Not that there is anything wrong with any of the other months, but October, with its decaying leaves, the cold sting in the air and of course Halloween, is horror time. For those who read this column regularly, you would know that when I use the word “horror”, I usually allude to Arjun Rampal’s acting abilities or the cockroaches-make-the-actress-undress plot devices of Vikram Bhatt.
Not today. Today, I present to you, in a very non-sarcastic way, five recommendations for the month, some of my very personal horror favorites. While compiling this small list, I have consciously tried to avoid the more popular genre entries (Exorcist or The Ring or The Shining or The Omen) in favour of those gems that I believe get comparatively less mainstream love.
The Thing (1982)
In the sub-genre of science-fiction horror, the Alien franchise has eviscerated all competition and for good reason too. It’s bloody awesome. Even more awesome, I would say, is John Carpenter’s criminally under-appreciated The Thing, a creature terror set in the midst of the icy isolation of Antarctica, which captures steadily increasing paranoia and madness in a way that has rarely been rivaled.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1954)
Human beings are slowly being replaced by alien “husks” that are physically identical but free from all disruptive emotion. Seen as an allegory for the suppression of free-will in the face of indoctrination, religious as well as political, this cerebral horror classic captures mankind’s fear of being absorbed and assimilated into a larger whole, of having our individual freedoms taken away for an ideal of totalitarian order.
Night Of the Living Dead (1968)
Drops you in the middle of the action and keeps biting away. Despite the popularity of zombies in modern cinematic horror, I am surprised by how few have actually seen the one that established the conventions of the genre. This, the baap of all zombie movies, about a group of strangers boarded up in an abandoned house while the undead close in on them from all sides, has its starkest moments when the yet uninfected, despite the existential threat outside, keep fighting among themselves, with visionary director George Romero contrasting the horror outside with the mistrust and prejudice festering inside. And the ending… oh the ending.
The Descent (2005)
Six women go spelunking (cave-diving) and descend literally and figuratively into the depths of an abyss. Horror works best on screen when achieved through indirection. The brains behind The Descent get that dead-on relying on shadows, light and sound to create an atmosphere of intense claustrophobia and despair. And yes, one more thing: Do try to catch the original unrated ending.
Seventh Seal (1957)
Bergman’s art-house classic about a crusader playing a game of chess with Death, would normally not be labelled horror. But if horror be that which fills you with dread, you will be hard pressed to find anything that more perfectly fits the definition. Stark black and white visuals of plague-ridden Europe, apocalyptic in its despondency combined with Bergman’s patented “light on the face” effect makes The Seventh Seal an unnervingly eerie experience. The greatest horror of all is of course its underlying message, namely that what awaits us at the end if not a kind and merciful God, but Death, cold and implacable, inflicting terrible tortures on our souls as we journey across the great beyond.
Arnab Ray is the author of The Mine and May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss