Today, I happily stumbled upon an article on the DVD release of Pakistan’s “first slasher film” in the Washington Post’s metro-targeted publication, The Express. Originally entitled Zibahkhana, [which literally translates from Urdu to “Slaughterhouse”], the film’s official English title for Western consumption became “Hell’s Ground,” and was released last year. The Express, in its review of the movie, noted,
Watching ‘Hell’s Ground’…feels like splitting open the head of an obsessive film buff. The movie is crammed to bursting with references to American horror and cult flicks like “Pink Flamingos,” “Night of the Living Dead” and “Friday the 13th,” not to mention allusions to less well-known international fare like “Maula Jat” and “The Living Corpse.
The film’s writer/producer/director is Omar Ali Khan, a former film critic himself who reportedly funded Hell’s Ground, his first movie “with profits from his ice cream shop in Islamabad, which is decorated with movie memorabilia from Hollywood and its Pakistan equivalent, Lollywood.” For all of those fellow Islamabad-ites (or Isloo-ites), that shop was the oh-so-popular, Hotspot. Khan also runs the informative website, The Hotspot Online, which catalogs hundreds of reviews of films from Hollywood, Lollywood, and of course, Bollywood. The director, in collaboration with British producer Pete Tombs, ultimately developed a “fairly straightforward low-budget horror film” that attempts to cram every horror film cliche known to Western audiences. However, noted a movie review in TIME magazine, “it’s the distinctly Pakistani touches that keep the film rollicking along.”
The set-up is simple and familiar – five teenagers lie to their parents so they can drive five hours to a rock concert. The Express wrote, “Of course they make a wrong turn and are set upon by zombies. Of course there’s a homicidal maniac on the loose. Of course that nice old woman hides a horrible secret.” The media outlet added, “The movie is completely derivative, but that seems to be Khan’s intention.” In fact, the main characters are Westernized stereotypes – the innocent heroine, the pothead, the wild girl, the shy guy, who speak a mix of English and Urdu throughout the film. The fact that Khan included these Western archetypes in the Pakistani context further exemplifies why “Hell’s Ground” appealed to moviegoers on both sides of the pond, and why the movie has won numerous awards and critical acclaim throughout the world, including the 2008 Jury’s Award for Best Film.
Why is the hype surrounding this film significant? The TIME reviewer wrote, “…here in Pakistan…the capital city doesn’t even have a movie theater and the country’s barely breathing film industry hasn’t produced a scary movie since the 1970s…” Releases of films like Zibahkhana, or Hell’s Ground and their subsequent positive reviews in the international film arena ultimately bodes well for perceptions of Pakistan, a country that is none too familiar with stereotypes of extremism, violence, and conservatism. Moreover, the increased number of movies from different genres contributes to the diversity of Pakistan’s developing film industry. In CHUP’s past interview with Pakistani filmmaker Mehreen Jabbar, she commented on the revival of Pakistani films, noting, “I think Pakistan needs all kinds of films. It needs a thorough revival of the film industry which means that all genres and themes should be welcome.” The release and subsequent success of “Hell’s Ground,” not just in Pakistan, but in the West as well, is therefore a significant development in this context. Below is the full trailer of the film, [now available on DVD]: