Thursday, October 2, 2008

HORROR EPICS: Hell's Ground

I gather that Zibahkhana, aka Hell's Ground, has the distinction of being the very first horror movie to emerge from the country of Pakistan. It deserves a place here just for that alone, although this is a blatant ripoff of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a few zombies thrown in. But since the Pakis have nearly four decades of slasher film history to catch up so, I say have an open mind and give it a chance. Pakistan's biggest rock band is playing a show, and there are five rebellious teenagers that lie to their parents about their evening plans so they can be there. One of the girls looks a helluva lot like Maria Conchita Alonso, and one of the guys is a major league stoner and horror movie buff. Dude even has a Maniac poster hanging up in his bedroom, so he knows the deal. Oh, and the van they drive has to be seen to be believed—worst paint job ever. En route, stoner dude convinces everyone to stop off at a rural teashop that's apparently world-famous. The weirdo shopkeeper claims that Brangelina came by earlier in the week, presumably taking a break from trying to adopt half the country. (Wait a minute: Brangelina have showed up in two consecutive horror movie reviews here, and they're not even in either cast. If this isn't a sign that things are getting out of control, I don't know what is. In any case, carry on.) While stocking up on chai and pastries that are apparently spiked with herb, our protagonists are informed by the shopkeeper that they are in fact traveling on the road to hell. Unfortunately, he is not referring to the name of the venue where Pakistan's biggest rock band is playing. Nothing bodes well for these kids if they choose to keep moving forward, but of course, they don't listen to him. Oh, and there's something of a subplot too. The nearby rivers are polluted and disgusting, resembling Lake Erie or maybe the Ohio River in Western Pennsylvania. But people drink out of it anyway, because they have no choice. This is where the zombies that I mentioned earlier come in, and a group of them swarm on the van. This may be a bit of a spoiler, but you can expect to see this scene culminate in...wait for it...zombie dwarf tossing! That is NOT a typo. Now, the subplot doesn't actually mean a whole lot within the actual story. But since there are zombies and dwarves and zombie dwarves and zombie dwarf tossing involved, who am I to argue? Then along comes the crazy shaman dude who looks kinda like a homeless Coffin Joe, and has an affinity for severed heads. If he isn't enough, there is also a badass motherfucker in a bloodstained burqa running around the woods swinging a HUGE FUCKING MACE around in the air. Don't even try to deny that visual. A friend of mine made the observation that Hell's Ground was what Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were trying to go for when they made Grindhouse. I can't say I disagree. It's an apt comparison because Hell's Ground is the genuine article—shitty and lo-fi, making up for budget limits with atmospheric lighting and creepy backwoods locations, and a fucked up library music score that could easily place it at an old '70s drive-in. (The opening/closing theme FUCKING RULES!) Grindhouse was never going to be authentic no matter what kind of tricks they pulled. Too much money and finesse for it to be the B-movie it wanted to be, although I actually enjoyed Planet Terror for what it was worth. I imagine that a lot of people would watch Hell's Ground and laugh at this review, saying that this movie is silly and predictable. This is true, but you want to see this because the idea of a horror movie taking place in Muslim society appeals to you...not because you're looking for technical proficiency. The standard for Pakistani horror has been set, and hopefully they continue in the genre. It'll be nice to see something new besides the stylized big-budget remakes of the old classics.

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