So who knew that Indians weren’t merely cattle-worshiping, computer savvy, dot-headed, curry-loving cabbies but could make a decent horror movie too? (I’m fucking kidding, so please stop sharpening your Aum!) India has the world’s biggest film industry with the U.S. and Nigeria(!?) following closely behind, and produces more than 1300 features annually, compared to approximately 800 vomit-inducing pieces of shit produced under the auspices of the good ol’ stars and stripes. It is a crying shame that most of us only know of Indian film by way of two-steps removed pictures like “Slumdog Millionaire” (which I still haven’t seen), especially considering the talent fielded both behind and in front of the camera and production values that rival the U.S. and Korea as tops in the world (in my book, anyhoo). Kudos go out to one of Matt’s and my favorite DVD companies, Mondo Macabro (more on them soon…) for bringing Indian horror to our doorsteps in wonderfully packaged, extras-loaded double disc sets known as the Bollywood Horror Collections vols. 1-3 (and hopefully more to come). Volume one features one of my favorite all-time vampires with the film, “Bandh Darwaza” (1990) and the Ramsay brothers breakthrough hit, “Purana Mandir” (1984). Volume two has “Veerana” (1988), which is by many considered the finest example of Indian horror and revolves around the story of a witch taking her possessive revenge from beyond the pale, and the old-dark-house style monsterfest, “Purani Haveli” (1988). And that brings us to Volume three, which has the Indian rip-off of Freddy Krueger with “Mahakaal” (1993) and tonight’s film, “Tahkhana” which displays a veritable who’s who of the Indian horror industry including the prolific brothers Ramsay, the beautiful Aarti Gupta, the studmuffin Puneet Issar, the noted Indian “heavy” Imtiaz Khan, and India’s answer to Johnny Weissmuller with Hemant Birje. Oh, and those annoying musical interludes that plague westerners’ potential enjoyment of Bollywood pics? Infrequent (two) and mercifully short, so dig in.
Durjan was a badass black magician who was disinherited by his father on his death bed, so all of that glorious treasure buried somewhere in the deep, dank dungeon and the map to find it ends up with Durjan’s brother instead. Durjan kidnaps his brothers’ two little girls, Sapna and Aarti, in order to procure the map, but his plan is foiled by the good-guys and he is left to rot in the same dungeon amongst all the unobtainable loot. In all the tumult, poor little Sapna has disappeared with half of the map, leaving her sister Aarti to be raised as an only child. Ere his expiration, Durjan manages to pronounce a curse that resurrects the “Demon God” to guard the dungeon from any and all interlopers with the threat of grisly demise. Fast forward twenty years to the death of Aarti’s papa when he bequeaths the map fragment to her and regales her with the legend of the buried treasure. Aarti then enlists the aid of her cousin Shakaal, her boy-toy Vijay and his best-friend Anand to relocate her lost sister and the other half of the map, and now that imminent wealth is on the horizon they search for her with added vigor. The villainous Shakaal quickly finds the indigent long-lost sis in Bombay and whilst attempting a clumsy rape kills her accidentally. Shakaal secures the map half and returns to Aarti with designs on netting all the loot for himself and the cast descends into the labyrinthine dungeon to locate the bounty. Throw in the hunky local hero named Heera, an eerie haunted mansion and some cannon-fodder cast members and let the carnage begin! Yeah, the monster looks like a busty Howard Stern with a skin condition and the obligatory comedic sketches are jarringly incongruous, but there is a lot of fun to be had with this picture. The sets and cinematography are sensational, the music and acting are gleefully camp, the direction is quietly effective and the filmmakers don’t hesitate to knock off main characters with unexpected relish. If you are looking to expand your horror-fiend horizons or if you like a dose of levity with your fright-films, “Tahkhana” will not disappoint. Loosen your turbans, chug some Fenny, and get ready for entertainment, Hindi-style!
Jason’s Grade: C+