your favorite book is pretty fucking crazy. I should also point out though, that creating a film designed at mocking a religion while at the same time praying to a two thousand year old Jewish zombie is pretty damned beyond the pale as well.

This has happened before of course. You might remember the assassination of Theo Van Gogh back in 2004 for his film Submission and then the riots over the cartoons in a Danish newspaper in 2005. Anybody making a film like this should at least consider the global context within which they do so. Then again we are dealing with fucktwats like Terry Jones, quran burner extraordinaire, and others like him. The questions are many: what is an artist’s responsibility with respect to the consequences that result from their work? Should one self-censor if you know that your work could result in the loss of life other than your own? Lastly, and this one is such a classic that it will sound trite, but what qualifies as art? That last one is important to me, because I’ve seen the videos and this “film” is one of the biggest pieces of shit I’ve ever laid eyes on.

I used to think that the worst movie I had ever seen was the straight to video, Daniel Baldwin vehicle, “Water Damage.” (My roommate rented it I think. Don’t ask me why.) Innocence of Muslims has to be in the running though. Let’s take a look at some of the dialogue we hear in the trailer:

Lady: Isn’t it shameful for a woman to expose herself to a man she does not know?

Prophet: Have you not heard what god has said in the quran? The master may desire who he wants and shall be given who he wants.

Lady: God is true in all he says in the book.

Prophet: Also, if a married woman offers herself to the master, and he wishes to have her, he is allowed. Even if the rest of the believers are not allowed.

Guy with hat: Everything allah says in the quran is true! How pleasurable is our Islamic ways!

 …and scene! But wait, cut to a different scene taking place in the same place with only one or two additional people, talking about something else entirely. That’s a sensible choice right? (No, it’s not.) Seriously, look at this shit, it’s important to know just what kind of lowbrow piece of crap we’re talking about before I continue:


Or how about this snippet of dialogue:

Glasses Dude writing on whiteboard: Man plus X equals Islamic terrorist. Islamic terrorist minus X equals man.

From the clips I have seen it appears to oscillate wildly from goofy humor (“You are not wearing undergarments!”) to ham-fisted knocks at Islam (“I will make a book for him. It will be a mix between some versions of- from the Torah and some versions from the New Testament and mix them into false verses.”). I should also point out that this is the worst thing I’ve seen filmed mostly in front of a green-screen since The Phantom Menace. Add to this that the cast is claiming that the original title was “Desert Warriors”  and that much of the dialogue was re-dubbed in post-production so as to hide the fact that the film was anti-muslim propaganda from the cast and crew. It ends up looking like a middle school theater production that took place on top of desert-themed wallpaper.

Now the identity of the director, producer and financial backers of the film are all unclear. All evidence appears to point to a Nakoula Basselev Nakoula and law enforcement has said as much. It’s also been reported that he was a convicted meth cook, so maybe some of this is starting to make sense after all. Furthermore, he was convicted of federal bank fraud in 2010. One of the provisions of his probation from that charge was to stay off computers and the internet for five years. So, it’s possible that the online distribution of Innocence of Muslims could send him back to prison. The Justice Department has also opened a criminal investigation of the embassy attacks although it’s unclear if that will involve Nakoula.

So, we can safely say the movie sucks and, while it’s claimed it cost 5 million to make, the production value is sub-Birdemic. The writing is worse than anything you can imagine and performances are outclassed by the animatronic croc in Crocodile. But, as they say, is it art? We’ve seen plenty of virulently anti-muslim documentaries in recent years, with titles like The Third Jihad and Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West but not so many dramatic films. The difference, we are told, is that Innocence depicts the Prophet and that is extra-super banned. They forgot this back in 2001 when the South Park “Super Best Friends” episode aired:

Look, there’s that scandalous prophet on the far right! What changed? Increased internet access? Social media? Probably, but those two things also mean that images like the one above will live on in perpetuity. So, theoretically it should be pretty damned find-able even if it did air 10 years ago. So reactions like these are scatter-shot and seemingly random, making them all the more shocking.

Random or not,unlike the South Park episode, Innocence is self-conscious provocation. One needs only watch a few minutes of it to know that.  Openly promoted by Terry Jones, by the filmmaker’s request, for the same reason. One could argue, as I would, that this outcome was desired by those involved with the production and promotion of this film. Why else would the director go to someone like Terry Jones, famous for attention grabbing quran burning, for promotion? This film doesn’t come across like something trying to persuade the unconvinced, like some of the documentaries have attempted to do. It’s almost as if the intended audience were those who are rioting now. The filmmakers were perhaps hoping that we would then infer that their depiction of Islam is the correct one. I guess the fantasy is that then we would all rise up and vanquish the “Islamic threat.’

This isn’t shouting fire in a crowded theater, but it’s something close. Something that we should be thinking about when controversial art is created and displayed. This film is shit, of course, but Theo Van Gogh’s wasn’t and he’s just as dead. He at least knew what he was doing when he picked up a camera. I’ve long maintained that nothing is sacred and that all limitations should only exist in the mind of the creator. They should only exist as personal guidelines and nothing more. I still believe that. I am not suggesting censorship or mob justice. However, when you look at events such as these and the specific film in question, I think you have to hold the filmmakers responsible to a certain extent. This was not created with art in mind. This is agitprop of the lowest order and it succeeded in its’ intended purpose. Now innocent people are dead and others may still die. The victims are at least owed that acknowledgement from the filmmakers.

I write for this site because I’m a huge fan of Rotten Cotton and, more significantly, of horror films. Horror can serve as stupid entertainment, emotional outlet, social commentary and much more. At the end of the day it’s entertainment. What Innocence of Muslims has wrought is actual horror. The sort of thing that we watch the movies we love to escape from. As horror fans we often get sidelined or told things like “you must be sick in the head” or maybe people have told you that they “worry about you” because of the objects of your pop cultural adoration. I like to think that the genre we love so much is working to eliminate the real world horror by drawing out the inherent darkness in human beings in a safe and entertaining way. That’s why so many horror fans are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. We get 90 minute therapy sessions at 10 bucks a pop. So maybe if all those folks storming the embassies in Yemen, Egypt and Libya could sit down with Terry Jones and Nakoula Basslev Nakoula and watch Fulci’s “The Beyond” the world might just become a better place.

Hey, a guy can dream…

One last thing, I mentioned anti-theism in the first paragraph. If you’re interested watch this video about it:

Jonathan Watson

About Jonathan Watson

Father, husband, horror fan. I fell in love with the genre around age 5 when I began watching, the Rankin/Bass classic, Mad Monster Party on repeat. Now that I have little monsters of my own, I'm looking forward to training them in a couple of years. For the time being, I'll be satisfied to entertain you fine folks. Now, go make me look good and buy some shirts already.