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Home / Brunch / Humour: The not-so-discreet charm of horror movies

Humour: The not-so-discreet charm of horror movies

And why the genre isn’t meant for solo viewing!

brunch Updated: Mar 15, 2020 00:13 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
The dark underbelly of shiny multiplexes – their unkempt back staircases – allow the mood to linger a bit longer. But once you’re on the pavement outside, you’re back to the horrors of real life.
The dark underbelly of shiny multiplexes – their unkempt back staircases – allow the mood to linger a bit longer. But once you’re on the pavement outside, you’re back to the horrors of real life.(Photo imaging: Sunil Kumar Mallik)

Escaping the sordid news of the day, I flew off to the not-so-close theatre in a speeding auto. A 10.35am show is guilt-inducing even for an independent writer, but I muted the muffled cries of morality that still occasionally wheeze out of my cold, cold heart. The bored young woman at the ticket counter casually broke the news to me: “The show for 1917 is not scheduled.” “But I saw it online!” I said as though wounded by a WWI bullet. “It’s not scheduled,” she replied implacably, a supercilious general to my struggling corporal. “So then give me a ticket for a show that’s about to begin,” I demanded, reloading my ammo. And this is how, dear reader, I ended up for a morning show of the horror film, Bhoot, in a near empty auditorium at an obscenely early hour.

Eyes wide shut

It doesn’t matter how bad the movie was (quite) or how absurd the situation seemed (very), the goings-on on the haunted ship made me jump out of my seat a couple of times, only to find a chilling emptiness on either side. For the first time ever, I found the presence of aggressively giggling collegians in other parts of the theatre a comfort. Which brings me to my first realisation: the thing that people enjoy while watching horror films is the giggling that thaws the chills. That is why a solo viewing is so unrewarding; first, you need that arm to clutch. Two, you need a witness to your silliness. Three, you need someone to tell you what happened when your eyes were tightly closed and covered with your sweaty palms. Chances are, however, your seemingly unshakeable, sceptic friend too had obscured the screen from view. Cowards, all.

The thing that people enjoy while watching horror films is the giggling that thaws the chills. That’s why a solo viewing is so unrewarding.

The dark underbelly of shiny multiplexes – their unkempt back staircases – allow the mood to linger a bit longer. But once you’re on the pavement outside, you’re back to the horrors of real life. Auto drivers nod their heads while denying you a ride as your news feed relays the miseries you missed. Only here you’re not assisted by a hypnotic professor with a radar that beeps in the presence of evil spirits.

An immortal skeleton

My first brush with movie horrors was that Jackie Shroff-Madhuri Dixit classic, 100 Days (1991). Those of you too young, old or trendy to have missed it, let me remind you that it left a lasting impression on my 10-year-old brain. That skeleton popping out of a brick wall! Terrifying. Nothing (fictional) has ever elicited a similarly spooked-out response from me. (I clean missed The Zee Horror Show, the deliciously lurid series that animated school recesses.) In fact, it might be singularly responsible for my never seeking out a horror film ever again. Ram Gopal Varma, that noted sprit-summoner of the time, missed out considerably.

The genre has evolved with each horror movie evoking a new emotion
The genre has evolved with each horror movie evoking a new emotion

The Sixth Sense (1999) somehow doesn’t fall under the same category. Is it really horror if you don’t know you’re, err, seeing dead people? The heart-stopping reveal of the film, eight years after the skeleton incident, was a rare exception in my cinematic diet filled with the healthy fibres of drama and tangy berries of comedy. Meanwhile, the X-Files, the prestige TV of the 1990s, for my ilk is simply the name we give to the inventory of former loves. Who needs the paranormal when the normal is so captivating?

Stereotypewriter

Now it takes a film like Stree (2018) to put the genre to good use. A feminist comedy of horrors, it refreshes the tired tropes of witches and exorcists to deliver an important message about gender. All this while being funny rather than preachy. Nudged in the direction of the supernatural, I made one more recent foray into the unknown. Sitting in a house in the hills, darkness enveloping the misty green, it seemed apt to watch the Netflix series Typewriter with a friend. It had its moments, is my absolutely unqualified review.

It just seems too tiring to get into Stranger Things, though. If you find reality endlessly fascinating, chasing shadows seems so pointless. It is commonly considered to be a character flaw to not enjoy thrillers. Guilty as charged. 100 Days will forever remain a notable exception.

From HT Brunch, March 15, 2020

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