Starring: Shweta, Harinam Singh, Somiya, Jaya, Vivek, Kanhaiya, Shabnam, Pooja, Asha, Kamleesh Singh, Advocate Dube
Writer: Harinam Singh
Director: Harinam Singh
In 1948, French artist Jean Dubuffet coined the term art brut, a phrase which became “outsider art” in 1972 when critic Roger Cardinal imported it into the English language. It referred to works of art created outside the boundaries of general culture. Specifically, it was art created by someone like an inmate in an insane asylum. Over time, the term was applied to a broader audience, but the key element remains that the art is a reflection of a mental state beyond that of even the average crazy guy. This is not the same as an established art movement that is consciously seeking to do something “outside the mainstream.” An artist can’t rationally decide to make art brut. As Dubuffet himself describes it, art brut can’t be created by anyone who functions as part of regular society, even regular art society, and so this form of fierce and feverish creativity remains the sole purview of madmen and terrifying backwoods hillbillies who make sculpture out of cat skins, metal drums, and human skulls.
One gets the feeling, however, that if a potential creator of outsider art suddenly found himself in possession of a movie camera, some plastic Dracula fangs, and half a dozen cheap novelty wolfman masks, the resultant film that would come from that fertile and lunatic mind would look something like Shaitani Dracula, a creation so far beyond the pale of anything we can recognize as a movie that one can only assume no sane human was involved in the production, and the entire thing somehow simply sprang fully formed from the collective mind of one of those Victorian-era madhouses where the patients all wander around in a big open room, giggling and possessed of various degrees of “crazy” hair. It is also entirely likely that, after watching this movie, you will find yourself waking up one day only to discover you’ve been committed to just such an asylum as might produce a film of this nature. Standing over you, for you are wearing a straight jacket and lying on the cold concrete floor, is a man in a white lab coat. Noting your raving, giggling condition in a notebook, he then proceeds to hand you…a movie camera, some plastic novelty fangs, and half a dozen wolfman masks! Fade to black as you shriek in terror and laugh maniacally even as you reach to receive the camera from him.
I’ve seen plenty of weird films, as you can guess. Plenty of sick and demented films. Perverse films. Incompetent films. From juvenile, shot on video “shockers” about necrophilia to the substantially more lavish head trip of films like Holy Mountain, with plenty of brain-crushing silliness in between. Rarely, however, have I encountered a film that so closely resembles the scrawling on a padded cell wall done by a paranoid delusional. In no frame of mind and in no sense comprehensible by sane humans can you even call Shaitani Dracula a film. That it ever saw the light of day is testament to the fact that strange and inexplicable things still happen in this modern world. Even judged against the standards of cut-rate Indian horror cinema from outside the Bollywood mainstream — a genre that has never valued competence or coherence in its headlong rush toward another scene of a pizza-faced ghoul or a woman taking a shower while wearing cycling shorts and a bra — Shaitani Dracula stands out as something wholly more advanced than anything else yet witnessed. To watch it is an experience not unlike the final bit in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Belloq alternates between screaming in abject terror and rapturously yelling, “It’s beautiful!” right before his head explodes.
Stumbling across this film is like discovering some dust-covered tome filled with the most profane knowledge of the esoteric and evil — the proverbial Lovecraftian Necronomicon. To simply read a passage is enough to make even the stoutest of cowardly, trembling academics go dumb with terror. For those with an inquisitive mind, it is a gateway to an obsession that can only end in misery and defeat. Uncovering any information about this movie is like trying to decipher cuneiform without the Behistun inscriptions. Even the simplest of information does not surrender itself easily to the seeker. Take the production date for instance, which the few paltry places that have bothered to record it list as 2006. The IMDB refuses to even acknowledge this film exists. When it is mentioned somewhere online, it is usually only by a company selling the VCD.
Initially, I assumed the 2006 production date to be almost certainly incorrect, a reflection of the year the movie was released on VCD rather than the year it was made. Based on genre trends, the career of the director, and the look of the film, I assumed this was made sometime in the 1980s or very early 1990s. But then, making guesses such as these is never wise, as India was still quite capable of producing films in 1991 that boasted all the technical crudity and fashion sense of a movie made in 1971. Subsequent forays into the dank and fetid world of budgetless Indian horror made me reconsider my previous dismissal of a 2006 production date. It’s really only in the past decade or so that this maligned and, to more sophisticated Indians, embarrassing genre has flourished. The fuzziness over the exact date this film was made only furthers my belief that Shaitani Dracula was never made, but instead was created out of the aether when the minds of those inmates mentioned above somehow intersected with a portal to a dimension of pure madness and chaos. There was a brief flash of animated blue lightning bolts, and there, lying smoking in a clearing in the woods of some rural Indian village, was a print of Shaitani Dracula, which was subsequently discovered by a conniving promoter and unleashed on mankind before he realized what he had done.
Still, I’m confident placing this film as a contemporary of the horror films of the Ramsay Brothers and Vinod Talwar, as it looks like something that would have been produced then even if it came out just a few years ago. The only real give-away that this movie is in fact of a more recent vintage is the lack of a tell-tale white or red Michael Jackson style zipper jacket — and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that such a jacket was required by law to appear on at least one character in any 1980s Indian horror film, usually worn over a sleeveless t-shirt with a motivational message like “Go For It!” printed on the front in pastel pink (provided the shirt itself wasn’t pastel pink, which it probably was). And if you ever watched a Talwar or Ramsay horror film and laughed at the incompetence, keep this in mind: you were watching the pinnacle of such films. The films of neither the Ramsays nor Talwar could prepare you for what Harinam Singh slapped together in what could only have been a combination fever dream and acid trip suffered while watching Blood Freak. Films like this are so disjointed, so nonsensical, so astoundingly incompetent in even the most basic of ways, that I almost wonder what the hell I’m even trying to do. However, a movie like Shaitani Dracula is sort of like the Sadako video from Ring; once you’ve watched you feel compelled to pass it on to another.
The film opens with a random attack or lovemaking scene involving a woman and either a monster or a man. It’s hard to tell, because almost every single scene in this movie is murky and out of focus. It doesn’t really matter though, because neither the woman nor the guy or monster will show up again. Instead, we cut immediately to the requisite lightning bolt that opens all Indian horror films, and then to a scene of Dracula in his living room. Dracula, it should be noted, is a fat guy with a mustache and one of those Outback Jack hats. I’ve seen a lot of Draculas in my day — from Bela Lugosi and venerated horror film icon Christopher Lee to Paul Naschy and that guy who fluttered around Billy Chong’s head like a moth in Kungfu from Beyond the Grave. This Dracula, however, just might be my favorite. In this day and age of frail tween vampires prone to soul-searching and poetry writing, it’s nice to get a Dracula who’s just a fat guy with a mustache and a preference for sitting in a wicker chair while surrounded by vampire chicks in bras and mini skirts. It’s basically as if film maker Harinam Singh looked for inspiration to Saddam Hussein, Panama Jack, and Larry Flint. Now that’s a Dracula you can be afraid of.
When Dracula isn’t busy caressing various scantily clad vampire girls or making them stand under sprinklers while wearing white booty shorts, he’s sending various minions out to terrorize a bunch of campers and two fat guys. Dracula’s minions include a host of terrifying creatures purchased in the discount aisle of whatever the Mumbai equivalent of Wal-Mart is (probably Wal-Mart). There’s a couple different types of vampire girls. Most active is the one in a white bra and panties, who sometimes has styrofoam wings strapped to her when the prop guy remembered to put them on (which was about 50% of the time) and whose ability to fly is realized by having the actress stand on a rolling chair while being filmed from a low angle. This in itself isn’t a terrible method of achieving a cheap floating effect, but the poor girl spends most of the time staggering back and forth, trying to keep her balance while also waving her arms menacingly and baring her plastic novelty fangs.
Then there’s the girl in the black “spider-girl” body stocking with webbed armflaps and a ghoulish rubber mask. She spends most of the movie stepping out from behind a tree and making scary poses at the camera. This is actually what most of the ghouls and beasties do. In fact, it’s pretty much what every character does. This is a movie comprised largely of people standing in front of something for a few seconds before the camera cuts to a shot of someone else standing in front of something else. There’s also a random vampire chick in a red mini-skirt (and when I say “mini skirt,” I’m not really getting across just how “mini” they are) who dances under a sprinkler for the aforementioned two fat guys, then lures them into the woods where she suddenly has a completely different outfit on, and a new mask. She’s actually wearing the outfit worn by our eventual protagonist, since they just got that actress to do double duty, but we’ll get to her later. There’s also a few “house vampires,” whose main job is to slink around while Dracula stands in front of the Venetian blinds and makes faces.
But Dracula has a lot more at his disposal than vampire girls in halter tops and panties, though I don’t really see why he needs anything else. Still, I guess if you can fill out the ranks with an assortment of ghouls, why not? So Dracula hires the guy in the red fright mask and fedora. I’m not sure what he’s supposed to be. I think it’s one of those monsters that gets created purely because someone is on their way to a costume party without a costume, so they have to make due with whatever’s left over at eight o’clock on Halloween night. There’s also the wolfman, who is probably my second favorite monster in this movie. He’s just a guy wearing one of those hairy gorilla suits, only with a big werewolf mask that keeps falling off whenever he attacks someone. You can also see the actors tennis shoes, since the bottom of the costume is just regular pant legs. Dude didn’t even bother to, I don’t know…wear black Reeboks and dress socks so he could at least tuck the flapping ends of his hairy pants into the socks.
There’s also a couple guys who show up in various one or two second long shots but don’t actually do anything. Like red-lit caveman guy in a polo shirt and something I can only assume is a giant mole. But far and away my favorite of Dracula’s minions is the skeleton guy, which is just some dumpy actor in a baggy black bodystocking with bones painted on it. My favorite thing about him isn’t the laziness of his costume, or the fact that he seems to wander in from nowhere and serve no purpose. No, it’s that the actor playing him walks with a manly strut that tells you he knows he’s the baddest son of a bitch to ever put on a sack painted with bones and try to pass it off as a skeleton. Danzig could learn a thing or two from Dracula’s skeleton guy.
The primary target for all these monsters randomly wandering around in the woods is, as I said, a group of campers who are incredibly dedicated to their camping trip. You’d think after the first vampire girl rolled after them, or after the first skeleton went a-swaggerin’ across the lawn in front of their tent, they’d just pack up and head back home. But I guess you just don’t love camping the way these kids do. It’s difficult to tell exactly how many of them there are, as the film inserts random shots of people we’ve never seen before, or features a scene of someone getting killed, only to have them reappear a couple scenes later. People also go to sleep in one scene only to show up wandering around in the woods a few seconds later. Sheetal is our main character, or as main a character as a film this distracted and meandering can manage to offer us. She spends most of the movie in a pair of zebra print hot pants and a black halter top, standing or walking in front of the same clump of trees for no reason at all.
Her friends include young beauty Deepa, who serves no function other than to look completely baffled in a few random shots (I guess she’s the surrogate for the audience); Rishma, who gets chased by Dracula and then vanishes from the rest of the movie; and a bunch of guys who don’t really do much other than occasionally knock off the wolfman’s mask. There’s also two fat guys who seem to be wandering aimlessly in the woods for days on end, getting attacked by vampire girls from time to time and “running” away. Except that one of them is so fat that all he can do is stroll at a very leisurely pace. Luckily the vampire girls are too busy waving their arms around and trying to keep their balance on the rolling chairs to ever really catch up to the fat guys.
For about the first hour of this film, we get a random assembly of the same scenes over and over again. Dracula makes faces in his den. Vampire girl. Sheetal goes and stands in front of that same clump of trees. The red face guy in the fedora shows up and walks toward the camera. Vampire girl. Sheetal in front of those fucking trees again. Vampire gi…whoa! What’s with that red-lit caveman? Vampire girl. The guys on the camping trip gather around. The skeleton guy stomps across the screen. There’s a monster we’ll only see for these two seconds and never again. On and on it goes, with absolutely no continuity or point. Outfits and hairstyles change from one shot to the next. People wander off, get attacked by a monster, then reappear as if nothing happened. And then comes the movie’s one and only musical number, which is nothing but Sheetal walking in front of those trees again, only this time with a radio. While a song plays, we get a four minute or so replay of everything that’s happened up until now, plus some scenes from other movies thrown in for good measure, and what the hell — might as well throw in a few scenes that haven’t happened yet.
The final half hour — this has got to be the shortest Indian film ever made — finds plenty of time to show that same footage of the vampire girl on the rolling chair, but it also moves things forward a little bit. The monster crew attacks the campers en masse, which results in about ten minutes of everyone running back and forth in front of the same tent wile monsters clutch at them and stand in the bushes. Dracula captures Sheetal, only to have her escape and return in a red pleather halter top and hotpants, armed with a cross and ready to take Dracula down before he can make us watch any more footage of people we’ve never seen before wandering across the screen while a guy in a wolf mask follows slowly behind them. Something about the weakness of vampires in the face of a crucifix is lost in the translation though, and rather than rely on the cross to dissolve or frighten the vampires, Sheetal just uses it to bludgeon them to death.
There’s a few interesting things about this movie — well, OK, everything about this movie is interesting — and one of them is the decision to use a Western style vampire with Western style weaknesses for being hit in the face over and over again with a big wooden cross. Finding information about this film is hard, and finding information about its auteur is just as hard thanks to the fact that he has the same name as a prolifically self-promoting and much discussed online yogi/holy man. Well, I assume they are different Harinam Singhs, though I am having fun thinking about the maker of Shaitani Dracula being a famed yogi in his spare time. Perhaps he could team up with Bob Christo. So for lack of any reference to which I can turn, I don’t know Singh’s background. But his film is one of the rare Indian horror films that turns to Christian iconography instead of having some local variation of a vampire beaten by a trishul or a statuette of Krishna or other Hindu relic. During her climactic battle with Dacula, which consists mostly of him rubbing his elbow against Sheetal’s shoulderblade like he’s giving her a deep tissue massage, our heroine also prays to Heaven. It’s hard to decipher any sort of actual meaning behind the use of Christianity in this movie. It’s possible that Singh’s target audience, if indeed there was such a thing, was a largely Christian rural audience. It happens. It could be that he was simply so influenced by Western vampire films that he wanted to stick with the tropes as defined in places like Hammer films and the old Universal horrors.
It could also be that Singh found making a prop cross out of a couple twigs was cheaper than shopping around to find an aluminum foil trishul.
There’s really no way to prepare yourself for a movie that fails so utterly on every single level. You can’t even begin to discuss things like continuity, because the film lacks continuity from one shot to the next, to say nothing of scene to scene. In his darkest dreams, Joseph Lai only wishes he was this incoherent, though he did approach Shaitani Dracula like levels of lunacy with his cobbled together animated feature, Space Thunder Kids. Although producer-director Harinam Singh is also credited as the writer, there’s no way there was a script for this movie. They had to be making it up as they went, shooting whatever the hell came to mind, randomly substituting different actors in for the same role when the previous actor went out for something to eat. The whole thing has the feel of a movie put together by keenly untalented but enthusiastic high schoolers over the course of a weekend.
From what I can gather, it was filmed in fifteen days. If that’s the case, it’s still no excuse. Roger Corman made The Fall of the House of Usher in as much time. Fifteen days is no excuse for a movie to be this completely bungled. I mean, for crying out loud! The wolfman’s mask comes off twice during one scene, and you can clearly see (or as clearly as you can see anything in this movie) the actor beneath as he struggles valiantly to put it back on. No millimeter of film was wasted on reshoots, and I have a feeling that while someone did indeed edit the film together, nothing was edited out. There are multiple scenes (actually, I think it’s the same scene played over a few times) where Sheetal is standing around waiting for her cue, nods, then begins the action. You can also see her holding a smoldering piece of paper from time to time, which she throws to the ground when other actors enter the scene. This isn’t some strange ritual; it’s Sheetal getting caught on camera throwing down the thing that is supposed to be creating the spooky fog for the scene. Every single frame Singh shot probably ended up in the film. Actually, it probably ended up in there four or five times.
The acting is about how you probably assume it is. I think most of the people were ad-libbing or reciting lines the director told to them just before they started the shot. Dracula is played by none other than writer-director-producer Harinam Singh, and in so far as his sole job is to sit between chicks in their underwear and show his plastic novelty fangs, he does a good job. Look long and hard at him, for that is the face of one of the least talented film makers in the entire world. Learn to love him. The woman who plays Sheetal is as bad as any actress you’d find in an American micro-budget, shot on video horror film. Like all the girls in this movie, at least when they are not wearing rubber masks, she’s remarkably hot. That seems to be have been the only qualification for getting a role in this movie, and one can’t help but wonder how a guy who obviously had no budget, no script, no talent, and likely just one movie camera, managed to convince so many attractive women to wander around in the woods while wearing just their panties and halter tops. I guess Singh isn’t completely talentless.
Analyzing the technical aspects of the movie is where one can really start to lose one’s mind. When I said most of the monsters were realized by putting a rubber Halloween mask on an actor, I wasn’t exaggerating. Those are really just rubber Halloween masks. It’s even better that they usually put the mask on with no real effort to coordinate the rest of the outfit, which is why you get such great monsters as “rubber werewolf mask girl wearing a bra.” The skeleton outfit had to be something Singh’s kid made for him. I will say that what this movie lacks in quality — which is everything — it certainly makes up for in quantity. Singh crams so many monsters into the movie that he can’t even find plot for them all. Thus, many of the monsters show up for a single shot then disappear, leaving us to ponder for the rest of our lives, “What was up with that guy wearing the hairy monster mask and a golf shirt?”
Not content merely to pack his film with frame after frame of shamefully inept special make-up effects, Singh also loads up on a few kungfu fights, each one more awkwardly staged than the last. The highlight, by far, is the fight between some random camper guy and the wolfman, since that fight causes the wolfman’s mask to come off for the second time in about fifteen seconds. Following hot on the heels of that fight, however, is the final throwdown between Sheetal, Dracula, and his two half-naked vampire chick assistants. It was kind enough of Harinam Singh to give us one girl-on-girl catfight between two combatants in tiny shorts and/or mini-skirts, but then he goes and immediately follows that up with a second one! What a guy. The choreography sets a new low for fight choreography, as most of the fight is done by having someone slowly and gently extend their arm and press their fist against an opponents face, which causes the opponent to react in…well, they don’t really react, but Singh dubs in some pretty mighty sound effects for the punches.
Putting a cute girl on a chair and rolling her around the achieve the effect of flight is about as advanced as this film gets. Indian horror film makers have, for a long time, drawn inspiration from Sam Raimi’s low budget supernatural shocker The Evil Dead. There is much in that film, both thematically and technically, that translates well into the Indian horror market. Raimi was working with nothing — no budget, very little equipment, untrained actors and friends for a cast. Everything they did, they had to figure out how to do while they were doing it. One can imagine Harinam Singh looking to The Evil Dead for inspiration the same way the Ramsays did, or the same way any number of would-be horror directors in America do. Singh makes you realize just how good Sam Raimi and his team were at what they did. In fact, as I said earlier, he makes you realize how good the Ramsays were at what they did.
And what the hell was up with the scene where are the people are way off in the distance and there’s a goose constantly bobbing its head into the foreground? What sort of crazy insane art is this???
What we have in Shaitani Dracula is something unique — a DIY, microbudget horror film. Such films are common in America, often with results that are just as incoherent (though rarely as entertaining). But DIY horror in India? Singh must be one among a very, very few. Hell, he may stand alone, a talentless maverick making horror movies on less than a shoestring budget. You can’t call this Bollywood or lump it in with professional films any more than you can watch a Todd Sheets movie and call it a Hollywood production. This is something from completely outside the mainstream, made entirely away from the Bollywood machine. This is a guy with a movie camera and some local acquaintances, going out into the woods to make a horror movie. Even within the community of Indian micro-budget horror directors — you’re Kanti Shah’s, your Kishan Shah’s, even your Baby’s (yes, his name is Baby) — Harinam Singh seems to stand apart from and outside of the established.
But Shaitani Dracula even beats a lot of its American peers in the world of microbudget horror, because it manages to be so bonkers that it becomes enchanting. It’s a bug-eyed, three-legged, mangy mutt of a movie, and when it hobbles up to you and whimpers, probably while involuntarily discharging some unidentifiable substance from a leaking scrotum, there’s really nothing you can do but look at that sad, pathetic beast and fall immediately in love with it. Awww, how ya doing, little fella? Let me bandage up that leaking scrotum for ya. I think I’m gonna name ya Shaitani Dracula. You can room with my other sad mutt, Santa Claus Meets the Ice Cream Bunny.
The big problem with most DIY horror is how utterly banal it is. Few filmmakers put any effort into an original script or idea, and fewer still seem to be able to tell something shocking from something that is merely juvenile. As a result, they become the worst thing: boring. If you don’t have a script, and you don’t have a good idea, and you don’t have any talent, you better be batshit insane. That’s what Singh has goingfor him. I was never bored during Shaitani Dracula. None of it ever makes a lick of sense, but there’s always something going on. Every scene features a wolfman or a vampire girl or that caveman with the red light on his face. Every scene is someone getting stalked by a monster in tennis shoes or a comely succubus in her underwear. If there was still a drive-in circuit, David Friedman would buy this film, make up some dubbing for it, and release it on the unsuspecting masses.
Unfortunately, that won’t be the case. While horror films have come back in vogue to a tiny degree and in the disguise of “thrillers,” thanks largely to the lingering popularity of The Sixth Sense in India, horror is still a tiny market, and there is no real DIY network for a beyond-the-bounds film maker like Singh. He needs a Something Weird Video, India Edition. I have no idea for whom Singh was making this film. The safe bet for horror in India was that it played well in rural areas, less so in big cities, but Singh would have to find a really backwoods community to successfully screen this film. Perhaps one of those villages full of insane people we find in other horror films and Gymkata.
If Shaitani Dracula has any peers, they exist within the ranks of American microbudget horror film makers, or perhaps amongst the men and women who worked the Florida exploitation film industry in the 60s and 70s. If Singh falls incredibly short of the standard set by Sam Raimi, we can at least see in him a kindred spirit to the likes of William Grefe, Doris Wishman, maybe even Larry Buchanan. Each of these people made films outside of the Hollywood machine, and most of the time, the movies they made were terrible, but terrible in that special way where utter incompetence meets with utter weirdness to create something that is worth watching and trying to comprehend, even if in the end such comprehension proves beyond the limits of the human mind. Even then, Singh is a breed apart. Most of the Florida exploitation film crew at least knew how to work their equipment. Singh seems to be encountering a movie camera for the first time.
One of the things I try to do is look at the cult cinema of other countries within a greater context. If you just watch Shaitani Dracula and use as a frame of reference other Bollywood or Tamil films, then Singh’s warped little study in goofball monster stupidity has no real merit or connection. But if you place it alongside the movies it truly deserves to be placed beside, things to start making a little more sense, at least within a context contained well inside insanity. Shaitani Dracula is outsider art in India, but in the United States, it has a support group in movies like Creature of Destruction or The Naked Witch. Singh’s wandering, aimless direction and tendency to edit together random shots with no meaning is really not entirely different than Doris Wishman’s tendency to let her camera drift away from the actors and settle on a random lamp or table leg, and both Wishman and Singh seem to share a lack of ability to focus the camera that borders on an almost pathological aversion to shooting a clear frame of film. But even dear ol’ Doris got it right sometimes. Harinam Singh’s ability to shoot almost an entire film without ever figuring out how to focus the camera makes him something akin to a much less competent Doris Wishman.
One also has to assume that Singh possessed at least a passing familiarity with the horror films of Italy and France from the 70s and 80s. The primary evidence for this familiarity would be that at least one version of the advertising for this film stole artwork from the poster for Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond. Beyond The Beyond, however, Singh’s work is similar, in an even cruder way if that is possible, to the surreal vampire films of French director Jean Rollin. Even the worst of Italian horror films showcase far more technical prowess than is on display in Shaitani Dracula, but Rollin’s films in France were shot in much the same way I assume Shaitani Dracula was shot: with non-professional actors, non-professional crew, minimal equipment, and whatever locations and costumes could be scrounged up without having to pay for them. Thus you get the same mix of modern street clothes accented with gratuitous opera capes. And just as I assume Singh had, at best, a concept scrawled down on the receipt for a take-out dinner, Rollin rarely worked with a script, preferring instead to make things up as he went. At its best, Jean Rollin’s work attained a surrealistic genius. Singh’s work, at its best, is a chick in white booty shorts waving her arms around as someone rolls her to and fro on a skateboard or office chair. Still, one gets the feeling that had he been in another time and place, Singh would have been right at home directing trashy, no-budget horror films for an outfit like Eurocine. The world was denied something very, very special the day Harinam Singh’s Zombie Lake didn’t get made.
It’s quite possible that Singh has earned the title “the Ed Wood, Jr., of India.” Lots of incomptent filmmakers get saddled with the Ed Wood title, but few actually deserve it. You see, it’s not enough just to be incompetent. Anyone can do that. Even I can make an incompetent movie. Incompetence on its own usually translates into tedium. And you can’t be bad on purpose. That’s just lazy. No, what Ed Wood had, and what I think Singh has, is that “perfect storm” of incompetence and crackpot vision that combine to create something so amazingly daft yet so profoundly earnest in every way that it becomes something uniquely, hilariously enjoyable. In this regard, Singh assumes his rightful place alongside Wood, Rollin, Jess Franco, and the other underground directors mentioned in this article.
It all makes sense now, doesn’t it? Harinam Singh is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He needs to be making movies to be released on a double bill with Plan 9 From Outer Space or Robot Monster. Robot Monster‘s Ro-man…now there’s a guy who could pal around with the Shaitani Dracula wolfman. I mean, it’s one thing to have a cheap wolfman suit. Plenty of films have tried to pass off, say, a Halloween store gorilla costume as an actual gorilla, even though the guy in it is standing upright and looks nothing like a gorilla (just capering about does not make you a gorilla). It takes it to a whole other level, though, to have the wolfman’s mask come off not once, but twice, in a single scene and just leave it in the movie. Seriously, how expensive would it have been to reshoot that single scene? Too expensive for Harinam Singh, and we, all of us, benefit from what is either his cheapness or his laziness.
There is much to be studied and understood about Indian horror movies. Why were they as popular as they were when everyone pretended to be ashamed of them? How does the content reflect influences from the more fecund horror industry of the West? How is it different? How are old themes and tropes tweaked for Indian audiences? What does it all mean? I think these are valuable avenues to explore, as I’m firm in my belief that understanding a people’s trash culture and why they embrace that trash goes a long way to helping you understand that culture and make connections with people (in other words, I’ve never had a successful conversation with a Japanese person based on Japanese arthouse cinema, but I’ve had tons of great relationships that stated with a shared knowledge of Bunta Sugawara). However, Shaitani Dracula really isn’t the place to begin such a study. It’s too far outside the mainstream even of outside-the-mainstream Indian horror movies. True, it shares some elements — the rural setting, the cheap titillation, the animated lightning bolt — but it is different in more ways than it is reflective of the rest of Indian horror cinema. Besides, any proper discussion of the history of Hindi horror and its place in Indian culture must rightfully begin with the Ramsay clan.
I love Shaitani Dracula. I absolutely love it. It fascinates me. I love what it represents in Indian cinema, that it is a lone example of what DIY horror filmmaking is like in India, removed from the mainstream, devoid of the built-in support network that assures even the most godawful shot-on-video dreck finds an audience in the United States. Of all the people I could hope to talk to in Indian cinema, I would like nothing more than to talk to Harinam Singh or one of his actors. The stories behind the slapdash making of this film must be worthy of a film in itself.