Alone in the dark

We have all heard of the unfortunate Indian man who accepted the challenge of watching Evil Dead all by himself in a theatre, and wound up dead. This urban legend reached me at school during the early 90s. We would all sit huddled in a group, and speculate the cause of his death in hushed whispers.

“Maybe he was just frightened to death?”

“Perhaps the ghost strangled him from behind?”

“It ate him alive?”

Barely 10 then, we paid no heed to the advice of Kamal Haasan in the Mahanadhi song ‘Peigala Nambathey’, quite the rage in cable television then. We were convinced ghosts existed and were even more certain they had dark motives. Mysskin’s Pisaasu hadn’t released yet to show otherwise. When news of the Evil Dead incident reached us, it was apparent that there could be nothing worse in the world than having to watch a horror film alone in a theatre.

And that’s exactly what happened earlier this week when I was invited to watch The Conjuring 2 at a popular theatre just by myself. Perhaps on account of having watched too many terrible films in sparsely-filled theatres, the prospect didn’t quite seem immediately like the stuff of nightmares. That it was a morning show made it less petrifying.

Once the movie began, it was occasionally a tad unsettling to look around and see only empty seats as far as the eyes could see. The absence was most conspicuous especially in the aftermath of jump scares — nobody to share an uncomfortable laugh with. But there were a surprisingly large number of benefits: nobody walked in late, nobody howled and hooted in anticipation of a scary scene, nobody had a bawling baby.

The story developed in intensity, but it was still far from being a harrowing experience. Perhaps it needed somebody with more faith? Mind you, I did my bit to stop it all from being an anti-climax. What if I suddenly felt a hand from behind? What if the exit doors refused to budge? What if I turned left and suddenly saw one of the ghosts from the film sitting alongside, calmly watching the movie? What if somebody suddenly broke the theatre’s silence with a guttural scream? Perhaps it was also a case of being too self-conscious.

Moreover, it was difficult to shake off the knowledge that the screening was taking place in the heart of the city, the awareness that just a few steps separated the quiet darkness of the theatre from the chaotic din outside. The film ended swiftly without anybody throwing a deformed, rotten arm on my shoulder, without any sudden piercing screams. The exit doors opened just fine, and the Chennai sun helped put things in perspective.

Kamal, it turns out, definitely knew what he was singing about in Mahanadhi.

This column was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.

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