Judge Dylan Charles has always wanted to see a musical version of Nightmare on Elm Street.
A two-disc double bill of maximum horror!
When someone talks about watching a horror film, they're usually talking American or Italian (Argento for the discerning connoisseur, or Fulci for mindless good times). Occasionally other countries' entries will crop up, such as France's High Tension or the works of the Spanish Paul Naschy are worth checking out. If you're into ghost flicks, all of East Asia has got you covered. Rarely, though, do you hear someone call out, "Hey, fellows! Let us go see the latest Bollywood thrillfest at the local moving pictures emporium!" There's a reason for this. Partly because no one talks like that and partly because Bollywood horror movies are…a little problematic, as seen in the examples of Mahakaal and Tahkhana.
Mondo Macabro gives us two more films in Bollywood Horror Collection, Volume 3. First up is Mahakaal, the terrifying, somewhat familiar tale of a horribly burned child murderer who haunts the dreams of his victims while wearing a knife-fingered glove. If he had been wearing a green and red striped sweater, I'm guessing New Line would have been on them like a pit bull trained in copyright law. In Tahkhana, two sisters hold the key to a long lost treasure hidden within the dungeons underneath their father's mansion. Unfortunately, a horrible, undead mud man guards the treasure and kills anyone who goes near it.
Both films are written, produced, and directed by the Ramsays, who were the kings of the horror film industry in Mumbai (Bombay) for the brief amount of time that horror was popular. While Mahakaal was obviously inspired by the Nightmare on Elm Street series of movies, Tahkhana is a remake of their earlier film Purana Mandir and it's far better than their Freddy Krueger ripoff.
For one thing, Mahakaal has violent mood swings. I know there is some kind of Bollywood mandate that states that all films must have singing and dancing at some point, but Mahakaal uses the dancing sequences to ill effect. The moment after a woman is nearly raped is probably not the best time for a dance about the wonderfulness of picnics. A tender moment between lovers as they rest from a horrific nightmare is not the best time for the comic relief, Canteen (Johnny Lever), to show up and do his Michael Jackson impression. Any sense of horror is quickly snuffed out. In case you've forgotten, a sense of horror is required in a horror film. It's almost like the Ramsays were worried people might get too frightened and decided to put a check on the scariness.
Tahkhana has fewer dance sequences and puts them more toward the beginning, before there's any real momentum gathered by the horror aspects of the story. In this way, the action isn't sidelined and the audience's emotions aren't suddenly switched around 180 degrees. Both movies also throw in random, large-scale fight scenes that would be more at home in a kung-fu movie—if that kung-fu movie had terrible sound effects and clear instances of the actors not even contacting one another.
The real enjoyment from watching Mahakaal is the fun game of seeing how they changed the story from the American version. Gone is the bathtub attack (surprise, surprise), but so is the goofy scene of Freddy with extra long arms, so Mahakaal gets a point there. Archana Puran Singh is good as Anita, Nancy's parallel, acting terrified without being shrill and annoying. Mahakaal's Freddy is far less interesting though. Dressed in a dirty trenchcoat and muddy boots, he's not quite as iconic as Krueger. On the other hand, he doesn't make as many terrible puns as Freddy. Another point for Mahakaal.
Both films are going to be difficult for an American horror fan to sit through. There's no gratuitous nudity, no heavy duty gore, nothing too shocking and any possible scariness is alleviated by jolly humor. At one point, one of the characters is terrified because skeletons fell on her. I don't think I've ever been scared of skeletons, especially ones that can't even stand up properly. They're just not scary. American audiences are far too jaded and cynical to be scared by a slowly lurching zombie plastered with third-rate latex who wipes red paint on his victims.
There's also the fact that both of these movies were made in the heart of the '80s and if you think India somehow managed to avoid big hair and bad fashion, you're in for a shock. Girls wearing suspenders, Members Only jackets, synthetic music: it's all there. Damn you, Globalization, this is what you've wrought! At best, they offer up a different flavor of horror that offers up something new in a market that's glutted with torture porn and the latest remake. The fact that both of these films are remakes is probably a kind of irony. It's refreshing to see horror films that don't feel the need for drunk sorority sisters running around topless while a masked psycho lops off their limbs.
Mondo Macabro includes only a few extras, but they're interesting. Each film's history is outlined and all the stars are given lengthy bios, which helps to give things context. They even describe some of the in-jokes that Indian audiences would get, but would fly over the average American's head. There's also a short documentary that talks about the history of the Bollywood horror boom, as well as Pakistani action films and South Indian mythology films. All the facts in this review I stole from the extras, so thank you, Mondo Macabro, for cutting down on my research!
Mahakaal and Tahkhana are worth a rental for the horror fan who's curious about the international scene (twenty years ago) or for Bollywood fan who never bothered to check out the horror scene, but that's about it.
The Ramsays are guilty of blatant thievery, but this judge recommends leniency as their Freddy kept his mouth shut.
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Scales of Justice, Mahakaal
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Distinguishing Marks, Mahakaal
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