My Favourite Horror Films

Horror is a genre that I think is difficult to be likable. It purposely puts the idea of supernatural occurrences or danger in the viewer’s mind, which can be more uncomfortable than what viewers are used to. However, it is the one of the most adrenaline-filled genre, disclosing the worst of human behaviour and a possibility of something that the human species still cannot understand. It doesn’t matter whether one believes in the supernatural or not, but to fully enjoy a horror film, I think, it needs to be watched with an open mind and a spirit such that one would want to be scared. A horror film cannot be watched with a group of friends where a few are more than eager to prove that nothing scares them; it needs to be watched with as few numbers as possible and with the lights turned off (unless you are alone, in which case, all the rooms of your entire house need to be lit up during or after the movie). My definition of a horror film, in fact, is very loose. I would consider a chilling science fiction movie also a horror film because it evokes emotions in us which we expect a horror movie to evoke. Here is a list of my favourite horror films, not in any particular order.

Pan’s Labyrinth

This movie cannot be directly characterised as horror. It is, instead, a dark fantasy war film which will definitely scare you with its imaginative characters and enthralling storyline. The film is pretty much from the perspective of young Ofelia, who has come to live with her stepfather along with her pregnant and ill mother. Ofelia’s imagination, or the reality she belongs to, is wild and unpredictable, putting her in the path of danger many times. She encounters monstrous creatures in the process of acquiring immortality, which was predicted by a fairy tale.

Pan's Labyrinth

This is one of favourite fantasy films, especially so because it does not pander to a childish audience in terms of horror. Even though the protagonist is a little girl, Guillermo del Toro, the Spanish director and writer, has not stopped from throwing violent and disturbing images her way, or the audience’s way. It isn’t a sweet and coy film because a child is involved, and it captures the sentiment of war (in which it is set) metaphorically, and yet, very naturally. I have only seen one other of his movies, Crimson Peak. While also a good movie with an enticing story, that movie falls flat when it comes to the horror parts, which seem to be too reliant on special effects, making it almost comedic. Guillermo del Toro has also been involved in the making of Mama which shares more of its characteristics with Crimson Peak in which it also relies heavily on special effects, instead of the subtle but horrifying monsters in Pan’s Labyrinth.

The Loved Ones

This film, in particular, relies on gory dread instead of subtle supernatural events. It also doesn’t have an active supernatural element in it. I would not recommend it to someone who is wary of bloodshed in films, because this movie has many moments which will make you more than just cringe and clutch your own body parts in fear. The characters are uncomplicated and includes a dysfunctional family where a spoilt daughter is obsessed with a boy from her school. Her father enables her psychotic behaviour until Brent is on the brink of death. The events occur in a span of a few days, and the story moves forward rapidly, quickly turning into a gorish nightmare that one wouldn’t even dream on their worst enemy. The best kind of horror films are those without a supernatural element; movies which show that humanity is capable of more terror than ghosts are, especially when put under the right circumstances. The film just increasingly becomes cruel and awful, until a major reveal almost at the end of the film.

Coherence

Coherence is a science fiction thriller that released in 2013, which begins with a group of friends having dinner at one of their homes. I am a huge fan of the shaky camera technique in scary movies, as it makes the story of film seem real and absorbing for the viewer. Blair Witch Project was one of the first films I saw which used this technique, and I am a big fan of the movie, considering the fact that similar storylines were adopted by the Paranormal Activity franchise, and ruined the technique and the idea for me. The entire notion of a shaky camera is to ensure that none of the the major supernatural or scary events are captured on it too obviously, keeping the element of surprise and mystery alive, something which Paranormal Activity goes overboard with.

This film, however, doesn’t.

There isn’t much I can write about the story here without giving away the key elements of the story which are best enjoyed as the film progresses, but the movie does not involve a lot of cheap scares that has become a trope in horror films. If a movie has to make sudden movements in order to scare its viewers, in my opinion, the dread of the movie is kept on trembling grounds.

It follows

The concept and the supernatural entity in the film is the best part about it. The entity is out to kill the protagonist Jaime, since she had a sexual encounter with a person she had been on a date with. Only she could see this entity, and it kept following her with the intention to kill her. The entity is kept mysterious and elusive (like Death in the Final Destination franchise, without the overly dramatic descriptions about it), and we know only what the characters know about it, which is that it is like an infection that you cannot get rid of, and need to pass to be able to get away from its view, and even then, it is only a delay. The entity takes on some abhorrent forms which are definitely terrifying and add to the awfulness of the entity.

However, the story does not dwindle into a cheesy explanation about what this entity is. In my opinion, the best horror films are those that leave enough out to make you wonder what it was that haunted the characters so deceptively. This is also the case with Blair Witch Project (which is one of my favourite films also, considering the fact that it was one of the first films to use the shaky camera technique).

The Others

The lesser you know about the film, the more of a surprise it will be. This movie is unlike the others films that Nicole Kidman has starred in, and it was lovely seeing her in the role of an overprotective and paranoid mother, who will go any lengths to protect her children, especially since her husband never came from war. There is a wonderful twist ending to the movie which you might not see coming, which is why I would recommend watching this movie without reading up about it or even checking it out on IMDb.

Session 9

The Stanford Prison Experiment is a great example of what humans are capable of inflicting upon each other when put under pressure. Session 9 explores this concept under the backdrop of a scary shutdown mental hospital where a group of men arrive for a process of asbestos removal. Each of the men have some evils plaguing them – lack of sleep, heartbreak, and even drugs. In an atmosphere that is strangely eerie (not surprisingly), one of them finds tapes that were stored at the mental hospital regarding a girl with dissociative personality disorder. Clearly, that should be enough to catch your attention. The men spiral out of control, getting paranoid about each other quicker than you can say ‘paranoid’, and even without a possible supernatural force, the movie carries the horror very well.


My definition of a good horror film is one without cheap scares, since I think that it is fairly easy to scare someone when someone on screen appears suddenly and without notice. This is the reason why The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 would not make my list of the best horror films I’ve seen. What also bothers me about these films is the heavy reliance on religion to solve the issue at hand. However, the films listed above barely rely on cliches in filmmaking and in story-telling, which is why they are few of the best horror films I have seen.

 

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Why pigeons should be flying higher

I have hated pigeons with a physically-felt madness ever since I moved into hostel room. Every morning, before I am fully prepared to wake up, I find my reverie broken by the flutter of wings in my room. I never could sleep with my windows and curtains closed, and so this was the fate that I had to accept. I even tried placing a balloon fashioned out of paper (it looked like an owl), and waiting for the birds to realize that they were under the insomniac eyes of a predator. It was a proposition I found online but I suppose the pigeons in my college are too used to human company to feel threatened by a foolish attempt to keep them away from their dream home above my closet.

There were times when I had met mousy pigeons that did not fly into a metal blade whirring at fast speeds just to see if they could. These were pigeons of another time and place, watchful in their judgment of the roads they barely survived on. Most of the details of the day that I met one of such have been erased away leaving behind a melange of every other unimportant detail, like the smell of wet muddy grass on the seats of the old car, and my grandfather snoring loudly in the passenger seat. I even remember the color of the little ducks on the pyjamas I was wearing, and it was pink, not yellow as I have now realized to be a better option, and a more sane one. Pink does not look very good with blood all over it.

It was a warm, sunny day, I suppose, since my grandfather decided to keep his side of the window rolled down. We were cruising along the highway at around 120 kmph, gray roads lay stretched way beyond their ability in front of us, pulled and scratched until satisfactory. I was still younger back then, and not every moment in a car was spent imagining car crashes. I had already given into my nausea, and was sleeping in the back seat, leaning on my mother’s arm. My grandmother sat farther away, her windows (and mine) rolled up, staring into blue trees steadfastly, like there was some wisdom that was lost on her, that age had denied her. Of course, these are just the fake memories of a 12 year old, most of it has now attached itself to other memories that have been more particular.

It is difficult to place the exact moment when it happened. But I remember the sound more clearly than I remember my own voice. A bird, struck by a push of pressure, flying against the direction of our car, got sucked into the one open window, and flew right in. I heard a heavy crack, and a soft but strong plop, and I woke up to what was the goriest sight I have ever seen in real life. The pigeon had had nowhere to go; it had crashed right by my right shoulder. A piece of its broken beak lay on my lap. The rest of its body, headless, was lying near my feet. It was the remainder of a broken pigeon (I only identified the bird now), headless and blunt. My pyjamas were not not recognizable, it as covered in red goo that felt like clotted blood, but I’d never seen blood so close. And so much.

They stopped the car. Someone held me while I threw up a digested breakfast. Someone helped me change into clean clothes while someone else cleaned the car and threw the pigeon onto the side of the road, in deep bushes. I didn’t feel much else other than disgust then, but I realize now I should have felt worse for the bird. But it’s too late now, not that it is possible to decide how late it is now, and why it wasn’t late then. I couldn’t have saved the bird, I couldn’t have removed the fear of the possibility of that bird landing at my face, and I definitely wouldn’t have lost my favorite pyjamas. But remorse eludes possibility of a lack of possibility, and I have repressed the dead pigeon inside me for quite a while, not that it made for an interesting story or a good, dinner conversation. But I know for a fact, that I cannot see one more hapless animal slashed through a good body because of… Determined fate. Maybe pigeons should have realized by now they should be flying higher than they already do. And find homes among tall trees, not upright sand, stone and metal.

The Yellow Wallpaper (Charlotte Perkins Gilman)

The past few months saw me reading less than 5 books altogether, and it is difficult to draw up the highlights of these great reads. The past semester left me with the untimely decision that I would read shorter books, and this decision drew me to reading “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The 6000 words short story left me with a sick feeling to my stomach, as the story has many interpretations that I could not possibly believe.

Perkins wrote the book in 1892, a year that came as a surprise to me considering how modern it actually sounded, not just in terms of the language used (something I do not think I have clear understanding of), but also the concept and the idea behind the story. The protagonist of the story is a young woman, who was advised to rest in the country, after the birth of her child. She is diagnosed to have “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”, which was a common diagnosis and her husband chooses to put her in one room of a summer house that he buys, restricting her access even to the rest of the house. The story is a collection of journal entries that she begins to write, as we witness her becoming insane as days pass.

To write a story such as this in first person is intriguing, since the woman slowly descends into psychosis and we are witness to each thought that she makes. Whether it is a feeling that she gets that another woman like her had been trapped in the room against her will, or the fact that she over-analyzes the print on the yellow wallpaper and sees a woman coming out of it on all fours, and believing that she needs to be freed, the entire story is just one woman’s journey of finding her freedom, even if it is in the form of a nervous breakdown. Some interpret it as a book about a woman finding herself in a suffocating marriage, and the husband is clearly the antagonist in the story, and I agree with this interpretation. The 19th century was a time when a woman’s decision were not hers to make, and the book epitomizes it in a disturbing, yet convincing manner. It is difficult to understand how much of the oppression is real; 1892 was a long time ago.

My reading of this book was followed quickly by a play about a similar issue, “A Doll’s House” by Henry Ibsen. The concept was strangely similar, and it was also written around the same time. But where “The Yellow Wallpaper” was dark and disturbing (reminded me of Sylvia Plath), “A Doll’s House” was simpler, delicate, but equally as powerful. A play is less thoughtful compared to a story, since the characters actions are all that it takes for the viewer to understand what turmoil they are going through.

In both the books, there is one theme that is articulate and obvious. Both women find freedom in their own way, one by storming out of the house that she had built her life in, and the other by a darker action that I do not want to ruin for anyone planning to read the story. Rest assured, it will be worth it.

Even though this is the only story or book by Perkins that I have read, I have to admit, I suppose she eventually became the path that Sylvia Plath walked on.