Horror films often depict ghosts wreaking havoc on the living. Scholars of horror have understood the genre’s specters as returns of the repressed that can, like nightmares, be decoded from the fantastical façade of the films. Ghost stories are unscrambled in this analytic process, symbolic representations read back down to the unremembered traumas that they “came from”: the psychic, cultural, and national histories reflected in the broken mirror of horror. This has been a highly influential—and redemptive—-reading strategy by which the most disdained of popular film genres has become the most written about over the last few decades. Yet, after all that reading and writing, others have argued, something is still left on the table: the sensuousness of the horror film. The fullness of bodies, objects, and spaces, of shadows, sounds and colors, helps achieve the immediate visceral impact after which the genre is named. It gives presence to the phantom worlds of horror, and affective force to our viewing of them. But where does this presence come from? In this talk, I offer one answer. I propose that horror encrypts and unleashes the material history of filmmaking in spectral forms. This history is typically described as “behind the scenes,” but the materialities of celluloid editing, location filming, props, and makeup effects (in)form the genre’s representations, becoming perceptible in stylistic and affective “excess.” Focusing on a cycle of horror films made in India between the late 1970s and early 1990s, this talk will explore the spectral materialities of Bombay horror as clues to the forgotten conditions in which horror films were once made, and as traces that still shape sensory encounters with the films.
Kartik Nair is an Assistant Professor of Film Studies in the Department of Film and Media Arts at Temple University in Philadelphia. He is currently completing his first book, Seeing Things, which focuses on low-budget horror films made in 1980s Bombay. Examining the films for spectral traces of material histories of film production, regulation, and circulation, Seeing Things explores the aesthetic and historiographic implications of spectral materialities. Kartik’s writing has appeared in Journal of Cinema and Media Studies (formerly Cinema Journal), Film Quarterly, Discourse, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, and The New Inquiry. He is a core editor of BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies and oversees the journal’s book reviews.