I admit that I haven’t read a single Stephen King novel. Perhaps it is because I always thought King represented a certain stereotype that was somehow pegged below the sensibilities of a discerning reader – horror story writer. Horror for horror’s sakes puts me off. I have no idea why folks like to pay to go sit in a theater and watch werewolves, ghosts, vampires, cyborgs, zombies and slashers.
Perhaps it is the voyeuristic desire to see, from a safe distance, something that is unequivocally evil, with no moral shade of grey. Like for instance, a vampire is portrayed as almost mindlessly evil, one level higher than a psychotic psychopath. To some, that can help to make the experience pleasurable, instead of being horrific and disgusting. But what does it say about folks who love watching or reading scary stuff that leaves nothing to imagination?
Studies say that they are more likely to be folk with less empathy than those who don’t like watching the stuff. They are likely to be folk who feel they don’t have enough zing in their lives. They are usually between the ages of 15 and 25 and might even be occasional recreational hashish and marijuana users and they are definitely over-sexed. I completely agree with this finding. I experienced this myself. I had all those above attributes and more and I loved Friday the 13th. You ask me to see it now and I won’t, even if you paid me.
Another thing – they are usually male. I remember going to watch ‘The horror of Drakula’ as a teenager, with a slightly elder female cousin. She was whimpering with fear, clinging on to my arm so hard that, if the movie had been any longer, my arm would have turned gangrenous due to the lack of circulation.
And while my cousin trembled and shook, I was enjoying the movie and reveling in her horror. I am sure that if she had sat there unperturbed instead, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the movie as much. I am not an S&M guy but I found the intimacy of the total control that Drakula had over his victims, strangely erotic. Factor in a pretty female cuz clinging on to me and I actually felt my richard stirring down there, when Drakula had a broad in his arms and started chomping on her neck in one of those blood sucking scenes.
But that was then. Hey, teenagers have a one-track mind, okay? Now don’t start psychoanalyzing me.
Mind you, I dig scary stories of the Robin Cook/Thomas Harris/Michael Crichton kind. I just can’t stand horror stories with supernatural mumbo-jumbo, that are supposed to act upon you like Viagra, contriving to give you goose bumps and mistakenly I had bracketed Stephen King with that genre.
But after watching ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘The Green Mile’ for the first time, over the last Christmas break, both movies based on novels written by Stephen King, I have decided to try him one time; as soon as I’m done with the two books that I’m currently having fun reading – Irving Wallace’s compilation, ‘The intimate sex lives of famous people’ and Nancy Friday’s ‘My secret garden’.
What? Those are not fiction, come on. The former is history and the latter …ummm… let’s see, it is a very informative dissertation on the psychology, a sort of self-help encyclopedia which familiarizes men with female sexuality and how to help females have an orgasm. I would nominate both for the Nobel Prize in literature.
With age, I have lost the taste for fiction of any kind, altogether. Even if it is on sex. These days, I usually skip the sex when I’m reading or watching movies. I am straight as a shoelace now. I swear. Would I lie to you? Richard the Lionheart (I like to give my sexual organs fancy outlandish names), once the scourge of the Sarayu dorm in my Chennai engineering school, has retired. The passion is still there but somehow the mind is unable to prevail over matter anymore.
Increasingly these days, I have this sense that I don’t have much time left and that puts me off the make-believe and makes me utilize the time reading up on all sorts of other non-fiction stuff. History, biographies, National Geographic, current affairs and true crime are the topics that engage me now. Nova, the second-hand bookstore by the river, has tons of Stephen Kings. In fact one whole book shelf there, with six rows, is filled with only Stephen Kings. I usually skip that shelf.
Another writer, British author Daphne du Maurier, was similarly gifted. Her The birds (later a Hitchcock film), a scary story about a family which barricades itself inside a home that is attacked by waves of birds, was just one of the many eerie, dark and haunting novels that she specialized in.
Hitchcock was another horror-for-horror’s-sake guy but I loved him for his simple, seamless story-telling and the comic relief that he injected into the story. Like the atrocious cooking skills of the Chief Inspector’s wife and the way the cop handled her exotic menus without hurting her feelings, in his psychopath drama, Frenzy. Like other authors such as Arthur Hailey, Hitchcock often weaves in many little side-tales within the fabric of the main plot.
In his movies, there were invariably those comic cameo roles that Hitchcock usually popped up in, that were simply delightful. It was almost like a ‘spot-Hitchcock’ game that the director played with the audiences. If you were a die-hard Hitchcock watcher, you knew that he would pop up somewhere in the movie, maybe as the mailman or the bus conductor or taxi driver, or just a guy standing at a bus stop with an umbrella and a briefcase in hand. He has even appeared as a corpse once, but I haven’t seen that one.
Hitchcock also loved to have his movies start with opening scenes that were like the opening sequences of James Bond movies – detached from the actual story. I will leave you with one such Hitchcock opening sequence that I still remember vividly…….
It is a warm summer night and the camera follows a young couple approaching a tiny one-storied house, showing them only from waist down, from directly behind. The woman is wearing a skirt that has blue lilacs printed all over it, on a white cotton fabric. The man unlocks the front door with his key and they enter. It is obviously his house. The way they are holding hands and also the way he sort of bows with a flourish and gestures her in, indicates that she is probably a visitor there and he is having her over for supper.
After a brief pause, the camera starts moving slowly along the outer wall of the house, while remaining pointed at it. It turns the first corner, skims over a set of windows through which no significant activity can be discerned in the house, though there is a light burning somewhere deep inside. You notice that the house has a chimney and wisps of smoke are beginning to curl up from it. As the camera keeps panning, the smoke gets thicker and blacker.
The camera travels round the house and with it’s progress, the dimness of the night is getting lighter, till the camera turns one more corner and reaches the kitchen door that opens into a tiny backyard. By now there’s bright sunshine all around. It is like we see a night go by in fast forward.
The kitchen door is the typical netted and spring-loaded kind that can be pushed open from the inside or pulled open from the outside if it is unlatched. Suddenly the door begins opening with a creak and remains open a wee bit. Something has pushed the door open but it is outside the camera’s viewing range. I remember holding my breath as did almost all of those inside the theater.
The camera now gradually pans down till it focuses on the bottom of the kitchen door. There is cat, black polka dots on it’s thick white furry coat. It has pushed it’s way through the opening of the kitchen door, and is now furtively looking around, its fur standing up behind it’s head, a sign that it is somehow tensed. It is holding a piece of rag in it’s mouth. The camera zooms in.
The rag is blood-stained, but the blue printed lilacs on the white cotton fabric are clearly discernible.
Now that’s what I call terrifying