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Why do we like horror movies and the supernatural?

Ramblings on the morning after Halloween
By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

This tiny blog starts with the disclaimer that it has nothing to do with Halloween…’s an uncanny co-incidence that my mood to ramble about something non-heavy, non-issue-based and non-“I will change the world with my write-ups” clashes with the mother of all festivals that celebrate the eerie, the unexplained, the supernatural, the haunted.

The blood-curdling shriek of a dying woman in a dark alley, the meow of a black cat, a door creaking open after centuries, a walk in the cemetery, looking back numerous times with the feeling that someone is behind you, the handsome but deathly pale face of a Dracula with fangs dripping with blood, a case of possession by the devil……How interesting is all this!

Like everyone else, I LOVE horror films and stories about the unexplained. Stuff I don’t understand. The other realm. The unseen. The other world. My favourite Micheal Jackson video had to be “Thriller”. I loved Jack Nicholson in “Werewolf” and “The Exorcist” was something I had to grow up to be 30 plus to be able to watch because the hype about it being scary was so huge, but watching it was one of my aims in life…..something that would make me challenge my limits of endurance of scariness. “X-Files” was the show that I could never get enough of. I loved Nicole Kidman in “The Others” and Bruce Willis in “The Sixth Sense”. Add to it the realism of “The Blair Witch Project” and without showing a single gory scene, that movie made waves.

As it is, I am a hemophobic (please read hemo-phobic meaning “one who has a fear of blood), so what I don’t have patience for are very bloody, gory, grotesque images. Perhaps because there is a certain idealism and imagination I associate with horror movies. Gory stuff makes it all too real, and reality often has a way of smacking the fun out of stuff. What is fun are innuendos of horror…..suggestive and brainy and macabre and deathly stuff. Macabre…..I love that word, which incidentally is a derivative of the Arabic word “Maqbara” meaning “tomb”!

Move ahead of the movie/tv zone…..wintery nights, chilghozaas, coffee , and huddled in a razaai with my elder sisters, cousins or friends, the things we all loved to talk about are anybody’s guess. Jinns, ghosts, ghouls, pichchal pairees (which are legendary witches who supposedly have feet backwards), bhoots, haunted houses, going under certain trees at sunset or not. I now do the same at times with nieces and nephews and my daughter…..and I derive narcissistic fun out of telling them stories that make them have goose bumps.

If I ever write an autobiography, an entire chapter at least will be devoted to the innumerable episodes ofRooh Bulana” (summoning a ghost) under a glass on a piece of paper. Each one of us who had a finger on the glass would swear that they were not moving the glass. It still scares the living daylights out of me when I recall a few of the times when we actually got some answers that made sense.

Naani’s haveli-like house in Hyderabad had horror legends associated with it. It was a house the family had gotten as part of claims post-partition, and originally was built by Hindus, which is why it had beautiful and different architecture and finishing. The whole family, to date, believes that they had all heard at least a few times the sound of ghungroos in the night or the tinkling sound of a temple bell early morning. It still is an eerie but an enjoyable thought.

Coming back to horror films, why do we exactly enjoy this stuff? Did Aristotle get it right that all this provides catharsis or a purging of emotions? That facing extreme horror in an unreal situation like a piece of fiction, whether written or seen in a theatre or on screen, helps us release our pent up emotions?

Maybe, but to me, Noël Carroll makes more sense. His co-existentialist theory, in a nutshell, points in the direction that it all boils down to the big “C” – Curiousity! We have this burning, aching curiousity about what we perceive to be impossible, which makes it to so interesting.

Basically, we humans seek and crave excitement. It is the excitement, the thrill, the break from the mundane that makes horrific story-telling in all its forms so attractive. It triggers our imagination. It makes us push our boundaries, and through these stories or movies or legends, we reach out to the realm that is beyond our senses. At the end of the day, it provides what every rewarding (and often dangerous) thing provides – a high!

About FarahnazZahidi

Journalist, writer, Communications practitioner, teacher, media trainer | Literature | Gender Parity | Peace | Islam | Very Desi | Chaai, not coffee.

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