SEPTEMBER 12, 2008
At last year’s Screamfest, I went to a screening of Hell’s Ground (aka Zibahkhana) and slept through about 65% of it. This is not a sign of the film’s quality – I fall asleep at everything, and also it was at like 11 PM, AND it was the 4th movie of the day I think. What I saw wasn’t really bad or incredibly exciting, but I vowed to watch it again properly once it hit DVD.
Well my initial reaction was pretty accurate. In fact, I pretty much saw all the best parts before (I was amazed to discover that I actually slept through the entire first 20 minutes – apparently I started dozing before the movie even began!), so I didn’t even really need to see it “again”. The problem with the film is that it just doesn’t know what to be – it starts off as a slasher, then goes into zombie territory, some light survival, and finally slasher again. I’m all for cross-genre horror movies, but the zombies completely disappear after the first half hour, never to be mentioned again until the goofy epilogue. I would have liked it more had the zombies been after the kids AND the slasher (zombies aren’t choosy!), a lot of fun could be had with such a concept.
The survival aspects are also a bit mishandled. The driver notices that the van is on empty, but it takes another half hour and a LOT of driving for it to finally run out of gas. If the car can go that long on E, why not turn around and hit up the gas station on the main road (as it is a horror movie, they are taking a shortcut)? They also introduce the idea that the drinking water is unsafe, but again, don’t really do much with it.
Another issue is that it’s just plain generic. I accepted Doomsday because I know Neil Marshall is capable of doing something great and was clearly just looking to have a little fun. But I don’t know director Omar Khan (this is his first film), so I can’t lend him the same sort of allowance. Throughout the film, scenes and scenarios are stolen from Texas Chain Saw, Halloween, Mother’s Day, etc. On the commentary he acknowledges this and says it’s part of the point, but he went a bit too far into the “homage” direction for my taste. The social/political issues that are barely addressed would have provided the backdrop for a terrific (and original) horror film – it’s a shame he opted to keep it more “fun”.
However, it’s undeniably entertaining. At 75 minutes it hardly wears out its welcome, and while the pace is a bit slow at first, once it gets going it’s pretty fun. The slasher has a great and unique look, and I can’t recall the last slasher to use a mace as his weapon of choice. Also, one of our main characters is like the Pakistan version of me. He wakes up and has like 10 DVDs around him. He looks at one as if he had no idea that it was in his possession, then watches about 30 seconds of it before laughing to himself and going outside. I myself have been surprised to discover films in my own collection, so this little bit made me smile. The actors are all pretty good too (and Rooshanie Ejaz is super cute, luckily she’s also the Final Girl), despite the fact that none of them seemingly have any film experience (this film is the only credit on the IMDb for just about everyone in the cast). And last but not least, the gore/makeup is pretty impressive as well.
Less impressive is the film stock. Not sure what the problem was, but it looks like there are like 5 or 6 different film/video stocks being used throughout the film; sometimes switching in the middle of a scene. It’s distracting, but thankfully the images themselves all look good. I just wish they were consistent with one another.
One thing that I found distracting was the mix of Urdu and English, sometimes within a single sentence (at Screamfest, listening as I was “resting my eyes”, I was convinced my brain was translating parts of the dialogue for me). However, I have since been told that this is actually how they talk over there. In a way it’s nice, but I wish I could understand the rhyme or reason behind it. Like, when do you use English and when not?
The DVD has some minor extras. The commentary is pretty interesting, as Khan points out production troubles, addresses criticism of the film, etc. He is also very proud of the film, and should be - had I not seen all the movies he acknowledges, I would probably have nothing but praise for it. And admitting his influences is a surefire way to win me over - I fucking loathe when a filmmaker claims he's never even seen the films his movie blatantly steals from, but Khan cheerfully points out even some homages I had missed. There is also a brief look at the film’s premiere in Pakistan at a film festival, and a music video (pretty rocking tune, even if I have no idea what it’s about), plus the trailer. Finally, there is something called “Ice Cream Zombieland Documentary”. This is essentially Khan discussing how his film has been released everywhere EXCEPT for Pakistan (sadly ironic, since Pakistan audiences will probably find it much more original than in the horror drenched West), and also just sort of hanging out in his apartment - at one point we watch him watching the extra feature about the premiere! How gloriously self-reflexive! We also see his ice cream shop, which seems like the most awesome ice cream shop ever; there are horror posters and toys everywhere, and his jukebox has the Phantasm soundtrack! I wish this piece was longer; he talks a lot on the commentary about censors, but barely touches upon it here.
It doesn’t win any points for originality, but it’s still a pretty fun movie. I just hope Khan makes another film that is a bit more unique. I enjoy watching foreign horror because I get to learn a little bit about their culture, but for the most part all I learned from this movie is how much he likes American horror movies.
What say you?