There’s no hiding the fact that I’m a sucker for horror. It all started with dad getting the VHS of Poltergeist. The Tobe Hooper movie gives me the creeps to this day. Way back in 1992, we decided to inaugurate our brand new VHS player with the flick, which to me is a cult in its own right. At just eight years, I had eight consecutive sleepless nights. Not to mention the embarrassing situations when I had to drag mom to the loo with me after dark. The two coconut trees with their urchin-like leaves swaying and swishing by the east window were subjects of endless pondering. Every demented-looking doll was put away on purpose lest I encounter them on my frequent trips to the loo at night. The old black-and-white TV had just been replaced by a Beltek colour that had 12-plus channels. I used to eye my kid sister staring at it whenever the stations switched on to static. A jolt of cold electricity used to leave me breathless every time she did that. Monsoons were worse. Counting down to the rolling of the thunder and squeezing our eyes shut as the lightning lit every possible object in our room – animate and inanimate – may sound like child’s play but we as children did it anyway as it left us numb with fright. We enjoyed being frightened.
We still do. All of us. You and me.
Thus when The Conjuring released, I decided I had to give it a go.
I dragged my good friend with me. We rushed to the theatre post work, picked up the tickets and made ourselves comfortable in the plush seats of the 200-seater. But something was wrong. The theatre was a tad too chilly inside.
We were the first ones to enter, enthused about the prospect of watching a good bone-chiller. We had heard it was one heck of it. The plot was cliched – old abandoned house, the happy family, the hyper-sensitive kid, ‘imaginary’ friends, the happenings, demonic possession, the exorcism, ‘cleansing’ rituals, skeptics and believers, defined demarcation of good and evil… The promo, however, told a different story – a promising, hard-core spook tale.
The above ingredients are almost always the winning formula for a healthy Hollywood horror. However, where most movies lose the plot is the moralizing bit. Horror and macabre, when deconstructed into a fable, leaves little to be frightened of. The Conjuring does away with the moralizing. Instead, it approaches demonic possession and related activities through the life and times and the very clinical eyes of renowned demonologists and paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. How I know Ed and Lorraine Warren is a different story altogether. We’ll go into that later.
The movie has a very mundane beginning – a loving family moving into an old country house purchased with the male member’s life’s earnings little knowing that the house has some dirty secrets and a very murky and bloody past. Before screaming ‘spoiler alert!’ here’s what: a predictable series of untoward events shuttle the plot forward in full throttle and makes it an edge-of-the-seat and, often, gasp-inducing watch. During the interval, I could spot a few drained faces in the audience. Most others were reluctant to use the break to go relieve themselves for I’m sure their shaking knees kept them from leaving their seats. I turned around to find couples in the farthest corner seats sitting still – no PDA, nothing. I willed myself to stand up and go get something to drink. My throat was dry from all the gasping. “Are you gonna use the loo?”, My friend asked. “I might. Why?” “No… just that… never mind.” I gave him the LOOK and pranced away.
I had exactly 7 minutes before the movie resumed.
The washrooms were a little away from the hall and thankfully, not many people trooped that way. Lucky me. I hated waiting for my turn especially when I had exactly six-and-a-half minutes to run back, buy some coke and popcorn and find my seat in the darkened hall.
The washroom was empty and silent except for the lone leaking tap. The annoying pit-pat-pit-pat of the dripping water seemed almost like the hands of the clock moving, waiting, signaling my return to the confines of the chilly theatre. Strangely, the washroom was equally chilly. I had to rub my arms to dispel the goosebumps.
The sanitized tiles of the loo was lit with harsh fluorescent lights one of which flickered incessantly. I shut myself in the first cubicle and did the needful.
From inside, I finally heard voices. There were people coming in. Okay, so they finally found the courage to walk out of that frigid frigging hall, I thought. I heard my adjacent cubicle door slam shut. The pit-pat of the tap had stopped and there was nerve-wracking silence inside the washroom. Just as I was about to exit the cubicle, a strange thought occurred to me. It was almost like a vision. I was already inside the hall which was now empty and freezing. I wondered where everyone had gone. I took my aisle seat and craned my neck to look for my friend. He too, like the others, had strangely disappeared. I tried calling him but somehow, the phone had no signal. The movie too had started. I scanned the entire hall. Not a soul to be found. Where did the 100-odd people vanish? Amazingly, the movie was playing on mute and all I could hear was a pit-pat-pit-pat. The leaking tap.
The thought vanished as suddenly as it had come. I turned the door knob and stepped out of the cubicle feeling lightheaded. The cubicle adjacent to mine was empty. Stark. The flickering light and the pit-pat returned. I don’t know how much time had elapsed. Thinking that I might have missed out vital portions of the movie, I ran back to the hall skipping the coke-popcorn ritual. Thankfully, the hall looked just the way I’d left it. “Where’s my coke?”, asked my friend. “How long was I gone?” “Exactly four minutes. When I saw you coming, I wondered if you’d jumped the queue at the coke stall.” “I wasn’t gone for long?” It was his turn to give me the LOOK.
We drove back quietly and I had a very strange dream that night about a tap being left open in my house and me wading through waist deep water.
I understood that either I took the movie too seriously. Or that strange, inexplicable things do happen. I experienced a time skip in the loo and had a strange and uncanny half-dream in the cubicle. I could have sworn I heard voices and even the next cubicle door slamming shut. It couldn’t have been a draft of air. Drafts don’t leave you feeling lightheaded. (Those who’ve seen the movie would know where this line came from!)
I got to know about Ed and Lorraine Warren thanks to this TV series called Ghost Adventures which my sister and I diligently watched and still try to watch from time to time. I’ve tried debunking some of the experiences shown in the series too! The paranormal investigators had often sought their help in some of their lockdowns. (You need to watch a few episodes to know what I’m talking about).
If it weren’t for this late hour and that I begin my day real early tomorrow, I’d go on and on about this topic but, for now, let’s just remain a skeptic and end by saying, a la The X-Files, ‘the truth is OUT THERE’.