Has the film world run-out of fear factor?
By Priyanka Khanna
New Delhi, May 12 (IANS) The horror genre may well be as old as the art of moviemaking itself, but it is fast losing its sheen in India as well as in world cinema. This week's Bollywood offering "Bhoothnath", which has Amitabh Bachchan playing the spooky character, literally translates into 'a monster-like ghost', but barring a few eerie moments at the beginning, is a heart-warming saga.
Even "Gauri - The Unborn", the last movie heavily promoted as a horror flick by Bollywood, is also more of a social documentary than spooky fare.
Interestingly, the trend seems to be global. The Hollywood offering "The Devil's Rejects" was a blockbuster, but it found no mention in any of the important award ceremonies.
Film observers feel that the horror genre seems to have got so eroded that it is not taken seriously any more. At the most they are seen as a novelty, but never get the respect that they deserve.
A typical horror film is ignored by most critics and hence never considered as anything more than a one-off. The fault, however, lies with the makers of spine-chillers. The trend and abundance of horror movies and their sequels have caused the overall lack of recognition and quality of the horror genre.
Scenes of a lady wearing a white sari, carrying a candle, with open hair, singing 'Gumnaam hai koi...' and walking aimlessly are images that used to send a chill down one's spine decades ago. But the concept was repeated so often that these images are now staple scenes for making mockery of Bollywood's bygone era.
Ramsay brothers, who were famous for both horror movies and serials, reigned supreme as the masters of this genre for a long time in the Hindi film industry with their low-budget movies filled with a lot of bloodshed and creatures without hands and heads. The formula worked initially, but then subsequent sequels failed to click at the box-office.
Not only Bollywood, the horror genre internationally has suffered from the tendency to repeat itself till audiences become tired of the same thing. Horror films featuring larger-than-life villains are among the earliest motion pictures made. The silent vampire horror, "Nosferatu", in 1922 was copied many times over.
Then came a string of Frankenstein films. The character of Frankenstein alone saw many sequels including, "Bride of Frankenstein", "Son of Frankenstein", "Frankenstein Meets Wolfman", and the list goes on. Overexposure of the originally creepy character made his legacy fade and had the audience wanting more.
In the next phase, films were based on the psychologically-misfits that relied less on monsters and special effects and more on human struggles and emotion. They are considered some of the best movies of the horror genre and many people say that this genre started with Alfred Hitchcock's landmark film "Psycho" that brought out the fear that normal people can do such gruesome things.
To up the fear quotient, filmmakers decided to infuse blood and gore in films featuring socio-paths who had no regrets in their killing ways. Thus came about the slayer genre. One of the first big movies was John Carpenter's "Halloween". Though everybody likes a good fright once in a while, these movies lost credibility due to the assault of sequels.
In between, were some good horror films like the "Silence of the Lambs" starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. But very soon, Hollywood went back to slayer days with success of "Scream" leading to more clones than one can care to count. The situation is such that now both serious cinemagoers and the critics ignore even good horror movies.
In India, Ram Gopal Verma is the true inheritor from Ramsay brothers. He first spooked us in "Darna Mana Hai" and then followed up with "Bhoot", which were both commercially successful and have bagged awards in categories like background score and acting. But even he has since come out with sub-par remakes, leaving one wondering whether the genre is all but dead in Bollywood.