India’s position of having the second-most number of internet users in the world and the highest number of Facebook users in particular prompted American entertainment company Crypt TV to enter the Indian market, CEO Jack Davis told during a recent visit to Mumbai.

Crypt TV, founded by filmmaker Eli Roth (Hostel, Knock Knock) and Davis in 2015, produces short-form horror videos for various platforms, including YouTube and Facebook. In October 2019, Crypt TV struck a deal with Vikram Malhotra’s production company Abundantia Entertainment, which has bankrolled films such as Airlift (2016) and Toilet – Ek Prem Katha (2017), and the web series Breathe, to produce web content from India.

“Since we are on the internet, we have a good Indian fanbase, albeit not significant compared to a population of 1.3 billion, but we do see potential for our brand and content here,” 28-year-old Davis said. “I personally think India is the most important region for this decade, starting now. I think we can elevate scary here.”

Crypt TV, which the entrepreneur promotes as a “Marvel for monsters”, has produced several horror shorts featuring a bank of original characters.

There’s The Birch, in which a sentient monster-tree protects the weak from being bullied. The success of the 2017 short film of the same name led to a Facebook series. Other popular Crypt TV creations include The Look-See, in which a monster kills you if you don’t let go of your negative past, and Miss Annity, a spider-like demonic woman who punishes those who do not conform to puritanical moral code. These characters have been further monetised through merchandising – t-shirts, tattoos, memorabilia.

Horror, however, does not have a history of being either a profitable genre in Indian film or television, or a culturally relevant one with a rich past, as it does in the West.

Davis acknowledged the issue, but added, “We are not really in the horror business. We produce emotional stories people connect to. Our monsters are anchored in emotions, where a monster is an external manifestation of an internal trouble.” He cited the example of the 2018 blockbuster A Quiet Place: “The film addresses the fears of parents to protect their children. Scary is just a way to tell that story.”

The Indian game plan includes creating original characters as well as moulding existing characters to suit local sensibilities. “We understand the internet, the digital market, and young people. Abundantia comes in the resources and filmmakers,” Davis said.

The “renaissance of horror in the US”, Davis added, along with the popularity of characters such as Frankenstein’s monster and Freddy Krueger across the decades, gave him the idea of launching Crypt TV. “I was seeing consumer behaviour shift to mobile devices, while horror was returning to theatres as a major genre,” he said.

The Birch (2017).

Comedy was trumped by short-form content on the internet long before horror until comedy websites such as Funny or Die, and CollegeHumor downsized severely in recent times. Meanwhile, horror films have been increasingly doing well at the international box office, even as comedies witnessed a slump in profits.

Davis reasoned that the rising fortune of horror has something to do with “people becoming more aware of each other’s emotions in contemporary times, but simultaneously, with so much involvement of technology, people are experiencing a disconnect and trouble to express these emotions, which is where horror comes in, through which you can explore these repressed emotions”.

Considering the fact that a chunk of Crypt TV’s content is on Facebook, where their official page has 2.8 million likes, do reports of Facebook overestimating the reach of video on its platform to consumers and inflating video metrics worry Davis?

No, Davis said: “While it’s true that you want to reach as many people as possible, being cognisant of numbers is not our end goal. Creating stories and memorable IP is, and the love we are getting from the audience is evident in the amount of t-shirts and merchandise of Crypt TV characters being sold. The goal is to take our characters forward to films and television in the long run.”

Jack Davis and Vikram Malhotra.