Before there was love in the air and a bucket of popcorn on your lap, there were B-movies, specifically B-horror movies. These films served two primal functions: to scare you witless, and to have the same effect on the person sitting next to you.
For all practical purposes, a young adult watching a gory horror flick such as Friday the 13th — in which a supernatural psychopath creeps up on a roster of unsuspecting as well as very suspecting victims — has a far higher chance of having his pretty companion squeeze his arm tight in fright during pivotal scenes than while watching Karan Johar’s My Name Is Khan. Coming in between ‘adult’ scenes (a key ingredient in most B-horror flicks) that elicit appropriate awkwardness, the scary bits together make up for a helluva hormonal rollercoaster ride.
But apart from this very practical function, there are additional pleasures of watching horror B-movies — especially watching the most potent form of flicks in this genre: the slasher movie.
There are five basic features that mark the slasher film: a) a psychopathic killer with a dark past; b) the return of the killer to present times; c) the stalking and killing of a group of young people with a sharp object; d) a girl surviving the ordeal; e) the uncertainty over the death of the psychopathic killer.
The slasher movie is also about sex. Rajkumar Kohli’s classic 1979 film, Jaani Dushman, was repressed sex turned inside out. Jwala Prasad is set to marry a girl who, just before their wedding night, slips out to meet her lover. Enraged, Jwala becomes a ferral monster ripping his fiancée and her lover to pieces. From then on, every time Jwala sees a girl in a red bridal dress, he turns into a killer ghoul. He is confronted and killed by a to-be-victim’s bridegroom. But instead of matters ending there, the story continues with Jwala’s evil spirit entering his killer’s body and turning him into a brides-killing monster instead.
The finest in the slasher menu has to be the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, the first film kicked off by slasher-meister Wes Craven in 1984. Its simple premise is a powerful one — you’ll die if you fall asleep. Hitch that pony to Craven’s genius for stitching a modern mythology out of a supernatural killer — Freddie Krueger, a child-killer who was killed by a town mob years ago and now comes alive only in youngsters’ dreams to seek revenge — and you have a classic that captures the slasher’s obsession with doling out ‘punishment’ to sexually frisky youngsters and plays with sexual imagery that Doktor Freud would chuckle over.
When the ‘chaste’ girl Nancy, trying to avoid falling asleep, starts nodding in her bathtub, Freddie’s gloved hand with razor blade-fingers rises up from the water in between her legs. Nancy’s boyfriend is sucked into his bed through a vaginal hole and his blood spewed out of it. (He is played by a very young, hammy Johnny Depp, who in 1990 would star in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands as an awkward young man equipped with scissors instead of fingers echoing Freddie’s taloned right hand.)
There couldn’t be a better time for a remake of the original 1984 A Nightmare On Elm Street. And that’s exactly what’s scheduled for release this April. Not only will Freddie Krueger Version 2010 shake us up from our happy, too-fit-to-be-healthy dreams of venerating the youth and all things shiny, but he will also wake us up from silly romantic pretensions about how liberal and ‘Yes, we can!’ we are. (I can almost hear Freddie sneer as he scrapes his gloved blades across a metal surface, “No, you can’t!”)
As a character in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper’s magisterial 1974 precursor to slasher movies, says, “Everything means something I guess.” Even tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day means more than just roses being red and violets being blue.
The slashers teach us that.