Man, what is it with the directors of z-grade Indian horror films sharing names with yoga masters who have lots of information about themselves on the web? Don’t these yogis know that their online self-promotion makes it harder to find information about the director Harinam Singh, or in this case, Kishan Shah? And what is a yogi doing with a web presence anyway? Shouldn’t he be balancing on one leg in a cave somewhere in Rajasthan?
As is usually the case with the lesser names and “talent” in Indian cinema, any information one finds about Kishan Shah comes via a hard-fought research battle that yields little and, in the end, doesn’t seem to have really been worth the effort. The IMDB only lists two credits for him as director, with an additional ominous credit for “thanked by Who’s Your Caddy.” Online searches turn up mostly information about a yoga teacher with the same name and the occasional video page that, if you go to it, will install the zlob Trojan virus and fuck up your computer with non-stop pop-ups trying to sell you fake spyware removal software. Once again, the laborious process of prying your system out of the hands of a virus seems to hardly be worth the reward of finding a tidbit of information like, “Kishan Shah: Director.” With such a dearth of information, it’s up to Indian cult cinema fans such as we to pool our bits and pieces of information and research leads to finally give the world its much-needed write-up about a guy who directed a movie in which a zombie gorilla gets into a kungfu fight with a red rubber mask faced ghoul in a camouflage poncho.
So here’s what I know, based almost entirely on the cover art of various VCDs (how is that for research?), about the mysterious low-budget horror and action film director, Kishan Shah. First, I know that he’s a low-budget horror and action film director. He seems to have a stable of regulars who appear in his movies. And he seems to have a fetish for female characters beating the unholy crap out of the male characters — and I don’t mean that sort of browbeating, hen-pecking stuff you see in other movies. I mean hauling off and pounding the guy’s face with your fists until he falls to the ground, whimpering and begging for mercy. If that’s all I know about Kishan Shah, then that’s really enough.
After the otherwordly incompetence of Shaitani Dracula, Shah’s Bhoot Ke Pechhe Bhoot looks positively professional by comparison. But that requires a pretty big “relative to” qualifier, because by any standards other than those set by Harinam Singh, Bhoot Ke Pechhe Bhoot is a work of astounding ineptness. The best description I can come up with, and this is based partially on the fact that Hemant Birje appears in this film, is to call Kishan Shah a lower budget, less talented Babbar Subhash. Let that one sink in, folks. This is the less talented version of the director who made Disco Dancer and Commando.
As best I can puzzle things out about the history of these films, when the Ramsays-inspired horror boom of the 1980s dissipated, production of horror movies moved south, which each new film and director striving to show us how naive we’d all been when we called the Ramsay films crude, poorly made, and sleazy. Without being on the spot to verify, it seems like these horror films from down south very closely mimic the exploitation film model of producers and directors like H.G. Lewis and David Friedman. As we’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, and as we alluded to in the review of Shaitani Dracula, there popped up during the late 1950s an entire film industry outside the Hollywood machine, based primarily in Florida, and dedicated to churning out fast, cheap movies to fill drive-in theater screens throughout the South. These films were low on production values but high in sex and violence. They used non-professional actors. There were no real stars, though people who saw enough of the movies certainly began to recognize reoccurring faces. The movies were usually keen on special effects sequences they had no way of pulling off, resulting in a low-tech stab that, while a failure by almost any sane measure, generated a sort of charm and affection among fans of a certain type — that type being the type who adore things like pie tin spaceships and ratty monkey suits.
It’s hard not to see, in the shift of Indian horror film production to the South, a reflection of the exact same thing. Most of the Indian horror films now are shot in the south, on the cheap, outside the Bollywood machine, with lots of sex and violence but very little skill. They play in what is basically the rural Indian equivalent of a drive-in theater or something approximating an Indian version of the classic old road show, where a film’s promoter (often also the writer, director, producer, etc.) brings a print of his film from town to town, trying to drum up interest from the local movie house if the town has one, or otherwise just stringing up a sheet and projecting the film himself, out of the back of a truck, for whoever happens to be around with a couple extra rupees. Eventually, the films find their way onto ultra-cheap VCDs, the Indian equivalent of a direct-to-video market like the one we have in the United States and Japan. Then I buy them.
As weird and crude as so many of these Indian horror films tend to seem at first, when you put them in the proper context, as we saw with Shaitani Dracula, the exotic suddenly becomes very familiar. We learn that, although the names have changed and the monsters may be slightly strange to us, we’re ultimately in very familiar territory. For someone like me, there’s a reassuring kinship between a movie like Blood Feast and one like Bhoot ke Pechhe Bhoot or any of the other South Indian horror films. Across oceans and cultures, there is the common thread of trashy drive-in movies made on the cheap and with a minimal of skill. I suspect that if you got Friedman together with a Harinam Singh or a Kishan Shah, you’d find that they had a whole lot to talk about while chomping on big cigars and laughing. About the only difference, when you really get down to it, is that I don’t think there’s a famous yogi named after David Friedman.
Bhoot ke Pechhe Bhoot starts with couple en route to spooky house, a trip highlighted by the requisite animated lightning that appears so often in pretty much every Indian horror film that, at this point, I think Indian filmmakers are required by parliament to give it top billing. While the couple pokes around in the mansion, there’s a puff of ninja smoke in the graveyard outside, and suddenly there appears…is that…is that a zombie gorilla??? Yes, a zombie gorilla appears. Son of a bitch. And, umm, and…well, he’s got sparklers for fingertips. Huh. How about that? So far, Bhoot ke Pechhe Bhoot is the greatest movie ever.
As the couple continues poking around inside the house, the zombie gorilla appears out of nowhere in the same room, which causes the woman to, take a guess: A) she screams and runs back to the car, as any sane human would do, or B) she reacts as if a sad little puppy has just wandered in, walking toward it with that “how ya doin’, little fella?” tone of voice. Anyone who reacts to a zombie gorilla appearing out of thin air by cooing and walking up to caress it really deserves to get what happens to this woman, which is choked by a zombie gorilla while her boyfriend stands by making “Nah, I think it’ll be OK. He’ll tire himself out” gestures, once again reacting as if this was a puppy humping his girlfriend’s leg rather than a goddamned zombie gorilla that appeared out of nowhere to wave around sparklers and choke a woman.
When the zombie gorilla finishes killing the guy’s girlfriend, he finally seems to grasp the implications of being attacked by a zombie gorilla and so runs, or rather sort of slowly trots, out into the cemetery, where he and the gorilla will spend a few minutes engaging in an extremely slow pursuit of one another over the same few feet of ground. Luckily, zombie gorillas are just as prone to capering about as their living brethren, so even though the guy falls down a lot and seems to judge being chased by an undead gorilla as meriting nothing more than a leisurely pace punctuated by exaggerated scared faces and glances over the shoulder, his pursuer can’t catch up to him. And it goes without saying, at this point, that the zombie gorilla is just a guy in a gorilla suit, though this one has a particularly mangy face that has me suspecting we now know the ultimate fate of the ratty King Kong suit that was used in King Kong Versus Godzilla. I imagine that Kishan Shah and company got it cheap during a Toho Studios fire sale, or that he broke into a storage warehouse and stole it a la Ed Wood, Jr., stealing an old octopus prop to use in Bride of the Monster.
Eventually, this movie decides that something else needs to happen, so a red-faced ghoul in a camouflage poncho appears and starts waving an ax around. Don’t worry — the ghoul is realized by simply dressing someone up in a cheap rubber Halloween mask that spends half its time on screen lopsided and pushed too far to one side of the actor’s face.
Then, the zombie gorilla and the red faced ghoul get into a kungfu fight.
Look, I know it’s pretty unlikely that this film will maintain the momentum of this opening scene, but you gotta admit — that opening is pretty great. It’s pulled off with all the awkward panache of a microbudget shot on video production orchestrated by…well, by people I probably would have hung out with in high school. The kungfu fight, in particular, looks exactly like something I would have choreographed when I was sixteen. Monsters so often resort to grappling that it’s a nice change of pace to see them just haul off and sock each other in the jaw with right hooks and solid jabs. We also know we’re operating at a higher level than Shaitani Dracula because the camera is in focus at least 65% of the time.
When the red face rubber mask ghoul forces the zombie gorilla to sort of throw up its arms and go, “Ahh, you know what? Fuck it! I’m outta here,” it then sits down and begins weeping, causing that guy whose woman was just murdered and who just witnessed a kungfu fight between a red faced ghoul in a poncho and a zombie gorilla to squat down next to it and get the whole story. So begins the tale of a cute girl with a strange fetish for her ax. She spends pretty much all day, every day, chopping wood and randomly driving the ax into giant trees. Her boyfriend is Indian Ray Romano, and her arch nemesis is local bigwig and skeevy date rapist, Indian Tom Baker.
OK, so look. I watched this movie unsubtitled, and while the plot speaks an international language that any fan of z-grade horror can easily understand, I may have missed a few subtle points, like character names. I do that in real life, too, with people who are speaking the same language as me. And anyway, in a movie like this, it’s all about the emotion and motivation. Knowing Indian Tom Baker’s real name isn’t going to augment my understanding of the fact that he’s wealthy and uses his position of privilege to coerce women into sleeping with him. On occasion, one refuses, so he and his laughing rape gang kill her. But once he sets his sights on the cute ax-wielding girl, we know he’s got a spunkier customer than usual. For starters, she carries a friggin’ ax with her 24 hours a day.
Then we cut to sparkle suit girl, who has guys hiding in her back seat that she didn’t see, even though the car is a compact, and even though you can clearly see one goon’s hot pink do-rag, as they aren’t so much hiding as they are just sort of bending over slightly. If you were expecting some sort of smooth transition from plot A to plot B, then you haven’t had a whole lot of experience with movies like this. Just sit back and don’t worry about it. She kicks their ass but good, and looks like a rainbow while doing it. Kishan Shah, as I said earlier, has a few movies to his name that feature gun-toting babes and seem to hearken back to the days of the “girls with guns” trend that seized low-budget Hong Kong action cinema in the early 1990s, only with infinitely worse fight choreography than Hong Kong enjoyed. Just look at a movie like Daka Sultaana or Heerabai and tell me this cat doesn’t have a fetish for chicks brandishing guns and jumping through the air while shit blows up. I approve of the fetish, of course, and I appreciate that Shah has embraced female characters as ass-kickers, not to mention putting her in a shimmering rainbow haltertop and matching flared hip huggers. It’s not as common in India as it should be, the female who puts foot to ass. Shah looks to be doing his best to balance things out.
In fact, pretty much every male character in this movie has the tar beat out of them either by Ax Girl or sparkle girl. Every man is ineffectual at best and a villain more times than not. While women suffering at the hands of villainous men is nothing new in Indian cinema, what is novel is the notion that, rather than bearing the suffering or collapsing to the floor in hysterics, the woman would just shrug and pound the guy’s face with her fists for a few minutes. I started cheering pretty much every time Ax Girl showed up on screen, because I knew that meant it was only going to be a minute or so before she started punching people in the face.
As for sparkle girl, her boyfriend is going to be known here as Chest Hair Shirt Guy, for reasons that will become all too obvious. He looks like Lars Ulrich here, albeit a muscular Lars Ulrich. When he gets bit by a snake, sparkle girl sucks the poison out, then actually tracks the snake down and beats it up. I don’t mean she axes it or steps on it or whatever. She actually talks shit to it, then gets down on her knees and punches the crap out of the thing while tossing her hair about and flaring her nostrils (no one can flare nostrils quite like this woman). This girl is bad ass and completely fucking insane — which seems to be Chest Hair Shirt Guy’s opinion as well.
Meanwhile, Tom Baker schemes with Ray Romano to ravage Ax Girl, who doesn’t realize her boyfriend is a scumbag looking to sell her out. He sends Mr. Clean, who should have been played by Bob Christo, except that even Bob has standards below which this film falls. Even though this is a huge muscle man armed with a tight t-shirt and manly laugh, Ax Girl beats the crap out of him, then plants the ax in his gut for good measure. Yeah, I’m pretty much in love with this woman by now. Tom Baker is pissed, and then a random hand comes on screen, presses play on a boom box, and we have one of the worst musical numbers ever, featuring sparkle girl, who is now going to be known as “Snake Punching Psycho Girl.”
Let us pause for a moment to salute one of the staples of Indian horror films: slightly chunky girls in lycra shorts. This is especially true in South Indian horror films. I’m a man of the world and possessed of a rich and varied tapestry of perversions and tastes. I can appreciate a girl with a couple extra pounds, just I can appreciate a woman with a lean, athletic build. Most Indian horror film directors agree with me, and since traditional Indian tastes tend to hover on the slightly heavier end of the scale, you get a lot of full-figured actresses in these movies. And since these movies also love sleazy sex scenes within the confines of Indian censorship laws, that means you get a lot of full figured women taking showers or standing out in the rain while wearing lycra shorts. Now, while I may not mind a couple pounds and a bit of a belly, I certainly don’t have the same opinion of lycra shorts. They have their place — 1980s aerobics studios — and should never be brought out of such confines and unleashed upon proper society. They do no one favors. But due to the sheer utility of them in covering while clinging, they pop up constantly in Indian horror films. I suppose it’s understandable. The fashion in low budget Indian horror films seems forever trapped in 1980s aerobics class and Chess King, sort of like how, no matter what year it is, the people in microbudget horror films from America will be wearing black t-shirts, stone washed denim, and at least one of them will have a pufftop mullet.
Snake Punching Psycho Girl wraps up her awful dance number, and then we’re back to the other plot. Tom Baker’s gang of mustache-twirlers jump my beloved Ax Girl. Once again, she beats the crap out of everyone, until finally Ray Romano causes her to slip on a banana peel, which — amazingly — is played straight and not accompanied by a slide whistle. Tom Baker doesn’t so much rape her as he does take her upstairs and lay down on top of her for a few seconds while both are fully clothed. I guess we have to rely on the symbolism of what happened. He then pulls some shenanigans to get her condemned to death by stoning by some backwards hick holy man, until Chest Hair Shirt Guy walks by and saves her by agreeing to marry her, apparently assuming that an ax swinging fisticuffs girl is better than a chick who punches cobras in the face. I say its pretty much a toss up. I guess that was nice of him to help Ax Girl, but this chick probably would have just punched each rock into dust as it flew at her during the stoning, before finally catching the last one, taking a bite out of it, then tossing her hair as she spit gravel back in Tom Baker’s face. Anyway, it probably wasn’t good for her defense when she responded to the accusations by kicking Tom Baker’s ass yet again.
You may be wondering what Chest Hair Shirt Guy is doing marrying this chick when he’s already with Snake Punching Psycho Girl. Well, I say you’re time is better spent wondering why his ample chest hair is shaved into a perfect crew neck t-shirt. I swear, I was about to make fun of him for wearing a mesh shirt until I realized it was his chest hair with a neckline shaved into it. Anyway, the two new lovers have a musical number, then a bald guy punches him, carries her away, and we cut to a wet see-thru sari dance that does its best to skirt whatever nudity laws might be on the books. For some reason, Chest Hair Shirt Guy is here dancing with her instead of rescuing Ax Girl.
I guess he knew what he was doing though, because as soon as the number is over, he and Ax Girl are back in bed as if nothing happened and she hadn’t been abducted by a bald guy I thought she’d already killed by driving an ax into his crotch. While this is going on, Snake Punching Psycho Girl crashes her car and comes back all vengeful and disfigured and ready to murder everyone. I guess she finally figured out that Chest Hair Shirt Guy was playing the ladies. Unfortunately, the chicks kill each other with a gun that doesn’t make any smoke when it fires or have any sort of kick. Ax Girl comes back from the dead as the red face ghoul, and Snake Punching Psycho Girl returns as the zombie gorilla. Ahh, now it’s all coming together.
Or not. Somehow, Chest Hair Shirt Guy and his son with ax girl end up in Tom Baker’s house while Tom and his crew are being entertained by some floozies. Although they are never shown to have a son, and even though Ax Girl was killed like two days after their marriage (or so it seems — the passage of time, like all things in this movie, is poorly communicated to the viewer), the kid is like seven years old. Then the ghosts show up. Shenanigans ensue as a big gal in lycra shorts dances for that seedy Chest Hair Shirt Guy while the two dead women spend time transforming between their ghoul selves and their former appearances, frequently possessing whoever happens to be handy. Snake Punching Psycho Girl even possesses a rubber ball at one point, because she’s fucking crazy. Her goal seems to be to kill Chest Hair Shirt Guy and his son, while Ax Girl seems committed to protecting the child. Chest Hair Shirt Guy, as far as she’s concerned, can go to hell. Or even better, he can go to bed with a girl who turns into zombie gorilla and strangles him to death. And when she’s not busy protecting the child, Ax Girl finds time to kill Ray Romano since he, like every other guy in the film, was a total chump.
We get another ghoul-versus-zombie gorilla kungfu fight in the graveyard. Tom Baker gets a well deserved ax in the face, and the kid prays and throws holy fire at Snake Punching Psycho Girl, causing her to burst into flame and vanish. Hooray!
Well, that pretty much says it all. I watched this movie without knowing anything about it, and I have to say that, despite a few slow parts, it was pretty entertaining. The narrative was all over the place, with no effort to make a logical transition from one scene to the next. Although some of this can be attributed to the language barrier, most of it is more accurately ascribed to shoddy filmmaking. This film isn’t quite the head trip through incompetence hell that Shaitani Dracula was, and only in my world can that be a slight against a film. Unlike that film, Bhoot ke Pechhe Bhoot has an identifiable script, complete with scenes and development. It’s a pretty crummy script, but it does exist. Heck, there’s even some attempt at complexity, as both women are wronged and we spend time examining how they both react differently: one by vengeful murder, and the other by, umm, well, by vengeful murder.
The acting is actually acceptable in most cases. Tom Baker bugs his eyes out and laughs in a suitable evil fashion. Snake Punching Psycho Girl throws herself into her role with enthusiastic abandon. She snarls, flares her nostrils, and engages in histrionics that would make Vincent Price proud. Ax Girl, aside from being some kind of super-cute dream girl, is also an able performer. And the guys? Well, they’re all scumbags, and they make it easy to hate them, especially weaselly Indian Ray Romano. You don’t even realize until like halfway through that Chest Hair Shirt Guy is a scumbag, too, although at least he isn’t a murderous scumbag.
I think you can probably guess as to the quality of special effects on display. As with any number of low-rent productions, the film doesn’t let technical and budgetary limitation get in the way of ambition. So you get, yet again, people in store-bought Halloween costumes stomping around in a graveyard filled with cardboard crosses that get knocked over really easily. I started wondering in this film where exactly one gets a store-bought Halloween costume in India. As far as I know, which isn’t very far, Indians aren’t big trick-or-treaters. I can only assume that unsold Halloween costumes are thus dumped wholesale upon the subcontinent in special sales. And I assume that the ensuing madness is much like those shameful videos of idiotic women scrambling over one another like out-of-control cattle to get those ultra-discounted wedding dresses, except it’s Harinam Singh, Kishan Shah, and Jeetu clawing their way around each other in a mad dash to snag a rack full of gorilla suits and rubber machetes.
There’s almost a competent movie contained within the running time of Bhoot ke Pechhe Bhoot, though Kishan Shah never gets around to actually making it. Instead, what we get is another delirious, mangy looking low-budget Indian horror film featuring two store-bought monsters waving sparklers at the camera. I was pretty happy, though not quite as happy as I was with Shaitani Dracula. If Harinam Singh is the Harold P. Warren of Indian horror (Warren was the man behind one of my all-time favorites, Manos: The Hands of Fate), then Shah is definitely the Hershell Gordon Lewis: possessed of very little talent, but just enough to ensure that his films aren’t quite as cracked in the head enjoyable as Singh’s. Where as Shaitani Dracula, like Manos, descends to a level of badness so indescribable that it become hypnotic, Shah’s film lurks on the outskirts of being a real movie, and it’s not necessarily the better for it. In the end, flirtation with the outskirts of competence keep this one from achieving a “must see” recommendation.
Still, there’s a red-faced rubber mask ghoul versus zombie gorilla kungfu fight, some pseudo-nudity, and two women whooping the ass of every man who crosses them, so I count Bhoot ke Pechhe Bhoot as a successful viewing experience. Kishan Shah, I’m keeping my eye on you.
Release Year: 2003 | Country: India | Starring: Hemant Birje, Sapna, Satnam Kaur, Amit Panchori, Amit Kapoor, Imran Khan, Pinky Chinai, Karishma, Saiba, Ahmed Mirza, Bably, Neema, Mirza Rujna, Payal, Reena Kapoor, Kiran, Manisha, Ali Khan, Vinod Tripathi, Jr. Amitabh, Jr. Govinda, Jr. Prem Chopra, Mohan Joshi | Screenplay: R. Kundan, Anand Dehlvi, Bashir Babbar | Director: Kishan Shah | Music: Sawan Kumar Sawan | Producer: Shakuntala Gohil, Nath Gomare