Hell’s Ground (Zibahkhana)

Hell’s Ground (Zibahkhana) (2007): Pakistan – directed by Omar Khan

Not rated by the MPAA – contains violence, blood, gore, some drugs and bad language

Disclosure time: I’m a Caucasian American, but I grew up in Pakistan.  I have a great fondness for the country; the landscape, the food, the language, the culture.  Getting this out in the open is important as I commence my review of Pakistan’s first ever gore film.

Hell’s Ground is not Pakistan’s first ever film.  It’s not even Pakistan’s first horror film, as there’s a “classic” called Zinda Laash (The Living Corpse).  It’s basically Dracula in Pakistan, and indeed that’s the U.S. title for it.  Hell’s Ground pays homage to it, showing a brief clip at the beginning.  It also contains the actor who plays Dracula (Rehan) in a key doomsayer role.  One of the other characters even claims to recognize him.  However, this is Pakistan’s first film with the graphic violence that Eastern and Western horror is known for.

Unfortunately, Hell’s Ground is not a particularly good movie.  Stepping out of any bias or interest in the making of it, it is not a particularly good movie.  It’s rather generic, slightly confused, and doesn’t have the greatest production values.  But I actually quite liked it.

The plot is simple and easy to summarize, so let’s get it out of the way.  In essence Hell’s Ground is the story of five young Pakistani’s who sneak out of their homes one night.  They’re on their way to a concert (which is why they had to lie to their parents about their activities) and end up taking a shortcut through a part of the country that’s been affected by something deadly and contagious.  Things eventually go rather poorly and a killer appears and starts offing the youngsters.

As I mentioned above, the movie gets a bit confused regarding the plot.  The dirty water is making people into zombies, and these zombies appear briefly in an attack on the youngsters’ van.  There’s even a little-person zombie.  Then the van drives away and the movie decides to go the The Texas Chain Saw Massacre route.  After they run out of gas they explore the area and stumble upon a weird hut with strange things hanging from the ceiling, including chicken’s feet and dolls.  Then the crazy killer appears and attacks everyone with a mace.  It ends up being more of a slasher film than a zombie flick and finally settles on primarily being a standard slasher.

The characters would be generic in an average Western horror movie.  But, since this is Pakistani, they’re a little different.  There is the stoner who has spent time in the U.S. and is therefore modern and hip.  There are a couple other young men, one of whom is in school.  He works very hard and has earned a scholarship, but his family is poor.  There is also a fairly devout Muslim girl who regrets lying to her mother.  Finally, there’s a wild girl who is more Westernized than the others.

The Muslim girl is split between her family and faith and the temptations of a modern world.  She wears her modest shalwar kameez when she leaves the house, but packs a pink shirt and jeans to change into when she meets her friends.  She hides her “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) necklace under her shirt.  At the same time she feels remorse for sneaking out and participating in secular activities.

The poor young man is another interesting case.  There is a scene where his parents sit on the bed in their tiny house.  His mother is supportive of his studies but his father is skeptical and angry.  He doesn’t believe that his son can be anything but, to quote, “a (crap) sweeper.”  On the wall are pictures of Mary and a cross.  This is clearly a Christian family and therefore near the bottom of the social chain.  In a country with a 97% Muslim population Christians are often relegated to the most unpleasant jobs, including sweeping the crap in the sewers and picking up the offal and dead animals off the streets.

I mentioned above that I quite enjoyed the film.  In spite of some production problems, it is primarily the charm of it being Pakistani that I enjoyed.  If you’re looking for a horror film there are better ones out there, though Hell’s Ground contains some of the requisite elements of a slasher film.  It uses shots of spider webs and dolls swinging from strings to create a sense of atmosphere and dread.  There is also quite a lot of violence and gore, including the above-mentioned crazy person who wears a burqa and smashes people with a mace.  Add in people who look like leper-zombies and a crazy chai walla (tea seller) and you’ve got a standard slasher movie with a desi touch.  All in all, though, I would have trouble recommending Hell’s Ground to anyone but those interested in how and where it was made, or those on a mission to find a slasher movie from every country.

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