Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In short: Zibahkhana (2007)

aka Hell's Ground

A group of appropriately naughty young ones (read: victims) with near-saintly Ayesha (the very, very pretty Rooshanie Ejaz) as the obvious final girl, goes on a ride through the Pakistani countryside to a rock concert, media reports about a plague and contaminated water in the area they're crossing notwithstanding.

Even the dire warnings of a rather mad food seller (a cameo of Rehan, whom you should know from Zinda Laash) can't bring the group to turn back to the city, so it comes as no great surprise when first one of our heroes is bitten by a very hungry person, and then the group's bus is attacked by a band of roaming zombies (including that seldom-seen member of the zombie family, the Little Person zombie).

They manage to escape their attackers, but, this still being a horror film and all, don't find their way out of the country again. Now it is time for them to encounter that other hallmark of country life besides zombies - the backwoods cannibal family. This does not bode well for a long life for anyone on screen.

On paper, Hell's Ground is just another (relatively gory) horror film made with a minor budget by amateurs, the sort of thing that seldom turns out well for anyone involved, least of all the audience. Fortunately, said amateurs are The Hot Spot Online's Omar Ali Khan and Mondo Macabro's Pete Tombs, the former working as director and writer, the latter as producer and writer. Both men bring quite a combined amount of knowledge about what's good and fun in cheap-skate horror movies to the project.

It has to be said that large parts of the movie tread pretty well-worn ground - certainly to pay homage to the usual classics and "classics" and not so much because Tombs and Khan don't have any ideas of their own - and one's enjoyment of the film will probably depend on one's tolerance for the most standard tropes of backwoods horror and zombie films delivered with enthusiasm, quotes, and a lot of film posters in the background of various scenes.

Dramaturgically, the film's a bit wonky with its change of monsters that makes the narrative feel a bit disjointed, but at least - unlike too many other microbudget films - Hell's Ground is not a film that spends much of its time dithering until it gives its audience a monster to look at.

Hell's Ground's main achievement isn't to be just another another cheap and decent horror movie, though, it's that it is another cheap and decent horror movie going out of its way to be at once skewed pop (just listen to Stephen Thrower's - yes, that Thrower - soundtrack), and a decidedly contemporary Pakistani film that can afford to avoid certain of the conservatisms of contemporary Pakistani cinema (at least as far as I understand it, which, given my tastes, may not be as well as I should). I can't imagine the main backwoods killer wearing a burqa would go over too well in Pakistan's mainstream cinema, for example.

I know I've gone on repeatedly about the importance of low budget cinema's embrace of the local, but I think it's a point worth re-iterating: if you're making a movie on the cheap, then you have to make use of the only things big budget cinema can't compete with you on - the local, the specific, and the peculiar.

Hell's Ground does make excellent use of all three of these elements, and so, although I was only mildly amused by the film as a horror movie, I was pretty impressed by it as a pop film from and about the side of Pakistan you usually don't see.



Anarchivist said...

I LOOOOVE this movie. Also the extras, with the interview at the horror-themed ice cream parlor. If they can have something like that in Pakistan, why not in North Dakota?

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Someone in North Dakota is clearly missing out on a great way to get filthy rich.