Slasher flicks are a genre Hollywood created especially for the teen audience. Specifically, the 'date movie' crowd who come into theatres more to hang onto each other than the storyline.
The film which started the trend is thought to be Halloween (1978) - but it had realtively little blood and not that many dead bodies. Friday the 13th is what really set the 'standard' and sparked off a spate of horror flicks.
'Nightmare on Elm Street' was my first slasher film. I remember seeing it at the now-defunct Strand cinema when I was in class 8. A large part of the thrill lay in watching an 'A' film as an under-18.
Of course, over the long run greed resulted in stretching both the 'Friday and 'Nightmare' franchises to breaking point. A rash of yucky sequels all but killed the horror genre.
Then, Wes Craven (the guys behind the Elm Street series) made a huge comeback with 'Scream'. The new genre of horror packed in not just blood and unnecessary sex scenes but a sly sense of irony. The audience alreafy knew what to expect - and the
director acknowledged that by poking fun at the standard 'horror film' plot devices.
The Indian slasher flick
In India, 'horror' has long been associated with pyaasi aatmas put on screen by Ramsay brothers. Low budget, cheap special-effect films which scared nobody, leats of all the sophisticated urban youth audience.
But, as Bollywood was forced to look beyond its standard formulas to attract the multiplex audience, it looked to Hollywood for inspiration. And 'horror' was one seemingly underexploited genre.
So, Ekta Kapoor produced 'Kucch to Hai' - it flopped. Kajol's sister Tanisha made her debut with 'Sshhh... koi hai' - it flopped. Now, writer-director Soham has released 'Kaal' - withe the blessing of Karan Johar & SRK. Going by the buzz about the film - it won't be a major hit.
What's going wrong?
The audience is hungry for 'something new', that's for sure. But film makers are underestimating their intelligence. Ektaji ripped off 'I Know what you did last summer' - a movie which is regularlty re-run on TV. 2 reels into the film you
knew exactly who the killer was. So where was the fun?
Same with 'Shhh.. Koi hai', which ripped of 'Scream' but with none of the style of the original. It was, however, superior to Ektaji's efforts in the technical department.
Now, you have 'Kaal' which I must commend for at least trying to be original, although loosely it's Jurassic-Park-meets-Sixth-Sense.
The photography, sound effects and atmosphere building is brilliant. The casting is good - you feel a lot more interested in the fate of the characters than in the other two films. And thankfully, there are no songs spoiling the flow.
Yet, the film has met with less-than-exciting reviews. And a lukewarm response from the audience.
I think the 'Karan Johar' association has created the wrong kind of expectations. This just isn't his brand of film.
On top of that, maybe to 'sell' and to have something to air in promos there are two item numbers ghusaoed in the beginning and end of the film when credits roll. These have nothing to do with the film and again, create the wrong expectations in the audience.
Yes, the film is predictable. A bunch of friends in a jungle with man-eating tigers supposedly on the prowl. They have to die one by one, the lesser known the actor, the earlier his or her demise. The surprise element has to come with the way in which each one dies - and the final denouement. The problem is, that surprise is lacking.
The 'enlightened' viewer has already figured out the ending. The less sophisticated viewer is thinking 'yeh to National Geographic channel lag raha hai' and never fully involved with the goings-on.
I say this because I saw 'Kaal' in Orient theatre in Ludhiana, with a mixed crowd of papajis, auntyjis, newlyweds and young people. Half an hour before the movie ends, patience was lost. When Esha Deol goes to fetch water from a well she's been warned to stay away from, a smart alec shouted, "Sunny Deol ko bhejo - behen bachaane ke liye". More hoots, comments and giggles followed. The film had lost it.
All about emotion
I think the classic 'slasher' flick fails primarily because people feel no emotional involvement with the characters.
Maybe Indians just don't like pointless blood and gore. Blood spilt to save one's family honour or beat up evil goondas is fine, but to just kill for the fun of it (which is the essence of a slasher film) is a very alien concept.
Psychological suspense thrillers have worked - like Raaz. A one-woman centric film like 'Bhoot' worked. Neither had bodies piled up, so technically they aren't 'slasher' films anyways. But certainly Bhoot was scary... In fact it is the scariest Hindi film I have seen (and I mean that as a compliment).
Bottomline: Bollywood is on the right track - that of exploring new kinds of films. I guess they will just have to try harder to come up with more original and inventive plots - whatever the genre they choose to attack. In all other departments, they are pretty much at par with Hollywood.
And yeah, maybe there just isn't that large a 'date movie' audience. Yet.