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Ulises [Celluloid 06.23.08] zombies movie review

Year: 2007
Release date: Tuesday, June 24th
Director: Omar Khan
Writer: ?
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Amazon: link
Review by: Ulises Silva
Rating: 4.5 out of 10

It’s always exciting when someone takes a stab at making their first horror flick. It’s especially exciting when it’s from someone you least expect it, like the neighbor’s cat. Or when it’s from a country you don’t normally associate with a long-standing tradition of cinematic horror. In the case of Hell’s Ground, the country is Pakistan, and the film is being promoted emphatically as “Pakistan’s First Gore Film!”

So when Quiet Earth asked me to review Hell’s Ground, I was kind of excited. Partially because I’ve never seen a movie, much less a horror movie, from Pakistan. Partially because I always see these kinds of movies as a chance to glimpse into a culture and people different from ours. And mostly because the trailer looked promising. Unfortunately, as a nation’s ‘first gore film!’ (sorry, got carried away with the exclamation point), Hell’s Ground proves to be just that—a first film, and one that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to actually be. And while it offers the promise of a budding horror movement in Pakistan, it also shows how much work still needs to be done.

The set-up for Hell’s Ground is fairly straightforward and familiar to any fan of horror. A group of five young people—three men and two women—are on their way to a rock concert. It’s your classic road-trip narrative, where a stop at a middle-of-nowhere fruit shop and an inevitable ‘short-cut’ through the back roads eventually lead the group astray. More specifically, it leads them to a strait of land referred to as Jannat Pur, which I imagine doesn’t translate into “Super Fun Happy Safe Passage.” In Jannat Pur, they encounter horrors unlike any we’ve ever seen.

Actually, the horrors they face are pretty standard fare. There are zombies. And then there’s a maniac in a burka, running around, impaling passing motorists with hooks and other fun, rusty household objects. And there’s a creepy woman in a hut who offers cryptic explanations of what’s going on.

Following the formula of tried-and-true survival narratives (i.e., band of young people trapped in the middle of nowhere, stumbling around in the dark woods, being pursued by something), Hell’s Ground becomes, well, a tried-and-true survival narrative about young people trapped in the middle of the woods. Our band of youngsters start meeting terrible, untimely fates. One is bitten by a zombie. The rest are hunted down by the maniac in the burka. Before you know it, their numbers are whittled down to one. And, because the film really sticks to the formula like glue, our last survivor is the timid, polite, soft-spoken Ayesha. The only one of the five rowdy friends who actually had to lie to her parents in order to go to the show. You know, the good girl with the heart of gold (just don’t hold that lying to her parents bit against her)!

You’ll notice that I’m not really detailing much about the actual plot. Like I said, it’s a plot we’ve seen countless times before in one incarnation or another. And while I think a film like Frontier(s) pulled off its re-telling of Texas Chainsaw Massacre well enough, I don’t think Hell’s Ground does. Frontier(s) embedded a carefully constructed subtext about the dangers of foreign political influence on French law within its story about cannibalistic neo-Nazis. Hell’s Ground tries to embed its own subtext within the opening 20 minutes—we see mass demonstrations protesting the water pollution levels, and we see a newspaper headline about a ‘mysterious illness’ spreading because of it. And yes, they actually used the word ‘mysterious’. But the film seems to forget its ambitions and capacity for socio-political commentary shortly thereafter, choosing to become instead one long homage to zombie and slasher flicks.

Hell’s Ground pays very obvious tribute to the movies that inspired it. At the start of the film, as we’re meeting the five main characters, we see him in his room. And what a room! It’s plastered in movie posters of famous American slasher flicks, with Maniac the most prominently displayed among them. So it’s obvious the makers of the film wanted to emphasize that these are the kinds of films that they’re inspired by and emulating. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The biggest problem with the film, I think, is that the filmmakers couldn’t decide which films to pay tribute to, and so, they pay tribute to them all.

For example, there are zombies. And the first (and only) zombie scene is sufficiently well done; its camera angles, music, and zombie make-up give the scene a good, creepy vibe reminiscent of Lucio Fulci’s classic Zombie. Alas, the zombies, after feasting on the mandatory human innards, vanish from the narrative, never to be seen again. Taking their place as the film’s antagonist is the maniac in the burka. And that’s when Hell’s Ground veers off course from its promising Zombie homage to a mixed slasher homage. To films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and yes, Maniac.

This gives the film a somewhat discombobulated feel, like it’s trying to be two types of stories at once, but never finding the way of logically fusing them together. In other words, had there been some kind of narrative connection between the zombies and the maniac in the burka (e.g., the maniac conjured them as his willing servants, the maniac signed a non-aggression pact with them, the maniac went to college with them), the dual-homage approach might have worked. But there’s never a clear connection between the two stories. The zombies seem to be there because of the contaminated water…and the maniac in the burka seems to be there because of family reasons. It’s just the kids’ bad luck that they happened to run into zombies and maniacs in the same night, I guess.

It’s too bad that Hell’s Ground tries to do so much. Despite its plethora of camp value (right down to the occasional comic-book-type screen transitions, including one introducing the next scene with the campiest of all camp slogans, “Little did they know…”), Hell’s Ground shows promise, as a film, and as a ‘first gore film!’ for Pakistan. The acting was pretty good across the board (except for one creepy old man with a really over-acted villain’s laugh). The zombie make-up was pretty good. And the gore was above average, even though it wasn’t real-time gore, and so lost some of its potency every time the camera switched from the actors’ faces to the slab of deli meat that’s supposed to be them.

The film just needed to be better written, and it needed to decide what it wanted to be. If it really wanted to do the zombie/TCM narratives, it needed to incorporate those elements seamlessly, and not just stitched them together with campy comic-book transitions. If nothing else, Hell’s Ground demonstrates that the Pakistani horror industry is definitely a work in progress. Because in the same way the upbeat Pakistani music blares out in the most inappropriate moments and ruin the tension, Hell’s Ground struggles to integrate its American/British/Italian cinematic influences with Pakistani storytelling conventions. Pakistani filmmakers must reconcile that gap in order to bring out the promise of Hell’s Ground and the industry it is hoping to inspire.

Because heaven knows there aren’t many horror films out there about maniacs in burkas…

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agentorange (12 years ago) Reply

This film's certainly been getting a lot of attention from everyone. Too bad it sounds like a complete mess.

That poster is pretty dang cool though.


Louis Friend (12 years ago) Reply

Glad that I'm not the only one who didn't like this one. I was feeling pretty lonely in my opinion.


Digrose Khanna (12 years ago) Reply


Winner BEST GORE Jury's Special Award - Fantastic Fest - Austin, TX

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