Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Freddy traveled to India and slaughtered a bunch of young college kids? Probably not, but if you’re among the two psychos that said yes, you needn’t wonder anymore! Mahakaal (or simply “The Monster”) is Bollywood’s answer to Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street, with some local mysticism thrown in for good measure…oh, and a Michael Jackson impersonator too.
Anita’s friend Seema has a problem: she’s having horrible nightmares of a burned man wearing a clawed glove stalking and attempting to kill her. Just a normal nightmare would be one thing, but she’s waking up with bodily injuries, including cuts resembling claw marks. Anita as well as her other friends think its all coincidence, the injuries coming from somewhere else, and they honestly have other things to worry about; a local gang at the school, led by a man simply known as “The Boss”, have their eyes on Anita as their leader is head-over-heels in lust with her. They go so far as to wet Anita down with a hose and attempt to rape her right on school grounds, but Anita’s boyfriend Prakesh and his buddy Param come to the rescue and take the guys out with some sweet Kung-Fu maneuvers.
It’s not long before Anita experiences the same type of nightmare Seema did, complete with an appearance from her dead sister Mohini who was kidnapped and killed seven years earlier. The girls are going a bit crazy, so to forget about things for a while, they all head off for a picnic. When it’s time to head home, their car conveniently won’t start, which forces them to stay overnight at a local motel. It’s here that things go from bad to worse, with Seema having another nightmare that ends up with her dead. Param, who was in the room, explains she just died writhing around on the ground, with cuts and blood appearing out of thin air. Anita believes Param is innocent, but her father, who’s chief of the areas police force doesn’t, and Param finds himself locked up. Anita’s father seems to have something to hide however, and with danger looming over his entire family, his secret will soon have to be revealed.
While Mahakaal isn’t bad by any means, it’s a shame that it’s just not as fun as it should be. Sure, there’s some wonderfully trippy set designs (the torture chamber at the end of the film is great), moody Argento-esque lighting, and some quality kills, but the film sags in more spots than it should. For one thing, running at over two hours is just way too much. I think it’s some sort of unspoken rule that a Bollywood film has to be at least two hours in length, and that doesn’t always work in every setting. Considering here we get long stretches where not very much happens (outside of a couple of hallucinogenic dream sequences, the real fun doesn’t start for nearly 50 minutes), the film could have benefitted greatly from some stricter editing.
Also, as I’m sure most people are aware, comedy is not a universal language, and what’s included in Mahakaal doesn’t translate very well at all. The main comedic elements come courtesy of Johney Lever, a Jerry Lee Lewis type of slapstick actor whose innumerable facial expressions will have you believing his face is made out of putty. Like Lewis (and more-so Eddie Murphy in modern days), he plays multiple roles, all of which are utilized for laughs. Unfortunately, the laughs just don’t come. I’ll wholeheartedly admit I got a kick out of his Michael Jackson impression, but otherwise his stuff fell flat, and had me rolling my eyes every time he surfaced, as I knew it was time for another drastic tonal shift. And that’s another problem I found in Mahakaal; the suspense is never allowed to build up substantially. Every terrifying scene, except for the finale, is followed by a misplaced humorous one, and because of that it’s hard to become really engrossed in the picture. You’ll slowly start to slip into the grip of the atmosphere, and then will be jarred right out of it with some ridiculous camp. It's also worth noting that Mahakaal was made over 5 years, due to the horror industry in India hitting a slump, so that could certainly be one of the answers as to why the film does feel so disjointed at times.
Directors the Ramsay Brothers make no bones about the source material they’re borrowing from to create the world of Mahakaal. Some scenes, such as a bloody girl wrapped in plastic in a school hallway and the death-by-waterbed scene, are almost shot-for-shot identical to what's found in Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. There’s little shame shown about lifting such aspects, but unlike the rip-off films of Turkey that almost seem as if they shoot from the same scripts that were used in the US, the Ramsay’s inject enough of their own imagination into the film to make it feel relatively fresh. The bits of Indian mysticism, which to be honest ultimately lead to nothing, still give the film a flair that you won’t find elsewhere. They also toss in influences from other horror films, and I noticed some nods to films like The Beyond and Hellraiser as well as an interpretation of a scene from Romero’s Day of the Dead, where dozens of clawed hands break through a wall that Anita is leaning up against.
If you’re unfamiliar with Bollywood films, then you may not realize that the filmmakers of India still seem to think its 1950, and because of that there has to be a few musical numbers in their movies. Sadly, their horror films aren’t exempt. There are three such pieces in Mahakaal, complete with singing, dancing, and an altogether jovial mood. Just like the comedic portions, these offer a stark contrast to the more serious, horror-heavy sections of the film. Just got raped and want to try and forget about things? Let’s have a picnic, but we’ll sing and dance our way there! I honestly would be a bit more accepting of this stuff if the songs moved the story along and had an actual purpose, but they don’t, and do nothing but slow an already slow film down even more. Since they really have no relevance on the actual narrative, the option to fast-forward is nice to have.
I may have sounded overly harsh about Mahakaal, and I guess there is a reason for it, as it just didn’t turn out to be the lunatic party that I initially expected. But as I said earlier, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film, and some of the great moments you’ll find here overshadow the weaker portions you’ll have to endure. Cut out the songs, the comedy, and shorten this beast by 40 minutes, and you’d have a damn fun horror flick on your hands, but as it is it’s still a bizarre curiosity from the weird world of Bollywood horror that’s worth a look.
Mahakaal is the featured film in Mondo Macabro’s Bollywood Horror Collection Vol. 3, along with Tahkhana, which is included as the back-up feature. Both films are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratios and remastered from the best quality prints that could be found. Both actually look quite good, and while they’re interlaced and have some instances of print damage and minor ghosting, they’re colorful and have a nice vibrancy to them. Both films come in their native language with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. There’s some hiss and distortion on both, and occasionally the higher-pitched sounds can be quite shrill, but overall all of the dialogue is clear and none of the problems are overwhelming. The included English subtitles are pretty much free of errors and get the job done nicely.
The main extra included in the collection is a 25 minute documentary on the films of Bollywood and Lollywood, respectively. Omar Khan (who directed the very fun Hell’s Ground, Mondo Macabro’s first original production) gives us the basics on what differentiates them, and why certain elements are always presented in the way they are (such as the odd notion that horror must always be mixed with comedy). There are some other speakers in the piece, as well as some clips from other films (I need to find that action film where a man is killed with a giant syringe!), and is altogether very entertaining and informative. Rounding out the extras are text-based pieces on both films which provide information about the productions as well as the cast and crew, and the ever-expanding Mondo Macabro trailer reel.
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