While this genre has always been popular among audiences, we’ve listed some of the best films from the past.

These Tamil thrillers from before the 90s are a must-watchYoutube Screengrabs
Flix Kollywood Thursday, July 05, 2018 - 16:46

What would be the ideal scale to rate a good thriller? Is it by the number of screams and gasps it elicits? Is it by the number of dramatic ‘pa-pa-pa-paaaam’ background music? Or is it by the number of times it gets your heart racing for inexplicable reasons?

My very first recollection of a thriller is that of a major cult classic from Tamil cinema, a film that’ll garner the same ‘dramatic’ wide-eyed reaction from many when you name it – Athey Kangal! I’ve seen this film so many times that I can perfectly match the loud screams just by listening to the film’s audio.

Directed by AC Tirulokchandar, this film that came out in 1967 was a major success upon its release. Starring Ravichandran and Kanchana in lead roles, Athey Kangal is a Raymond Chandleresque, tightly wound thriller, centred around a series of mysterious killings that take place inside a house. The intense plot twists, heightened drama and the final big reveal make this film a gripping watch, irrespective of the number of times you’ve already seen it.

While the thriller genre has always been popular among Tamil audiences, here is a list of some of the must-watch films from before the 1990s.

Andha Naal (1954)

All hell broke loose in Tamil cinema when this film released. In addition to being one of the best thrillers to this day, this film was also the first Tamil film without any song, dance or stunt sequences. While it is popular belief that Sundaram Balachandar’s Andha Naal was adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon (1950), film historian Randor Guy writes that the film is actually an adaptation of Anthony Asquith’s The Woman in Question (1950).

Rajan (played by Sivaji Ganesan), a radio engineer, is found dead under suspicious circumstances. The film unfolds in the form of investigations where one character leads them to the other until the killer and their motive is finally revealed. With a short runtime of 130 minutes, the film was also lauded for its camera work and narrative technique.

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Nenjam Marappathillai (1963)

With its unusual storyline, this is another film worthy of being called a cult classic. Director CV Sridhar has admitted to have been inspired from real life incidents that he read in the newspaper. The film has some brilliant sequences, and the cinematography by Aloysius Vincent was lauded by many. The climax is quite literally edge-of-the-seat and the brilliant background score compensates for the absence of dialogues in the climax.

Puthiya Paravai (1964)

Puthiya Paravai, starring Sivaji Ganesan, Saroja Devi and Sowcar Janaki, was a great success when it released. A popular adaptation of the English film Chase A Crooked Shadow (1958) by noted filmmaker Michael Anderson, Puthiya Paravai is best known for its narrative technique. There’s plenty of glitz, reckless living and endearing romance in the film. The big reveal, however, is one that will not fail to take you by surprise. The film was also popular for its chart-busting songs.

Shanthi Nilayam (1969)

This film is a loose adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre. The film’s narrative steadily builds up with eerie sounds and clever play with light and shadows. The scene where the woman walks with a lantern at night and the song shot in a hot-air balloon are some of the memorable scenes from this film. Interestingly, Shanthi Nilayam fetched its cinematographer Marcus Bartley a National Award.

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Sigappu Rojakkal (1978)

This film can be called Tamil cinema’s coming-of-age thriller, one of the very earliest successful psychological thriller films. In fact, Bharathiraja’s Sigappu Rojakkal brought in an interesting resurgence of thriller films soon after. Kamal Haasan plays a successful businessman who seduces women and later kills them. Kamal’s hatred towards women is slowly unveiled as the film progresses, leading up to a thrilling chase with the heroine, Sridevi. This film has inspired several other films including Dhanush’s Kadhal Kondein (2003) and Simbu’s Manmadhan (2004).

Moodu Pani (1980)

The song ‘Yen Iniya Pon Nilave’ from this film might be a breezy number, but there is nothing breezy about the film’s plot-line. In a sense Moodu Pani has strong similarities to Sigappu Rojakkal. This film has often been compared with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho for its uncanny resemblance to the latter’s climax. Directed by Balu Mahendra, the film has nail-biting sequences and has often been regarded as one among Balu Mahendra’s masterpieces. Needless to say, the film has some of Tamil cinema’s best visuals.

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Nooravathu Naal (1984)

This film is a cult classic in its truest sense. So much so that it was believed to have inspired real-life serial killer Auto Shankar who went on a killing spree between 1988 and 1989. The film’s solid storytelling by its director Manivannan and a riveting performance by Sathyaraj are its highlights. The film’s suspense is sustained till the very end leading to an insanely unexpected climax.

Also on our list:

Tik Tik Tik (1981)

Karayellam Shenbagapoo (1981)

Oru Kaidhiyin Diary (1984)

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