Hello cult movie watchers, this is Christopher William Koenig of 'Exploitation Madness' here to bring you yet another review of some wild cinema from around the world. And once again, the fantastic Mondo Macabro team has released a double feature of two 1980s Bollywood horror from the Ramsay family: one involving an evil witch and possession, while the other about a hideous monster inhabiting an abandoned mansion.
VEERANA (1988; English Translation: "The Wilderness")
Deep in the jungles outside of a local village, there is a cult that worships an evil statue called Mahakal and vampire-witch Nakita, who ventures out at night to suck the blood of unsuspecting male victims. The local village leader Thakur Mahindra Pratap (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) and his brother Sameer (Vijayendra) decide to end Nakita's killings. Sameer is able to confront Nakita and subdue her with the Hindi AUM symbol. She is quickly taken to the village and hanged, yet the cult leader Baba (Rajesh Vivek) avows to get revenge on Thakur and Sameer. One night, Sameer and Mahindra's young daughter Jasmin are returning to the village but the car overheats and Sameer goes to find some water. Suddenly, Jasmin is abducted by Baba and is able to have Nakita's soul possess her, while Sameer is attacked by the cult members and imprisoned in the dungeon. Baba pretends to be a wandering traveler and brings Jasmin home, telling Mahindra that Sameer was killed in a local flood. For a reward of bringing Jasmin home, Mahindra enlists Baba as a personal servant. Then, one night, Sameer's widow is mysteriously killed, causing Mahindra to send his daughter Sahila off to be raised in Bombay by his distant relatives. Years pass, Jasmin and Sahila (Sahila Chadda) grow up as beautiful girls. However, Jasmin has strange attacks that cause her to revert to Nakita, and she goes off into the night attacking young men for their blood. Sahila returns home after meeting young strong-man Hemant (Hemant Birje) and the two decide to find out what has happened to Jasmin and put an end to this.
When it comes to Bollywood horror of the 1980s, only the notorious Ramsay family were able to make quality productions with their marginal budgets and pull it off. While many members of the family contributed to directing a few productions for their father-producer F.U. Ramsay, it was really Tulsi Ramsay and Shyam Ramsay that made the best ones. The monster horror-fest "Purana Mandir" (1984; English Translation: "The Old Temple") was a huge box office success in Indian theatres and managed to be a cross-over hit, making the horror genre mainstream enough for other competitive and copy-cat filmmakers like Mohan Bhakri and Vinod Talwar to take note. Realizing that they had cornered the market, at least for a brief period, Tulsi and Shyam were ready to start production on another horror film and it would be "Veerana". Inspired by seeing Jose Ramon Larraz's "Vampyres" (1974), the Ramsay's used that film's basis of vampire horror and sex for "Veerana" and began production in 1985. However, despite the sex being suggested rather than being shown as per requirement of the staunch Indian film censors, there were a few elements that managed to bother the censors and they wouldn't grant the film a pass. Because of that, Tulsi and Shyam moved on to another horror production and left "Veerana" on the shelf. Eventually, after re-cutting the film and toning down some of the sexual elements, "Veerana" was passed and finally released in 1988.
While Bollywood horror isn't for everyone, "Veerana" is another impressive production from Tulsi Ramsay and Shyam Ramsay, and the two deliver an excellent horror tale that's quite engaging from the get-go. Yeah, it's over two hours long and it's got a few song-and-dance numbers, but if you want to get back into the story it's pretty easy to just fast-forward to the next scene. However, the song-and-dance numbers are actually very catchy and don't interfere with the running time; one song that Jasmin sings is very integral to the plot and is dispersed into the story effectively. But song-and dance aside, "Veerana" delivers all the trademark horrors one can find in a Ramsay film: foggy woods, a giant fake rubber bat, moody color lighting, a creepy mansion filled with many stuffed animals, tons of lightning effects, over-the-top fight scenes, and a hideous monster that just won't stay dead! Once in a while you can see some of the influences the Ramsay's use, such as a scene in which Jasmin spins her head around in possessed mode a la "The Exorcist" (1973) and brief stock effects shots from the 1978 remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and John Carpenter's "The Thing" (1982) appear, but considering Tulsi and Shyam were fans of the genre these inclusions are welcome and never feel intrusive. The performances by all are very standard, but it's Jasmin who steals the show as the possessed daughter: she literally dominates the film with her expressive eyes and timid looks. Also, because this is a Bollywood film, expect some comedy bits supplied by rotund Satish Shah in which he plays an aspiring filmmaker who wants to make a horror film: Shah is actually pretty funny here and gets to spout out brief admiration of the great director Alfred Hitchcock, as well as express his idea to make a horror film about a man who turns into a woman at night! Considering that comedian Jagdeep mugged the camera in "Purana Mandir", Shah is able to contain himself very well and is a good asset to this outing. Tulsi and Shyam also manage to pull off some great production designs and sets, most notably the cave in which the witch Nakita and the huge statue of Mahakal reside; considering this is a small budget movie, the sets look impressive and stand out as the best parts of the film. Oh, and let's not forget the fight scenes as they are nicely choreographed and made even more enjoyable due to the overuse of loud punching sound effects! If any, "Veerana" is certainly next to "Purana Mandir" as being the most memorable outing from Tulsi Ramsay and Shyam Ramsay.
PURANI HAVELI (1989; English Translation: "The Old Mansion")
Driving down a lonely road, a young couple stops near a graveyard and they decide to spend the night at the old mansion next to them. Before you can say 'Big mistake!', they are awakened and attacked by a strange hairy monster with white eyes and claws. After the creature kills the couple, it is subdued via a cross of Jesus Christ by Naren (Chhotu Dada) and the creature is chained in a small dungeon. Later on, the mansion is owned by Mr. Rana (Pinchoo Kapoor) and he agrees to sell it to Kumar (Vijay Arora) and Seema (Neelam Mehra) as a present for their stepdaughter Anita (Amita Nangia). Because of the death of Anita's parents at a young age and her inheriting the fortune, Kumar schemes to buy the mansion for a heavy price and intends to secretly split the money with Seema. Mr. Rana and Kumar arrive at the mansion to have a look, but a scary-looking armor attacks Rana and Kumar escapes to the graveyard only to be dragged into the ground by the creature! In the meantime, Seema is going out with her boyfriend-photographer Sunil (Deepak Parashar), despite the jealousies of Kumar and Seema's son Vikram (Tej Sapru). Eventually, Seema, Sunil and Vikram take their friends along to the mansion and plan to spend the night there. Sunil eventually confronts Naren and asks why he is hiding around the mansion: Naren recounts how his wife gave birth to their son in the mansion, which was haunted by an evil spirit and has taken over the son's soul. But, just when things couldn't get worse, the monster is accidentally released from its chains by Vikram and it begins to off the cast!
With the success of "Purana Mandir", the Bombay-based Ramsay family would crank out more Bollywood horror films than any of their cheapjack competitors would. While "Veerana" remained in post-production and censorship hell, it didn't stop producer F.U. Ramsay from financing more horror features, enlisting members of the family to helm the directing chores: producer-cinematographer Keshu Ramsay made "Haveli" (1985; English Translation: "The Mansion"), "Dak Bangla" (1987; English Translation: "Rest House") and "Mahal" (1989; English Translation: "The Manor"); sound recordist Kiran Ramsay directed "Shaitani Ilaaka" (1990; English Translation: "The Devil's Domain") and "Aakhri Cheekh" (1990; English Translation: "The Final Scream"). However, it was Tulsi Ramsay and Shyam Ramsay that made the better horror films in the family and considering they were far more familiar with the genre it can be said their films play as if they enjoyed what they did. However, I wish I can say "Purani Haveli" was one of their better films, yet I'd only be fooling myself.
"Purani Haveli" is basically treading familiar ground that Tulsi and Shyam did in "Purana Mandir": an abandoned mansion is besieged by a hairy monster that will kill anyone that gets in its way, and it just so happens that some would-be teenagers decide to spend some time there. That's all well and good, but considering they already done that approach in previous Ramsay-based horror outings, it becomes rather predictable in the story department. The other problem is while the set-up of the story is interesting it's the middle-half that isn't: it takes quite a bit of time to get our characters to the haunted mansion and when they do get there barely anything happens! The hairy monster on display is decent looking, sporting clear-white eyes, dirty-looking fangs, and beastly-looking claws. Sadly, Tulsi and Shyam are clearly trying to ape their original hairy beast 'Saamri' from "Purana Mandir" with less-than-stellar results. What made the monster in "Purana Mandir" effective was the performance from Ajay Agarwal who truly got into the role and made the character a ruthless foe; the actor who plays the creature in "Purana Haveli" is rather standard looking and doesn't emphasize much in the fear-department. And while Tulsi and Shyam deliver as much creepy color lighting, fog and stark camera set-ups, it seems they didn't have much in the budget to exploit more of their mansion location. It's even worse when in one scene taking place in the cellar inhabited by the monster that's populated by an obvious looking rubber bat and stiff plastic spiders and snakes in the background; this is the kind of stuff you could get at a Halloween store and it still doesn't look convincing, be it in front or in the background of the set! I know the Ramsay's had to work on a low-budget, but Tulsi and Shyam have done better than this! Like with many Bollywood films, we get some song-and-dance routines and they are very disappointing despite their brief amusement. And the various fight scenes are pretty dire; they lack the over-the-top sensationalism that can be seen in other more effective Ramsay productions like "Bandh Darwaza" (1990; English Translation: "The Closed Door") and "Mahakaal" (1993; English Translation: "Time of Death").
However, there are a few excellent surprises in this entry: despite a slow middle-half, we get some quick death scenes in the first couple of minutes of the story that takes us right out of the gate; quite unusual for a Tulsi and Shyam horror film as they usually take some time to get into the proceedings. And while the monster isn't anything special, there is an excellent scene in which a character ends up being dragged into their bed by the beast that's almost right out of one of the "A Nightmare on Elm Street" sequels, but ends up being a dream sequence instead! Also an interesting addition is their newest creation, which is a giant metallic armor that's designed as a skeleton with two devilish horns on its head: it's very nicely done and a welcome addition to the Ramsay House of Horrors! Another interesting element that is introduced in the Ramsay horrors is Christianity being the key to hold off the monster; considering India is a more predominant Hindi religion, the Christian elements actually work to the story's advantage and helps set-up the film's grand finale which is quite satisfying. And once again, we are treated to some brief comedy bits with the rotund Satish Shah playing not one but two characters in a sub-plot that's very amusing unto itself: Shah is a city boy who happens to see his double, the village bandit 'Kala Gangu', and becomes involved. It's a decent sub-plot that doesn't stop the film in its tracks and is fairly interesting, if somewhat too silly for its own good. In the end, I will say "Purani Haveli" isn't the worst Ramsay horror effort I've seen, but it's far from their best.
Always the purveyors of presenting bizarre cinema from around the world, Mondo Macabro has saved these two from obscurity and possible oblivion when you consider Indian film storage facilities are pretty crappy when it comes to making sure negatives and prints are well-kept. A two disc release set with "Veerana" on Disc 1 and "Purani Haveli" on Disc 2, both films look great. Considering fans had to put up with seeing these on crappy Indian VCD's using worn-out tape masters with no English subtitles, Mondo Macabro has done an excellent job with their treatment for these two titles as both are transfered from the original existing negatives: they look very clear and the color is vibrant. However, as usual with bad film storage facilities in India, there are a few imperfections: "Veerana" has a few brief water stains on the print while "Purani Haveli" has some small hair-line scratches. And while both come with readable English subtitles, once again a spelling error or two appears and it makes me stress to the company to do a proper spell check. But, despite those small issues, these two look great: compare them to the old tape masters and bootlegs fans had to put up with, Mondo Macabro's release is a huge revelation! Extra features include the original Hindi trailers for the two titles; while the trailers aren't subbed in English, it doesn't really matter as they give an excellent insight on how the Ramsay's advertised their horror outings. Mondo Macabro head honcho Pete Tombs provides some text essays on the two film's production and cast info; excellently written and informative, Tombs shows once again that he knows his stuff. And the ever-so popular Mondo Macabro trailer reel is the final extra on this release, showcasing their previous and upcoming titles.