A silhouette lurking in a corner, a strange presence, a sudden shiver down your spine – the best of us have been gripped with an inexplicable, even irrational fear at some point or the other. It is therefore almost incredible how voracious human appetite for the paranormal, the supernatural, or even the bloodcurdling, is. Makes you wonder what it is about fear that makes it so delicious.
The answer is manifold. Aristotle suggested that witnessing events that evoked fear gave us a chance to purge our negativity, a process he called Catharsis. Freud claimed it reinforced the suppression of the barbaric Id, by the civilized Ego. But the most popular and perhaps the only proven theory expounds that when we are scared, our brains release dopamine, which is responsible for controlling the reward and pleasure centres. This compounded with the fact that our brain knows that what we see onscreen is nothing but fabricated reality, makes the experience quite enjoyable, and many are known to get a kick out of it.
The art of film-making has been banking on humans’ quirks and their predilection for thrill and excitement, almost since its inception.
Horror films have a fairly rich history. They have followed an undulating path, crossed many a winding road and are still going strong.
Like all art, and most processes, Horror as a genre has steadily evolved, with sub-genres branching out and wilting away, with several influences across eras.
Here’s a look at how they managed to keep us at the edge of our seat and covered in gooseflesh for the past century.
1910s – 1930s
Literature ruled the films and film-makers were big on adaptations. Horror was yet to find its place. Monsters, ghouls and even evil femme fatales were all that. Horror had begun exploring. The legendary Frankenstein and the famous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were adapted for the big screen. Both were films that delved into the evil that lurked within us.
1930s – 1950s
By the late 1920s, Horror had learned to scream. The silent films were bade farewell to, and a radical new transformation was underway. An artistic leap of astronomical proportions, the introduction of sound to films was a revolution most relevant to Horror films. Try muting a scary film and you’d be appalled by how risible the whole charade can seem. Sound and background scores add intrigue, make your heart race and can do wonders for a relatively mediocre plot. Apart from the sound, vampires were ruling the hearts of multitudes, by making them beat faster at will. Many vampires saw light of the day. Pun unintended. Dracula, one of the better examples, is perceived as a classic masterpiece till date.
Bollywood had begun dabbling in the Horror genre, with Mahal having been released in 1949. A box-office hit, it was much celebrated. Being the post-war era the commingling of Horror and Sci-fi and pulp fiction was inevitable. There were films depicting the sinister nature of nuclear research and the ills of scientific advancement. With lab experiments going wrong galore, the 50s sired nuclear monsters and outer space creatures, competing to give you the ultimate bone-chilling experience.
The sixties ushered in the much-needed swag to the genre of Horror. Horror had arrived. Psychology, gore and even smut. You had all the ingredients for a hit. Something that would not just give the viewers a thrilling, exhilarating trip, but also make them think. The ingenuity of one man-made it all happen with just one film that catapulted Horror into the genre of serious film-making. With Psycho(1960), Alfred Hitchcock threw down the gauntlet and opened new doors for experimentation. Another notable addition, would be Roger Corman (Also called The Pope of Pop Cinema)with his small budget films based on Edgar Allan Poe’s works.
Horror was burgeoning and flourishing, evermore. Many established directors, as well as the arthouse film-makers had begun gravitating towards the genre. The 70s and the 80s saw the advent of independent Horror films. Demonic entities and the Satan were gaining popularity with The Exorcist and The Omen. Slasher films also emerged around this time, with sanguinary imageries and gruesome murders capturing the fancy of many. In Bollywood, the Ramsay brothers were monopolizing the Horror film genre. With a plethora of thrillers with campy plots, they had created a new genre of sorts.
The nineties brought in the modern era of Horror. With psychological thrillers exploring cannibalism, biblical tales of possession and exorcism, and man-eating zombies making it to the big screen, the nineties enjoyed a host of films with gripping plots, amazing effects and spooky soundtracks. Bollywood was also creating a niche with the haunted house films, revenge-seeking-spirit stories, and the creepy dolls. Nineties was an amalgamation of all the sundry products ofhorror.
The noughties have been promising for genre of Horror. The past 15 years have spawned many a classic. With intelligent storylines, captivating shots and camera angles, and insane plot twists, the 2000s have had a good run so far. Most recently, you had the likes of The Conjuring and The Insidious, exploring demonology, occult and obscure sciences. This shows a trajectory of reversion to basics. Much like fashion, film genre might be following a circular path after all.
Here’s hoping for many more sleepless nights. Happy goosebumps to you!