Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The horrors of horror movies

Moments before the gory scene in Damien: Omen II.

When I think of horror movies I think of the immediate side effects—cold sweat, dry mouth, palpitation, tingling, loss of appetite, insomnia, tremors, and irrational behaviour. No, I didn't have an anxiety attack but it'd be the sum total of how I felt when I watched scary movies in my youth, and I saw quite a few of them including such absurd films like Evil Dead. I no longer have the stomach or the enthusiasm for horror flicks. That's not entirely true. I might have seen a couple of them over the past fourteen years, in broad daylight and in my living room, surrounded by family and friends, and a plate of chocolate cake and a glass of cold lemon iced tea.

Now, as I grow older, I'm afraid I'll scare to death easily.

I see enough horror in real life, as it were. One morning, a couple of years ago, I was taking the suburban train to work when I saw four porters running along a parallel track, carrying a dirty stretcher between them. I knew what was coming. Instead of turning my face away I looked out of the window just in time to see the porters haul a pair of bloody legs by the ankles and dump it on the aluminium stretcher. Crows circled above. The limbs were sliced at the waist and the innards were spilling out. The legs wore blue jeans. The rest of the dismembered body, which belonged to a young migrant from north of the country, was found half a mile away to where it was dragged by the express train. I read that in the papers the next day. 


In Bombay, fatalities due to track-crossing are routine. They run into thousands every year. I don't blame Indian Railways. I blame commuters who cross the tracks as a shortcut. The only shortcut they take is to death's door. 

If horror movies don’t kill me, morbid curiosity will.

The Exorcist was the scariest horror film I saw. As a westerner might say, it scared the crap outta me. Young Indians use that a lot now. The Entity and The Omen trilogy didn’t have a hideous face on a rotating head but I still found them disturbing. Perhaps, it was the music that freaked me out. Every time it played you knew something was coming, from somewhere behind you. Remember Jaws?

Which brings me to the purpose of this hellish post: which scene in a horror flick do you remember well?

I can recall many but one that comes to mind, for no apparent reason other than that Satan put it there, is the raven scene in Damien: Omen II. There is this woman in red who is wise to young Damien Thorn’s terrifying identity. After meeting the handsome boy on a football field and seeing the devil in his eyes, she hurriedly gets into her car and drives away. But then, her car breaks down on a long and deserted stretch of the road. She gets out of the car and looks right into the shining black eyes of a raven perched on the roof. The bird attacks her, scratches up her face and claws her eyes out, and in her blind moment of pain and panic, she stumbles onto the road and right into the path of a speeding truck that blows her away. Hazy memory but that is how I remember it.

16 comments:

  1. PSYCHO is chock full of some of the most terrifying moments in cinema history. The shower sequence, the final reveal in the fruit cellar, even the final voice over monologue. The kids being pursued by the crows in THE BIRDS sure did scare the crap outta me when I was a teen, too. For me SEVEN was one of the creepiest and scariest movies in modern day horror. You never saw anything depicted only the aftermath. Imagining what the victims must've endured was horrifying enough.

    These days I'm not so easily scared. I find myself more or less repulsed by scenes that are supposed to be scary. I don't want to be disgusted or revolted. What's the point of that? I don't find revulsion scary. Gore and torture and gruesome murders depicted graphically just make me turn away from the screen. A horrifying scene should make you watch and be riveted to the screen in ironic fascination.

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    1. John, I haven't seen PSYCHO in years. Come to think of it, it's funny how some films keep coming back long after you saw them while some don't. For instance, I've had numerous opportunities to watch THE EXORCIST but I don't recall seeing PSYCHO around unless I went and bought or hired a DVD, which I rarely do. I have not seen either THE BIRDS or SEVEN.

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  2. The last film to give me a jolt was The Ring where the creepy girl crawls up out of the well and through the TV. And there was an episode of Doctor Who called "Blink" that scared me pretty good.

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    1. David, I haven't seen either THE RING or any episodes of DOCTOR WHO although I have been meaning to watch the latter.

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  3. Couldn't more be done to stop people crossing the lines? That seems so needless and tragic.

    I have a very wary attitude when ti comes to horror - so many of my friends love the genre, the more horrible the better, but for the most part I find it very unappealing and find myself really hard put to explain the appeal (and don't even get me started on the whole zombie mania). There are some, like the Japanaese AUDITION, the original CARRIE, SOME FIMLS BY CRONENBERG AND ROMERO and the blackly comic RE-ANIMATOR and SOCIETY which I remember really liking but for the most part I find the genre hard to take - not frightening but depressing.

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    1. Sergio, the government can do a lot more, no doubt, but even the measures it has taken, like putting up barricades between tracks is not enough to keep commuters off the tracks. They vault over the metal fence to get to the other side. Besides, our burgeoning rail population and the lack of civic and common sense makes it nearly impossible for the authorities to have a foolproof solution in place.

      I no longer seek out horror or zombie films and promptly switch channels if I find one playing, no matter how heavily censored it is. I find them totally meaningless now.

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  4. I seem to scare easier these days myself than I used to. I hardly ever "write" horror fiction anymore. I remember many cool scenes from horror movies though and I still watch them regularly.

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    1. Charles, I must have seen about a dozen-odd horror films in my youth and most of those were made in the seventies and eighties. I missed watching the early scary films including from the black and white era, many of which I believe were done well.

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  5. Prashant, I have always avoided horror movies, but you mentioned some that I have seen. I did see the Exorcist and I did not find it that scary. Disgusting but not scary. But I know most people do find it scary. I saw Evil Dead and it was repulsive and scary, but I am a huge fan of Bruce Campbell. I saw Jaws in the theater when it first came out and I did not know what it was going to be like. I regretted going.

    Very interesting post and comments.

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    1. Tracy, thank you. I realise not everyone would find THE EXORCIST scary. Disgusting yes, but not scary. I was both scared and repulsed when I saw it in the early eighties. In fact, I feel disturbed even if I see pictures of the possessed girl.

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  6. I liked EVIL DEAD. It had a streak of humor.

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    1. Kelly, I recall a couple of over-the-top scenes from EVIL DEAD that I'd rather not mention. I don't remember the humour but I think it was quite silly on the whole.

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  7. What a horrific story about the railways.
    The two horror films I remember are real old black and white ones - The Devil Rides Out, and Night of the Demon. I watched the 2nd one while babysitting as a teenager, and was pinned to the sofa by horror and fear, forcing myself to go upstairs and check on the children, and longing for their parents to come home...

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    1. Moira, such horrific stories on Bombay's suburban rail network are common. An incident similar to the one I narrated happened only last week. The victim was a young student who was run over while crossing the tracks. The motormen apply the brakes immediately but by then it's often too late.

      I have not seen the two horror films you mentioned. I assume black-and-white movies have their own charm; at least, they'd appear less scary than some of the macabre and revolting horror flicks I have seen in the past three decades. For instance, the original sf horror THE FLY starring Vincent Price was scary but it wasn't disgusting like the 1986 version starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis.

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  8. I'm not a big fan of the genre, but recent years have seen me watching a few more, mainly "newer" films - I blame my teenage kids. I've watched DRAG ME TO HELL a few times, which we enjoy and even though I know a certain bit is coming I manage to jump every time!

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    1. Col, I find horror movies unpalatable as I grow old though I wouldn't mind watching some of the classics from the black-and-white era. I have not seen DRAG ME TO HELL. The title doesn't sound appealing but I'll try and watch it since you have seen it a few times.

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