In much of Indian cinema, horror as a genre has been reduced to camp, never quite reaching the reputation that it rightfully deserves. At times, horror films are scary not because they introduce an element of supernatural but because they give a sinister spin to everyday objects. By definition, they exist outside the realm of logic and rationale, and yet, as we’ve now seen, a new genre of social horror has emerged that weaves an existing societal problem—racism, patriarchy, tribalism—into the horror genre. But here are 5 Indian Horror films that you shouldn’t miss.
Pizza : Language – Tamil
Michael a.k.a. Mike (Vijay Sethupathi) is a pizza delivery boy who lives a quite normal life along with his girlfriend Anu (Remya Nambeesan). Anu is a wannabe novelist who is deeply interested in paranormal phenomena, ghosts and other such stuff. The couple have a live-in relationship and things get complicated once Anu gets pregnant.
As a confused and scared Michael grapples with the news of this pregnancy, he comes face to face with his Boss’s daughter who seems to be possessed by an evil spirit named Nithya. A thoroughly frightened and disturbed Michael goes out to deliver a Pizza, without realising that his life is about to take a very ugly turn.
Strange and scary things keep happening in the bungalow that Michael goes to. What does Michael encounter there? How does he confront his issues? That forms the story of ‘Pizza’.
‘Pizza’ is one of the finest Indian thrillers I have seen in recent times. The screenplay never loses tempo and the sustained sense of suspense will keep you on the edge of your seats. Vijay Sethupathi has excelled in the role of Michael. His performance as a scared and shell shocked pizza boy is very realistic. Remya Nambeesan looks ok.
The film’s biggest assets are sound effects, cinematography and a very clever screenplay. Director Karthik Subbaraj needs to be applauded for coming up with a superb effort for a first film.
The scenes in the ‘Smitha Bungalow’ are spine chillingly effective and they are some of the scariest you will ever encounter among Indian films. For about 30 minutes prior to the interval and 20 minutes after that, the film can rival some of the best horror thrillers out there.
Tumbbad : Language – Hindi
An ancient myth. A hideous demon. Hidden treasure. Human greed. This potent mix is stirred and ground in Tumbbad, and the result is a highly unusual, visually stunning, richly atmospheric concoction of genres and themes: horror, fantasy, social, period. I also found echoes of folk-tales, not your cosy happy-ever after kinds, but the ones that leave you distinctly uneasy. Remember the one with the gingerbread man with his button eyes? He’s always given me the shivers. Tumbbad, which features a variation made out of flour, which fulfills a singular purpose, does too.
At one level, you can see Tumbbad as a film about insatiable greed and the consequences thereof. At another, it digs, literally and metaphorically, deeper: are humans ever satisfied; is enough ever enough? Greed, it shows us, turns men into monsters. That is true horror.
By the time it ends, you feel like you’ve seen something of scale, something both lofty and grand, as well as curdled and frightening. Clearly, debutant director Barve has a distinct voice. Tumbbad is a gorgeous looking, intriguing morality tale which both entrances and repulses: it’s not something I will forget.
You can watch this on Amazon Prime.
Yaavarum Nalam : Language – Tamil
Very rarely do you get to see a movie that’s not just logical and has good performances, but comes with a deliciously intriguing thriller whodunit tag as well. And that’s exactly what you get in Big Picture’s maiden Tamil venture Yaavarum Nalam (Everyone’s okay), directed by debutant Vikram K Kumar, and starring R Madhavan and in an intriguigingly spooky package as well.
As all good thrillers do, this one too begins with a happy family: Manohar (R Madhavan) and Manoj (Hari Nair) are loyal affectionate brothers, each married. Manoj has two children (Abhijith and Supriyaa). Manohar’s charming, salwar-clad, make-up wearing wife is Priya (Neethu Chandra, debuting in Tamil), while the brothers’ mother (Saranya) loves watching serials on her cable TV.
Matters get more complicated when a new TV serial appears every afternoon at exactly 13.00 hours on Eye TV, and bizarre events start a roller-coaster ride that somehow end up influencing real life. Only Manohar, somehow, seems to be aware of them. Tied up into it all this is a 30-year old murder mystery — a chilling incident that still has after-effects.
For true-blue mystery and spook-lovers, here’s the movie you’ve been waiting for, complete with heart-thudding thrills that’s actually logical. A must-watch.
Manichithrathazhu : Language – Malayalam
Fazil’s Manichitrathazhu (written by Madhu Muttom), was released 25 years ago for Christmas. You can watch the film today and still find that it inspires the same fear and excitement that it did in you when you first watched it. There have been numerous remakes and spin-offs over the years and in different languages, but none of these comes close to the original in Malayalam which stars Shobana, Mohanlal and Suresh Gopi in the lead roles.
The film’s title, which translates to ‘An Ornate Lock’, doesn’t reveal much. But right from the beginning, Fazil succeeds in building an atmosphere of delicious terror, playing games with the minds of the audience, making us side with the rationalist couple Nakulan (Suresh Gopi) and Ganga (Shobana) at times and with the deeply religious, superstitious characters at other times.
The young couple arrives from Kolkata, a big bustling metro, to the Madampalli house in Kerala, an ancient tharavad which is the stuff of legend and romance. The stories around it ensure that the locals never want to step afoot in the house, but Nakulan and Ganga are dismissive of their fears – what could possibly go wrong? The first time we catch a glimpse of Ganga, we don’t know as yet who she is. Unnithan (Innocent) and Dasappan (Ganesh Kumar) see an apparition when they go to the house late in the night to collect the keys that the latter had forgotten at the door earlier in the day. Not only do they find that the house is open, they see a woman with long hair walking at a distance.
Fear seizes their mind (as it does ours) and they flee the place. But it is revealed the next day that the door had been opened by Nakulan and Ganga and we surmise that the woman they saw was none other than Ganga. Silly Unnithan and Dasappan, we think.But slowly, even as Fazil shows us the superstitious nature of the family which is in sharp contrast to the progressive beliefs of Ganga and Nakulan, he makes us doubt if everything that’s happening in Madampalli can be explained through logic.
Though 25 years have passed since the time the film released, it remains unsurpassed when it comes to the thriller genre. Mysteries often lose their kick once we know who the culprit is, but Manichitrathazhu does not diminish in stature even after we discover all its secrets. This is one film which can be watched more than oru murai, our interest intact, and therefore completely deserves its cult status.
You can watch this on Amazon Prime.
Demonte Colony: Language – Tamil
Demonte Colony is one of the top haunted areas in Chennai in Alwarpet area and Ajay (The Director)has used this place to weave a really scary tale involving four friends. At a time when horror-humor genre rules the turnstiles, Demonte Colony is completely fear centric and does not deviate anywhere. The duration of one hundred and fifteen minutes also helps the team to totally focus on their main premise.
Talking much about the story of any film in a review spoils the fun and when it happens to be a scary thriller, it becomes all the more important not to divulge things. So let’s just say Demonte Colony is about four friends who are basically up to no good but tangle themselves in serious mess, the fall out of which is the film all about.
A lone uninhabited haunted house in pouring rain, beam of light through a candle, screechy noise somewhere, doors and windows behaving weirdly, a mirror that shows a different reflection, sudden burst of sounds are some of the fixtures in a ghost thriller and Demonte Colony also has them. But in addition to these, Ajay brings a few features which are different that makes his debut flick stand out.
Arulnithi, Ramesh Selvan along with debutants Abhishek and Sanath take on the role of four friends. They are apt for their respective characters and Abhishek among the new entrants, makes a mark. The Finnish actor is perfect casting with his sinisterly looks and facial twitches.
The screenplay and writing is pretty neat and has the audience’s attention right through. The unexpected twists shake you up and Ajay keeps us shocked on a regular interval. There is a lot of intelligence revealed in the writing. In the guise of bowing down to commercial elements, the team has not taken a detour and has mostly adhered to the main line. That said, the presence of the lady character in the film could have been justified better although it was a breather in the heavy scheme of things. When it comes to a horror thriller, it is imperative that all the knots are untangled properly which could have resulted in a product of sharper finesse.
Demonte Colony is high on fear quotient and scene after scene, especially, in the second half wallops you in unexplainable and paranormal activities going on in the screen. The main man who gives you this feel is undoubtedly music director Keba Jeremiah who with his powerful background score pushes you to the edge of the seat with your heart in your mouth.
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