Sometimes I like to think I’m fairly sophisticated when it comes to movies. The cinema, really. The culture of filmmaking and its sociological implications and Louie Malle and whatnot. For instance, I read this article about the influence of Islamic cinema on the Arab Spring. I fully intended I would then watch some of those movies to be, you know, more informed and culturally aware and stuff. But the entirety of my takeaway from that article was “Wait, there’s an Islamic horror flick?”
After the jump, there is in fact a Pakistani slasher movie with zombies
So that’s how I ended up watching Zibahkhana, known for its US DVD release as Hell’s Ground. It’s pretty terrible. About the nicest thing you can say about it is that the guys who made it must have watched Evil Dead about a hundred times. Hell’s Ground recycles familiar American horror tropes, mostly prominently teenagers in the woods stalked by a masked killer.
But unlike the similarly derivative Sl8n8, which I wrote up here, there are some fascinating insights into the filmmakers’ culture. For instance, the “good girl” is a devout Muslim wearing a necklace with “Allahu akbar” on it where a cross would normally be. But perhaps because this movie is the product of Pakistan’s younger and more Western influenced generation, there’s some ambivalence about Islam. Some of the kids are dismissive of the Muslim girl’s religion. What’s more, the killer wears a burka. Are burkas as creepy to Pakistani kids as hockey masks are creepy to American kids?
And speaking of Western influence, what’s with the polyglot dialogue? For no apparent reason, the kids sometimes speak English, and they sometimes speak Urdu. Sometimes both in the same breath. I can’t imagine this was to help sell the movie to an English audience, because you still need subtitles for most of the dialogue. Do Pakistani kids break into English so often?
These kids dabble with drugs, but there is nary a hint of sexuality in their interaction. In a typical American slasher film, they would be sleeping with each other as well as doing drugs. I don’t know if that’s a factor of Pakistan’s youth culture, or what’s acceptable in Pakistani movies, but the sex is a noteworthy omission from the slasher formula. And I don’t just mean nudity. When the two leads who are supposed to be romantically inclined towards each other are alone, it’s about as chaste as Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chlumsky in My Girl.
As with most slasher films, the actors are attractive and mostly terrible, with the exception of a remarkable Ashley Judd lookalike named Rubya Chaudry. She’s very comfortable on camera and hopefully a Pakistani TV star, because she should be. Another actor who might have been good is relegated to the unfortunate role of being gradually converted into a zombie as the indirect result of eating some sort of roadside Pakistani delicacy that looks awful. It’s hard to tell whether an actor is good when he’s moaning, rolling his eyes so much, and drooling black goo. This is part of the movie’s weird diversion into the zombie genre, which includes something I’ve never seen before: a midget zombie. Has there ever been a midget zombie? If so, I don’t know how I’ve managed to miss it all these years. So Hell’s Ground has that going for it before it settles into the slasher genre.
It’s worth pointing out these zombies are fallout from industrial waste, which makes perfect sense considering what happened next door in 1984. The Union Carbide chemical leak in Bhopal, just one country over, injured over a half million people. The effects of an industrial accident that big don’t stop at border checkpoints.
So while I don’t recommend Hell’s Ground, I do appreciate that it showed me a little bit about the place it was made. If you can’t make a good horror movie, at least make one that says something about who and where you are.