In a dark alleyway, a chainsaw roars to life and the shadow of a man lifts it overhead. A few gruesome seconds pass. Suddenly, Rick Moranis lumbers out of the shadows bearing the weight of dripping trash bags filled with the pieces of Steve Martin’s body. Even though Martin played a psychotic, girlfriend-beating dentist, I screamed when Moranis fed the pieces to his psychotic pet plant as dinner.
Okay, Little Shop of Horrors may be more a campy musical than a scary movie, but at seven years old, all I could tell was that this movie was both terrifying and fun.
My mother didn’t appreciate the nightmares I had for weeks (I was certain my body would end up in those dripping garbage bags one day), but I quickly forgot the restless nights and only remembered the chilling, thrilling experience of being riveted to the screen as an alien plant drove Moranis to quasi-murder.
There’s nothing quite like the goosebump-prickling, heart-palpitating, hand-grabbing, stomach-churning fun of a horror movie. From Alfred Hitchcock’s blood dripping down a shower drain in Psycho to the camera-shaking chaos of The Blair Witch Project, we cannot seem to get enough of murder and mayhem on the big screen.
Madhavan in ‘13B’
Why do we love horror films? It’s like facing our fear of death, safely ensconced in a cozy theatre seat, protected by a bag of popcorn.
Call it masochism, if you will, but peering through our hands, it also allows us to dabble in the dark side. It is what Carl Jung identified as the “shadow” side—our repressed, denied self—and horror movies allow us to explore all that evil jumbled up inside us. Admit it, we don’t really want the bad guy to win, but we do jump with excitement when we realize the killer isn’t quite dead. And despite the beatings and stabbings and beheadings, they never really are.
The best horror films always seem almost possible when you’re watching them, but then you walk out into the sunlight after the movie, and you laugh it off: “Like anyone’s going to fear a psychotic clown who lives in the sewers and kills children!”
But the next time you walk by a sewer, a chill runs up your spine and you’re grateful to be alive and not trapped down there with Stephen King’s IT.
And what we fear can be as interesting as why we fear it. In the US, people thrill to the insane machinations of a lone madman (or woman), torn from the cold serial killers who dominate the headlines—Michael Myers in Halloween, Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Leatherface in Texas Chainshaw Massacre, and even a shark called Jaws.
In Korea, the image of a white- dress-clad woman with long black hair covering her face has kept children in beds at night for decades. The ghost of a betrayed lover has haunted Korean mythology for years. Now, that figure graces the screen (and terrifies the now-grown children) in The Wig, Ryung and A Tale of Two Sisters.
In Japan, that same long-haired woman also crops up in films, but it’s the pervasive fear of technology that truly grips the populace, with videos passing along death in Ringu and telephones doing the same in One Missed Call.
In Pakistan, it’s a confusion of family roles that inspired last year’s hit Hell’s Ground, as the male killer went crazy after donning a burkha to please his daughter-less mother.
In India, it makes perfect sense that horror emanates from a television series. This week’s new release, 13B, apparently tells the tale of a family that moves into a new home and the new TV show they get hooked on. As the TV show about a family that’s very similar to their own unfolds, strange things begin happening.
Horror films are back in vogue. Last month, Percept Picture Company launched PPC Horrotainment, a division that will focus exclusively on making small- and medium-budget horror films. “The new banner will also acquire and distribute films based on (the) supernatural, folk tales, witchcraft, fables, myths, ghost stories and other popular horror sub-genres,” the company said in a press release.
This year, directors Priyadarshan and Ram Gopal Varma are both working on horror films (Grrr and Agyat, respectively) on creatures in the jungle.
Whatever is terrorizing the screen, we’ll happily be there, peering through our fingers and ready to scream.