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The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest

Hell Plaza Oktoberfest III

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Bollywood Horror Collection Volume 3: Mahakaal: The Monster/Tahkhana: The Dungeon

Bollywood Horror Collection Volume 3:
Mahakaal: The Monster
Tahkhana: The Dungeon

1993/1986 (2009) - Mondo Macabro
Released on DVD on May 19th, 2009

One of the great things about Hell Plaza Oktoberfest is that horror is truly a cross-cultural genre, allowing me (and hopefully you) to sample fright flicks from all parts of the world. Years past have seen visits to Italy, France, the UK, Australia, Japan and even Indonesia. So it's high time that we took a trip to India, courtesy of the wild and wacky folks at Mondo Macabro. Buckle your seat belts, folks, because there ain't no horror quite like Bollywood horror.

Disc one of this double bill (the third of Mondo's Bollywood Horror Collections) features the 1993 flick Mahakaal. If you've ever wished that A Nightmare on Elm Street was about 45 minutes longer, had a handful of jaunty, out-of-nowhere pop musical numbers and a comic relief character who idolized Michael Jackson, this is the movie for you. Yes, Mahakaal is about an undead, scar-faced killer that sports a knife-fingered glove and terrorizes young people in their dreams. The movie makes no attempt at hiding the fact that it's a blatant rip-off of the Freddy Krueger franchise, with scenes completely lifted from various entries in the series. And because it's Bollywood, the suspense is occasionally put on hold for a song-and-dance number. Comedy is provided by Johnny Lever in no fewer than three roles, including the moonwalking cafeteria worker I mentioned earlier.

Mahakaal is a bizarre oddity and probably not the best place to start exploring Bollywood horror. The movie was not a hit overseas. Indeed, it was mostly filmed in the late 80s and remained unreleased until '93. It many ways it represents the last gasp of Bollywood horror, which enjoyed the height of its popularity in the 80s. I still thought it was semi-amusing, especially the restaged Elm Street scenes, but at 145 minutes, it wears out its welcome fairly quickly.

Disc two presents Tahkhana from 1986. Both movies were directed by Tulsi and Shyam Ramsay, the grandmasters of Indian horror. Tahkhana is a bit more interesting than Mahakaal, albeit equally strange. In a prologue, a rich, dying man cuts one of his sons out of his will for dabbling in the black arts. The old man has a secret treasure hidden in the dungeon of his estate that the magician is eager to get his hands on. He tries to sacrifice his young nieces to awaken a demon god and when that doesn't work, winds up imprisoned for life in the dungeon. Ten years later (although it looks like centuries), the magician finally sacrifices himself to wake up the monster. At the same time, one of the girls starts her own quest to find the treasure. To this end, she and her boyfriend team up with a friendly local who bears an eerie resemblance to Rambo. And yes, there are songs.

Tahkhana represents an odd combo of adventure and horror with the expected Bollywood musical elements sprinkled in. It doesn't quite gel and the story develops in fits and starts. Characters wander in and out of the movie seemingly at random and large chunks of the movie go by where you're not 100% sure what the plot even is. But by Bollywood standards, the pace is relatively brisk (this one clocks in at a lean 125 minutes), the comic relief isn't subtle but it's reigned in, and the effects are colorful. It certainly isn't a movie for all tastes but it's worth looking into for seekers of the unusual.

Mondo Macabro's set presents decent, full-frame transfers of both films. Disc one includes some extremely informative notes by Pete Tombs about the film and some of its stars. Disc two does the same for Tahkhana and also includes an excellent documentary on Bollywood horror and the much-loved Mondo Macabro preview reel.

If you're new to the Bollywood horror experience, you're much better off starting with Mondo's first collection which includes the terrific Purana Mandir and the Ramsays' vampire epic Bandh Darwaza. But for those of you who've already devoured the previous volumes, The Bollywood Horror Collection Vol. 3 is a terrific continuation of this neglected little corner of the genre.

Film Ratings (Mahakaal/Tahkhana): C-/C
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/B-/B+

Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
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