Hell's Ground (aka Zibahkhana) DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD released by TLA Releasing
You are on the road to Hell, my children. On the road to Hell! – Crazy old guy.
Directed by Omar Ali Khan
Written by Omar Ali Khan and Pete Tombs
2007, Region 1, 78 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on June 24th, 2008
Kunwar Ali Roshan as Vicky
Rooshanie Ejaz as Ayesha
Rubya Chaudhry as Roxy
Haider Raza as Simon
Osman Khalid Butt as OJ
Najma Malik as Bari Bua
Sultan Billa as Baby
Salim Meraj as Baley
Rehan as Deewana
In 2006, an indie movie hit the festival circuit promising a return to '80s slasher movies. Co-starring two of the genre's biggest icons — Kane Hodder and Robert Englund — Hatchet certainly made an admirable attempt, but it felt more like the the nineties' Urban Legend than Friday the 13th.
Last year, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez collaborated in an attempt to recapture the gritty filth of 42nd Street cinema. Rodriguez was close in his government zombies gone wild Planet Terror, but Tarantino failed miserably with Death Proof, his attempt to repackage the 1971 classic, Vanishing Point. Damaged print does not a grindhouse movie make.
So what does this have to do with Hell's Ground? Well, Ground's only claim on the box cover is it's "Pakistani's first splatter flick…", and it doesn't have any intentional print damage. But it still manages to capture what both Hatchet and Grindhouse failed to.
Hell's Ground (also known as Zibahkhana in its native Pakistan) is a throwback to '70s and '80s horror — nothing more, nothing less. Its plot may be paper thin — kids on their way to a concert take the wrong shortcut and end up in all sorts of trouble, from zombies to a masked killer — but through great direction, camera work, well placed homages and some very nice gore, Ground easily captures the feel and essence of the horror I grew up with.
The first thing you'll notice about Ground is how incredibly clichéd it is. All the stereotypes of horror are evenly represented. The characters consist of the jock, the bitchy rich girl, the poor shy kid, the good girl, the crazy old guy and the masked killer. Plus it has drugs, lying to parents, shortcuts and kids wandering off on their own at the worst possible times. The only thing missing is sex (and I'm sure had the Pakistani ratings board allowed it, that would be there, too).
These clichés are all fantastic, as Hell's Ground is an obvious nod to the great horror of yesteryear. Writer/director Omar Khan has been criticized in some reviews for the film being too stereotypical, but it's obvious that those criticizing are completely missing the point of Ground. The movie is supposed to be stereotypical, as it's homaging the horror classics, and yet Ground still maintains its own originality, ensuring it will be memorable. Khan is very respectful of the genre, and the clichés and stereotypes are important to Hell's Ground as they are as much part of the movie as the killer.
The acting is more-or-less solid. There aren't any standouts, but the two girls do shine a little brighter than their male counterparts. Rubya Chaudhry does her part well as the spoiled Roxy. She's at her best when she's being bitchy or condescending, but struggles a little when conveying fear.
On the flipside, Rooshanie Ejaz as the thoughtful, religious Ayesha is quite good in her role. Like Chaudhry, some of the more emotional scenes are a little weak, but she's charismatic enough not to affect the movie, as well as being believable with her character's inner turmoil over lying to her mother.
One thing that was slightly disappointing in Hell's Ground is the zombies that were introduced were gone way too soon. Omar Khan quickly and efficiently sets up the zombie subplot, and the walking dead are suitably chilling, but there's just not enough time spent with them. Instead, the flesh eaters show up, shuffle off and leave the kids to their true problem: a killer in a burka swinging a very wicked, very awesome mace. That weapon is just begging to do some damage.
To Khan's credit, the disappointment I had over the zombies was not over their part in the movie, but the fact I was left wanting more. With the introduction of the shuffle walkers, Khan was paying homage to Romero, and while they were short lived, it works within the film's confines. However, I'm truly hoping, since the movie's finale is open-ended, Khan will deliver a zombie sequel.
Generally, when you think of Pakistan, movies aren't the first thing that pops into mind. If they are, it's highly unlikely that horror movies will be on your brain. Pakistan just isn't known for its horror catalog. But if Hell's Ground is any indication of things to come, we are in for some good times indeed.
Video and Audio:
TLA's release of Hell's Ground sports an anamorphic 1.85:1 presentation. It's a splendid mix of muted colors, blown out scenes and an image that is at times soft, other times razor sharp, all of which is obviously intentional. Virtually free of blemishes, the shooting style adds to the grindhouse feel of the movie.
The 5.1 Urdu and English track is well mixed, with excellent use of ambient noise and surround speakers. Any time a soundtrack makes me look over my shoulder to see what the hell's going on behind me, it's a good thing, and Ground had me do that on a few occasions.
English subtitles are available.
- Director's Commentary
- Ice Cream Zombieland Documentary
- LUMS Premier – Interviews and Speeches from the Pakistani Premier
- Zuj Music Promo
- Original Trailer
The commentary with Khan is a delight to listen to. Highly energetic and obviously a huge fan of the genre, Khan talks virtually non-stop from the opening scene to literally the last of the credits. He of course speaks highly of the cast & crew (I've yet to hear commentary that didn't), but he's also very aware he is speaking to a non-Pakistani audience and goes out of his way to explain things that wouldn't necessarily be obvious to foreigners. Covered are topic like censorship, bribery and why the kids in the film speak a mix of English and Urdu throughout. Also, Khan interestingly points out the homages he put in the film — some obvious, some not so much. It's refreshing to see a director acknowledge his influences, instead of blatantly ripping them off without credit *cough*Tarantino*cough*.
The LUMS premier featurette runs about seven minutes and has brief interviews with some of the cast, as well as audience reactions after the film's premiere. It's a nice little piece that shows the love and energy of the movie from both fans and those involved. However, I wish subtitles were offered on this featurette, as they are definitely needed in some spots.
"Ice Cream Zombieland" touches briefly on some of the issues with making the film, as well as what Khan's intentions were with making the film. It's a fun 12 minutes (which also needs subtitles in parts), and Khan looks to own the Best Ice Cream Shop Ever in real life, with movie posters lining the walls and a kick ass jukebox. Shot with a camcorder, the interviews are much more personal than what you would find on most releases from major studios.
The "Zuj Music Promo" is portions of the movie laid over Zuj's song, "Phook lay". The song has a nice '80s flavor and is worth a watch. If you dig the song, it can currently be downloaded Zuj's website.
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