Generally, it only takes a fella like me sticking his hand into the fire a few times to learn to stop sticking my hand in the fire. Sometimes, though, learning whatever lesson life, pain, and horrible blistering has to teach me just doesn’t happen, and laughing like a buffoon, I just keep sticking my hand into those warm, enticing flames. And few flames are as warm, enticing, and unbearably painful as the films of zero-budget Indian horror director Harinam Singh. His movies are made with a disjointed stream of consciousness that James Joyce would kill to accomplish, and many others would kill to not have to experience. He assembles his footage with an apparent total disregard — and perhaps even disdain — for the linear narrative, splicing together scenes in a random order, reusing the same scene multiple times, or spending some time with a scene that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie and may, in fact, have been stolen from another movie just to pad out the running time. His films fail miserably not just to be good films, but to be films at all.
With such damning condemnation, it’s obvious that I love the guy. That I watch his movies without subtitles, in a language I do not understand, matters very little. No amount of dialogue could make sense of Singh’s baffling style of film making. In fact, I suspect that if I understood what was being said, it would actually render the films even more incomprehensible. Khooni Dracula marks our third foray into the labyrinth of Harinam Singh’s mind. Our first, and undoubtedly unbeatably best, experience with Singh was Shaitani Dracula, a film so bonkers on every single level that it has become a legendary work of art held in the highest regard by, well, people like me. Our next film by this auteur of the awful was the decidedly less fucked up Gumnam Qatil. While it was still plenty weird and thoroughly incompetent on every level, it flirted too often with almost thinking about wandering into the outskirts of sort of being a vague conceptual representation of a film that might make sense. It was still fun, but it wasn’t the same transcendent experience.
Sadly, Khooni Dracula lands closer to Gumnam Qatil than it does Shaitani Dracula, only even less so, but honestly — that a director can only achieve the rarefied airs of Shaitani Dracula once in a lifetime is understandable. And not being as loony as that — merely being as loony as Gumnam Qatil — still means you have a movie of staggering awfulness, featuring a black-robed Dracula in a cheap fright mask and stylish white loafers wandering around, menacing seemingly random chunky chicks taking showers while wearing their lycra shorts. From time to time, Dracula augments his style with an ill-fitting, comically oversized stovepipe hat that looks like it was stolen out of the trash can behind Coffin Joe’s mansion, or crypt, or whatever the hell it is Coffin Joe lives in. I actually assume he lives in a stylish-yet-garishly appointed home not unlike one might find in a Jess Franco film, only with more furniture fashioned out of coffins. Harinam Singh used to come over all the time to watch Coffin Joe put toads and spiders on women’s bare breasts, while Franco himself lead the jazz combo in the corner. Or so I imagine.
The film begins with Dracula (Amrit Pal) being awakened from his ancient slumber by a guy who passes him a note. Rather than Dracula’s eternal resting place being a dusty tomb or decrepit crypt, he seems to simply go to sleep on the front lawn of whatever house happens to be convenient, like a lovable transient or drunk. He doesn’t even bury himself or anything. He just lies there on the turf, presumably looking up at the stars and dreaming about the day he finally makes it big. Anyway, roused from his sleep by the note, he goes on a typically confusing odyssey through Harinam Singh’s editing and splicing abilities, which includes lots of random lightning, scantily clad women, more lightning, some shouting, trees blowing in the wind, ugly dresses, that mansion that seems to show up in every single no-budget Indian horror film (I assume it’s the group house occupied by Singh, Kanti Shah, and Jeetendra Chawda), and fully clothed women lying on beds and moaning like they are masturbating. Oh, it also features some bad-ass action film funk. Dracula and his ridiculous hat grunt a lot, seduce a showering chick, and then put the ol’ Drac bite on her, all with a lot of moaning and huffing that sounds like something out of a Serge Gainsbourg song.
Then you get the credits and a little more of the totally awesome Khooni Dracula theme, and I guess the movie gets to work on whatever it is it half-heartedly bothers to pass off as a plot. Mostly, Singh just pastes together a shot of lightning, a shot of someone dancing for a few seconds, then a shot of another partially clothed woman writhing around on a bed, presumably masturbating though not actually touching herself. He’ll repeat this over and over, and then Dracula will show up out of nowhere and bite someone. Then you will get more of what’s more important — more lightning, more shots of fat guys laughing, more bare legs! Dracula lurks in the bushes a lot, listening to an even more bad-ass song — this one with lyrics — while a fat, drunken slob tries to make out with an assortment of women and some other chick walking around in her bra makes “scared” faces for no discernible reason.
And then we cut to what seems like an entirely different movie, as a fat komedy kop berates a young couple. And then there’s the chick in the little white short shorts, who has a bum of a brothers who gambles away all the family money at cards. And a musical number between…who the hell are these people? Who cares, because ol’ melty-face Dracula doesn’t stay gone too long, re-appearing to attack a midnight swimmer — Dracula actually materializes out of the bottom of the pool, like he’d just been waiting there, hoping some woman would jump in, fully clothed in the middle of the night, and not notice the dracula paddling around int he deep end — and yes, I believe in this film, they are “draculas” and not vampires.
This murder attracts the attention of the cops, and they vow to track down this mysterious assailant. At some point, one of the many fat guys in this movies actually achieves some degree of command over Dracula, sending the bloodsucking ghoul out to…hey, what do ya know? Menace and kill chunky chicks in the shower. It turns out that this dude is a thorough scumbag, having raped and murdered a maid. Her blood is what revived the Dracula in the first place, and now the seedy fat uncle holds the spook in thrall, for some damn reason — at least for a while.
Dracula gets on with his work, which is causing lightning and wind storms and going “guuuuhllluuhhh” as he attacks women in small shorts or who are taking a shower, since as we have learned from Indian horror films, 80% of all Indian women are in the shower, regardless of what time of the day it is. One of the cops has a girlfriend who happens to know a lot about draculas, and she helps them eventually set a trap by exploiting the Dracula’s supernatural weakness: being jumped and beaten to death by a gang of like fifteen people waving garlic and little novelty trishuls.
Because, perhaps, this movie comes somewhat early in Singh’s career, it just doesn’t have magic in the same quantity. It’s almost as if, at this point, Singh was still honestly trying to make a real movie instead of simply surrendering to the madness that would empower him to achieve his greatest triumph some years later. Khooni Dracula is plenty dumb, but almost everything wrong with it can be boiled down to general incompetence. There is no divine spark of insanity. Of the three Harinam Singh films I’ve seen as of this writing, and despite how excited I was about this one, Khooni Dracula is the least of what Singh has so far offered me.
If you are in the market for a worthless, idiotic, embarrassing piece of crap horror cinema from the sub-continent, Khooni Dracula delivers, with a dumb looking monster in an awesome hat, gore, lightning, and lots of women taking their clothes off and getting in the shower while still wearing their underwear — and not any sexy underwear, either, but those big ol’ modest granny panties. I swear some of them wear panties that are actually bigger than their booty shorts. There’s also terrible musical numbers, characters with no point, and what has to be the very final word in wild youth dance parties.
Unfortunately, while these are the ingredients that make me happy in just about any other stupid Indian horror film, my expectations for Harinam Singh are higher, even though it should be obvious to me by now that Shaitani Dracula was a fleeting moment of unhinged brilliance in a career otherwise defined by pretty run-of-the-mill no-budget horror films. In a way, the fact that the bulk of Harinam Singh’s output seems to be more mundane than his one crackpot masterpiece makes Shaitani Dracula all the more precious. Khooni Dracula shambles forth with an affable air of talentless sleaze and cheap horror, plus one sharply dressed ghoul and a bit of fantastic music. If you take it on its own terms, it’s acceptably foul and worth enduring. I really wanted to re-experience that amazing level of lunacy Singh gave me with Shaitani Dracula, but Khooni Dracula didn’t deliver, at least not to those lofty expectations. It’s still sleazy and enjoyable, but it’s nothing special.