Monday, Sep 26, 2022
×
Outlook.com
×

Shades Of Horror: Hitchcockian, Lynchian To Haneke's Domestic Dystopia

Filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch and Micheal Haneke are masters in highlighting the dark sides of human beings in society. Their influence in Cinema is so huge that critics have started defining films by their styles.

A still from Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho'
A still from Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho' Getty Images

"... The horror ... the horror  ..." are the final words uttered by Colonel Kurtz played by Marlon Brando in 'Apocalypse Now’ by Francis Ford Coppola. Adapted from Joseph Conrad’s novella, ‘Heart of Darkness’  into a Vietnam war setting, Coppola envisioned it as a terrifying psychological horror story on the nature of modern war. Kurtz is a renegade U.S Army Special forces officer who has formed his own army near Cambodia and is treated as a demigod by his followers but is equally feared by everyone. Absent throughout the film until the very end, his presence looms like a living ghost.  

Apocalypse Now, in that sense is not a classical horror story, but instead, deals with the effect of horror inflicted by war, on people and nature. Brando represents the uglier side of a person who loses all sense of morality, resulting in someone who starts enjoying terror - against the very purpose for which the war was started. A condition we can witness in society, where an individual, the patriarchal system and the state inflict horror on the very same people, whom they have an obligation to protect. 

Filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch and Micheal Haneke are masters in highlighting the dark sides of human beings in society. Their influence in Cinema is so huge that critics have started defining films by their styles - Hitchcockian horror, Lynchian surreal horror or Domestic horror of Haneke. If the horror genre has taken a lot from Hitchcock, Lynch’s surreal imagery has redefined ideas of horror. In the book Lynch On Lynch, he says, “Black has depth. It’s like a little egress; you can go into it, and because it keeps on continuing to be dark, the mind kicks in, and a lot of things that are going on in there become manifest. And you start seeing what you’re afraid of.’’ He represents horror through surreal imagery, from ants moving around a cut ear to deformed bodies to strange coloured rooms and creepy characters. In contrast to Hitchcock and Lynch, is the everyday horror of Haneke which is created like an antidote to the gory horror.

A still from Austrian director Michael Haneke's film 'Funny Games'
A still from Austrian director Michael Haneke's film 'Funny Games'

It unfolds slowly, but the end is as chilling as any horror genre film. Settings and situations in a Haneke film are also very realistic as if showing us horror existing behind closed walls of a house in everyday life. A character deals with his/her internal demons in his stories. Marlon Brando as Kurtz in ‘Apocalypse Now’ is more like a character from a Haneke film, in an outside world. Coppola treats him like a living ghost, masking him in shadows most of the time, and doesn’t shy of using elements of the horror genre like gore, killings and suspense. The horror of the crimes and brutalities of war are on full display. The words uttered by Brando, ‘The horror… the horror’, as if mean that the horror of war will never end. 

This brings me to Victor Erice’s Spanish film, ‘The Spirit of the Beehive’. It’s an allegorical tale on the horror of the dictatorial rule of Franco. As Spain was heavily censored during the Francoist rule, interestingly, Erice chose another classic horror film, ‘Frankenstein,’ to show how it leaves an imprint on the mind of the young child Ana. After the screening of the film, Ana and her sister Isabel wander through the haunting landscape, as if in search of the imaginary Frankenstein.

Instead of gore and direct brutality, Erice captures the landscape in beautiful and painterly light with endless roads and doorways, as if to suggest order and discipline under the authoritarian regime. There is a lot of symbolism used in the film to denote the horrors of the state. If the beehive symbolizes blindly following the leader and behaving according to the rules, the father’s beehive working costume represents power, and the school represents state-controlled education. Gothic horror tropes are used to counterpoint the calmness running in the village. The playful elder sister experiments with those elements -  she pats the family’s black cat calmly and then suddenly tries to squeeze it. A strange toy is displayed in the background. She uses blood to colour her lips and plays a risky game around the fire with other children.

At one point, as she jumps over the fire, the frame freezes, suggesting as if Ana is imagining that the fire has engulfed her. The father also tries to instil fear in the girls in a scene, where he talks about the poisonous mushrooms. The train and it’s sounds are used to create tension and symbolize a looming threat, very similarly to Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pather Panchali’. Ana witnesses the horrors of the state, when a revolutionary whom she befriends, is killed by the police. She runs away in search for the imaginary Frankenstein who becomes real for her, as the real world creates fear inside her. Fictional horror becomes an escape from the tyranny of the real horror present all around the place. Ana in that sense is portrayed as a rebel against the state. A lot is left ambiguous, for the audiences to imagine as if the horror is in the unsaid. The film is subversive and yet very poetic, a masterpiece that was my inspiration for the making of Ashwatthama. I used the myth of Ashwatthama as a tale leaving an imprint on the minds of the young child, Ishvaku and set it in the landscape of the Chambal ravines, famous for its rebels.

The ravines are visualized as a mysterious land. Ishvaku’s cousin sister of the same age is deaf and mute whereas the elder cousin sister Mathu receives letters from a stranger. The elder maternal uncle who is losing his sanity keeps scorpions as pets, and the sacred bull makes a tragic prophecy. Shot in monochrome to denote monotony in life, colour is used as a contrasting force to denote the fear and dreams of the child. Water, a life-giving element becomes a force of terror for the child. When Ishvaku discovers an injured dacoit in an abandoned ruin, the myth of Ashwatthama becomes real for him and gives rise to the rebel inside him. A witness to violence against women inside the family, he decides to run away from the horror of patriarchy and religiosity, like his cousin sister Mathu. Many images used in the film are from my own childhood memory. I remember, as a child, they created a strong sense of fear inside me. Certain places and objects which appeared in local myths and stories became a source of horror, and I started to avoid visiting or going near them. That acquired memory has also helped in associating similar images with horror. I keep using them to denote fear, dread, violence or disgust in my films. The genre of my films may not be classical horror, but understanding horror has certainly helped me to suggest feelings or emotions associated with it. 

A still from 'Ashwattdhama'
A still from 'Ashwattdhama'

Horror in cinema is something whose role is to disturb the sense of stability. A dark zone is revealed, whether of the mind, or a physical space; and fear and scare from terror, dread and violence are its outcomes. In that sense, it is very similar to the ‘Bibhatsa’ rasa from our Navrasa traditions. But accompanied by the ‘Adbhut’, it can turn into poetry, like in the films of Victor Erice.

(The author is a filmmaker. Views expressed are personal)

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement