Tuesday, March 7, 2023

The strange situation of horrifying horror movies in Malayalam cinema


Even though the Malayalam film industry has always tried to try new genres, like horror, such as the excellent Romancham and Bhoothakaalam, it has also made a lot of bad horror movies over the years that look like they were made the same way.

A stunning young woman dressed in white walks toward the camera at the beginning of the song, accompanied by the sound of her thick anklets. She can't be found anywhere. Her lips resemble "a red, red rose" and her eyes are captivating. She is beautiful enough to "take our breath away" once the music starts. No one can look away from her.

The instrumental "Dancing Music" from Sridevi's 1989 Hindi film Chandni opens like this. However, isn't it odd that this description also fits some ghostly scenes in almost all Indian horror films of a certain era?

“A young woman with long hair, probably wearing white clothing, taking a walk either in the middle of nowhere or within a mansion, mostly at night, accompanied by the sounds of anklets and a song” was once a scene that transcended language barriers and was a staple of all horror films. From Mahal by Kamal Amrohi in 1949, Madhumati by Bimal Roy in 1958, and Woh Kaun Thi? by Raj Khosla ( This "rule" was always followed by Biren Nag's Kohra (1964), Sheela's Yakshagaanam (1976), M Krishnan Nair's Kalliyankattu Neeli (1979), and Vinayan's Aakasha Ganga (1999), among others.

Even though some of these films are now considered classics, they all depicted ghosts and bhoots in a similar way. In point of fact, the last thing they do is incite fear. Due to their terrible portrayals of bhoots and the sheer number of cringe-inducing sequences, the majority of them can now be considered comedies; They are just horrifying, not terrifying.

Despite the fact that India produces close to 2,000 films annually on average, audiences in the country rarely have the chance to see spine-chilling and magnificent horror films like Tumbbad (2018), Raat (1992), Bhoot (2003), Dibakar Banerjee's segment in Ghost Stories (2020), Ahalya (2015), Ghoul (2018), and Stree (2018). This is due to the fact that filmmakers in India are unwilling to explore the genre.

And no, that does not imply that we do not produce any films that are at all frightful. However, the viewers are only presented with mind-numbing films like Bhoot Police (2021), Phone Bhoot (2022), and Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 (2022), giving the impression that the terrain has not yet been traversed.

Even Malayalam cinema, which has always tried to go into uncharted areas, including the horror genre, has recently added the excellent Romancham (2023, Dir. Jithu Madhavan) and Bhoothakaalam Rahul Sadasivan) has made a lot of bad horror movies over the years that all look like they were made by the same person.

Many of these films are worse than the soft-porn films the industry made in the 1980s, which at least served their goals, due to their dull plots, hypersexualization of women (especially ghosts), and crude visual effects.

It is extremely challenging to categorize horror, particularly as a genre. The term is extremely questionable in light of the fact that it benefits from summoning sensations of dread, fear, and dread as well as building a climate that evokes these feelings and anything that one individual considers alarming probably won't be so for another. Let's just agree to start by saying that "horror films" probably have the primary goal of scaring people.

Horror stories, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, can address more realistic psychological fears or feature supernatural elements like ghosts, witches, or vampires.

Despite the fact that horror films have been around since the late 1800s, the German expressionists were the first to really explore the genre. Although Robert Wiene's silent The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) is widely regarded as the first "true horror film," Georges Méliès' The House of the Devil (1896), a three-minute silent short, is technically regarded as the first horror film. Works such as The Golem (1915, directed by Nosferatu (1922, Dir. Paul Wegener) and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau) significantly contributed to the rise in popularity of horror films.

Psychological horror, body horror, monster horror, slasher, comedy horror, gore, found footage, and other subgenres are all included in the horror genre.

The golden beginnings of Malayalam horror films The adaptation of Neelavelicham, a short story by one of India's most well-known writers Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, set the stage for the proper exploration of the horror genre. The acclaimed cinematographer A Vincent's 1964 film Bhargavi Nilayam is regarded as the first genuine horror film made in the language.

Thanks to Basheer, who was known for writing the script in a majestically down-to-earth manner and for not giving a hoot about the rules and regulations of the literary language, Bhargavi Nilayam is a timeless classic that beautifully blends horror, romance, and even comedy. P N Sundaram and P Bhaskar Rao (cinematography), G Venkitaraman (editing), V M Muthu (costumes), and K Gangadharan (makeup), among many others, elevated the film's overall quality despite the performances of Madhu, Vijaya Nirmala, Prem Nazir, P J Antony, and Kuthiravattam Pappu. P Bhaskaran wrote mesmerizing lyrics for M S Baburaj's Hindustani-influenced songs, which are still captivating.

The master cinematographer A Vincent, who captured some of the most pivotal films in the history of Malayalam cinema, including Neelakuyil (1954), Mudiyanaya Puthran (1961), Moodupadam (1963), and Thacholi Othenan (1964), is, above all else, what makes Bhargavi Nilayam what it is. This was A Vicent's first attempt at directing.

Yakshi, a second horror film, brought the industry back in 1968. This film, like many other excellent films of the time, was based on a book (Malayattoor Ramakrishnan's 1967 novel of the same name) and directed by the seasoned K S Sethumadhavan. Yakshi, also known as the first psychological thriller made in Malayalam cinema, is a masterpiece that combines elements of horror and myth. Sharada and Sathyan, two of the best actors of all time, star in the movie. It is about a college lecturer who is fascinated by ghosts and the paranormal and has a bad experience. A woman comes into his life after everyone else started acting uninterested and left him after the incident.

The subsequent absolute horror film produced by the industry was Yakshagaanam (1976), directed by veteran actor Sheela.

Even though these films are visually appealing, they all contain elements of classic horror films. These preconceived notions were first dispelled by the 1976 remake of Madhumati by renowned poet Yusufali Kechery's Vanadevatha. Vanadevatha does not have a typical ghost or a woman singing in the middle of nowhere until the male protagonist spots her. The ghost doesn't actually show up until very late in the movie, which completely changes the mood of the movie.

Despite the fact that Bhargavi Nilayam is considered to be the first genuine horror film made in Malayalam cinema, the first truly terrifying films weren't released until 1978. And not just one, but two movies that came out in 1978 and lasted for three months each set the standard for the genre in Malayalam cinema.

A Vincent, equivalent to how he did in Bhargavi Nilayam, didn't keep down while making Vayanadan Thamban, featuring Kamal Haasan in the nominal job, either and presented various novel perspectives that noticeable the blast of the class in the language. There isn't a ghost in Vayanadan Thamban. The story of the movie revolves around an elderly warlock who hunts virgin women to give to the devil in exchange for eternal youth. The story spans multiple generations and includes some truly disturbing scenes. Like Tumbbad did decades later with its emphasis on mythology and black magic, Vayanadan Thamban redefined the definition of horror as it currently exists. Unfortunately, Vayanadan Thamban did not receive the recognition it deserved because A G Baby's Lisa (1978), which came out a short time later, effectively reversed time in both positive and negative ways.

With several terrifying scenes, Lisa set a standard for Malayalam horror films and can be considered the first pure horror film. It even includes the well-known "bed shake" scene, which was adapted from the 1973 film The Exorcist. In the 1973 American film, the exorcism was performed by two Catholic priests; however, in Lisa, director Baby switched it to a Hindu tantric. In the movie, Lakshmi becomes possessed by the spirit of Lisa, who was killed attempting to resist her boss's rape attempt. Lisa became a benchmark in the Malayalam horror genre thanks to its ensemble cast, which included Seema, Bhavani, Prem Nazir, Jayan, Vidhubala, Jose Prakash, Prathapachandran, Philomina, and M G Soman, among others. Sadly, as a result of the film's significant influence on popular culture and the genre, numerous subsequent horror films oddly imitated Lisa's production style and frequently even the central narrative.

Lisa, post: The era of copying and pasting The Malayalam film industry didn't make a single decent horror movie for many years after Lisa. In addition to making popular "the ghost that approaches men in the guise of seduction and then murders them by biting their necks, puncturing the jugular veins," M Krishnan Nair's Kalliyankattu Neeli (1979) capitalized on tired Yakshi clichés.

A G Baby made a comeback in 1981 with Karimpoocha, starring Ratheesh and Seema. Karimpoocha, like Lisa, featured a ghost of a woman who died while defying abuse, and the majority of the scares in the movie were taken from the American horror film The Car, which came out in 1977.

The horror films Sreekrishnaparunthu by A Vincent and Rakshassu by Hassan were produced by the industry in 1984. Rakshassu was a corny ghost story, whereas Sreekrishnaparunthu, starring Mohanlal, was a much better film due to its excellent technical work and Vincent's desire to explore new areas. The main character of the movie is Kumaran Thampi, the nephew of Padmanabhan Thampi, a master sorcerer. Though he doesn't want it, Kumaran has inherited all of his uncle's tantric knowledge. Kumaran is also a womanizer because he doesn't pay attention, and once he starts practicing tantric magic, he gets an unquenchable desire for power. The master sorcerer is required by the rules of their clan to be completely married, but Kumaran breaks this rule and gets cursed. Kumaran uses black magic to free himself, but this causes him more problems. Although the film is exceptionally well-made, it is intolerable due to its blatant hypersexualization of women. The majority of the female characters in the movie exist solely to seduce Kumaran, and lust is their only emotion.

Both M Mani's Pacha Velicham (1985), co-written by renowned dramatist Thoppil Bhasi, and A G Baby's Veendum Lisa (1987), a spiritual sequel to his 1978 film Lisa, had little to contribute and were made with common ingredients.

The missed opportunities Malayalam cinema produced some unconventional horror films between 1989 and 1998, despite its failure to further explore the genre.

One of the first films to explore a subject other than the typical yakshi was P. Chandrakumar's Kalpana House (1989). The plot of the unofficial remake of the 1985 American supernatural horror film Fright Night revolved around a young child's attempts to kill a vampire. The film was full of scenes that exploited the objectification of women, despite having a novel plot and gothic elements that the industry had never attempted before. In point of fact, considering the sheer number of absurd situations depicted in the film, rewatching it right now is more likely to elicit scorn and laughter than fear. However, Kalpana House set the stage for further exploration of the genre.

Regrettably, Malayalam cinema stuck with the same yakshi stories and made more films like Brahmarakshass (1990) rather than expanding the genre. Kamal's Aayushkalam, which was based on the Hollywood films Ghost and Heart Condition, lacked any elements of the horror genre, despite being advertised as a ghost movie.

Fazil's Manichitrathazhu revolutionized the concept of horror. The story of a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously known as "split personality") who develops empathy for Nagavalli, a dancer who is believed to have once existed but was killed by a patriarch, is told in the epic psychological thriller. The film brilliantly and masterfully examines psychological and horror elements simultaneously. In addition, it demonstrates the significant impact mythology may have on people's mental processes. The film went on to become one of the most financially successful productions in the history of the industry. It continues to influence popular culture to this day, with occasional remakes or adaptations appearing in various parts of the country.

The industry didn't make another horror movie for five years. Even though Mayilpeelikkavu, directed by Anil and Babu, was well-constructed, the film's trite central theme of reincarnation made it look like a lot of older films.

The unconventional ghost story Ennu Swantham Janakikutty by Hariharan, written by Jnanpith awardee M T Vasudevan Nair and published in 1998, lacked horror. It showed how a girl who lives alone and a yakshi got along.

Even though Vinayan's 1999 horror film Aakasha Ganga sent chills down viewers' spines, it set the stage for a number of imbecilic horror films and reset the clock by at least two decades in the age of sickening content. The stale yakshi story was retold in Aakasha Ganga and subsequent films with the same mindless elements and tacky visual effects.

Due to their incessant production of absurd content, horror films were at their most intolerable during the 2000s, which also marked the industry's lowest point.

Some of the worst horror films made during this time were K Murali's Summer Palace (2000), George Kithu's Indriyam (2000), Rajasenan's Meghasandesam (2000), Mammy Century's Bhadra (2000), Benny P Thomas's E Bhargavi Nilayam (2002), Anil Babu's Pakal Pooram (2002), P Gopikumar's Soudhamini (2003), Vinayan' These films were also extremely sexist, and many of them portrayed tribal people as naive barbarians and had poor visual effects and stories.

Even when the Malayalam film industry began to undergo a paradigm shift in the 2010s, the horror films it produced were laughable. Anil Kumar's Manthrikan (2012), Abhiram Suresh Unnithan's Yakshi – Faithfully Yours (2012), Priyadarshan's Geethaanjali (2013), R Factor's Raktharakshassu 3D (2014), Mahesh Kesav's Ghost Villa (2016), Kannan Thamarakkulam's Aadupuliyattam (2016), Althaf Rahman's Neeli, Ra Even though Jay K's Ezra from 2017 and Junues Muhammad's Nine from 2019 both got some things right, they both have an air of Hollywood and rarely give the impression of being made locally.

The sheer number of horrifying films made by the Malayalam film industry during this time period, not their handling of horror elements, is what gives one the creeps. Due to the industry's overreliance on emotional drama and tendency to focus solely on how to release a movie rather than considering its making aspects, the industry did not produce many noteworthy horror films, with the exception of a few excellent works like Sibi Malayil's Devadoothan (2000), Sanjeev Sivan's Aparichithan (2004), and Santosh Sivan's Anandabhadram (2005).

Consequently, in any event, when movies like Devadoothan, Aparichithan and Anandabhadram endeavored to bring a new thing to the table, the business chose to not sneak a taste and kept enjoying foulness.

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