(2007) dir. Omar Khan
When I read the phrase “Pakistani zombie movie” in a local paper, I was intrigued, excited. I guess that tells you something about me. There is World Cinema and then there is world cinema. And I like them both. And most everything in between.
Hell’s Ground is an anomoly. Considered to be Pakistan’s “first gore film”, it is a low budget affair, shot with local folks, but very much in the vein of American or Western gore and horror films, very much with them in mind, a truly unique thing in Pakistani culture. The film was produced and directed by Omar Khan, who had bankrolled the affair via a chain of Pakistani ice cream stores, or so it is said.
To be true, it’s not a total zombie movie. There are zombies, even midget zombies, but the major plot point centers around a truly Pakistani version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), perhaps the “Pakistani Mace Massacre”? As the major masked villain wears a woman’s burka and swings a medieval mace around as his weapon of choice.
The film is low budget, as I said, derivative for sure, but true to its homage, it offers up blood and gore with the standard approach of young good-looking people in a place they shouldn’t have ventured into. And there is even the “virginal” heroine (though there is a pronounced lack of sex anyways) and the stereotypes that represent contemporary Pakistani culture. It truly is an artifact of its origin, and it’s merits are steeped deeply in its localization.
The cast is not bad, certainly attractive and mostly engaging. The homage work gets a tad heavy-handed, but is notable for a nod to a Pakistani Dracula film from the early 1960’s, which is apparently also highly anomolous. If the film was made in bumfuck USA, it would likely be a lot less interesting. The fisheye lens, the low budget mist, the obviousness of a lot of it are certainly tired. But for what it is, it is kind of interesting.
I would be interested to know what a regular young person in Pakistan thought of the film, or even thought of the existence of the film. It was allowed past censors who have stimied much of what might have been “indie” cinema anywhere else. And where Khan adheres to the religious mores in a sense, of the culture, the perspective is Islamic, though certainly on the more “modern” side…it works. Because the religious undertones of the American splatter films are steeped in our own cultural critiques of sexuality and violence, which are not much different.
There is some ecological critique, which lends itself to the zombie manifestation, perhaps the most political angle the film takes, though that is not very acute.
Still, the film is something unusual. Something different. Perhaps only by degrees, but by enough of degrees to give it character and an honesty of its vision. It’s the stuff of blood-and-guts, the “video nasties”, but it’s nice to see it deeply embedded in a world a significant distance from our own.