Zibahkhana (2007) 1 brain1 brainhalf brain

Alternate Titles:

Hell's Ground

Zibahkhana has a lot riding on it as a movie, and I have to say it holds up admirably well. It's Pakistan's first bona fide slasher flick, but more than that, it marks a large break from traditional Pakistani cinema. To paraphrase one of the actresses when being interviewed about the film, "It's not the same story of boy meeting girl, falling in love, and living happily ever after. It's about kids from different parts of society, hanging out and doing things together, like they do in real life." Of course, in this slice of "real life," said kids run afoul of more horror movie archetypes than you can shake a stick at, so it's not like it's a documentary.

The director of the movie is long-time horror fanatic Omar Khan, who owns a chain of horror-themed ice cream shops in Islamabad. He's obviously been heavily influenced by American horror, since the film includes nods to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, The Evil Dead, Psycho, and I Know What You Did Last Summer, among others that I probably missed. At the same time, he gives a tip of the hat to classic Pakistani horror by including a cameo by Rehan, the actor who starred in Zinda Laash, Pakistan's 1967 version of Dracula. In fact, Khan makes a bit of a joke as one of the characters thinks he recognizes Rehan's character as "that guy that played Dracula."

The film includes so many stock horror plot elements that one could pan it for lack of originality, but Khan clearly intends it as an homage, and includes other elements that make it uniquely Pakistani. For instance, his main baddie is a hulking dude called Baby clad in a blood-stained burqa and wielding a morning-star. (Fans of the movie simply call him "Burqa-Man.")

The basic plot is that five friends are sneaking off to a concert: the good boy (Haider Raza), the good girl (Rooshanie Ejaz), the bad rich boy (Salim Meraj), the bad rich girl (Rubya Chaudhry), and the stoner (Osman Khalid Butt). On the way, they start running out of gas and take a shortcut, at which point they run across a weird old couple that warn them direly not to continue the way they're going, or they'll enter Hell's Ground. Of course, they get lost. And of course, they end up smack in the middle of trouble.

The film will not be particularly scary for hardened horror fans, and for the zombie fans out there, our undead friends really only make a brief (but notable!) appearance. The acting is decent, but nothing special. And yet, the enthusiasm of the actors and the director's love of the genre shine through, making the film still fun to watch, and the cultural differences in the film give it a whole new perspective. If you get a chance to watch the film, I would recommend it just to take part in this milestone of horror history, and hey, if you find large men in burqas scary, this is your film.