Since my initial foray into the world of modern no-budget Indian horror, I’ve applied myself enthusiastically to watching more and more movies of the same type. And while I am indeed assembling an impressive — some might say terrifying, others might say unfortunate — collection of such movies, information on them and the people making them remains elusive. But I’ve bellyached about that in the past, and at some point we’re all going to have to simply suck it up, deal with the fact that we’re going to be watching these movies half in the dark, and then get on with things. So it is that I decided if I can’t glean from the world a whole lot of information about Harinam Singh (though I live, still, in anticipation of the day he Googles his own name, finds my site, and gets in touch — hey, it worked with Bobby Suarez!), then I might as well just get to know the man better through his films. Stabbing blindly into the man’s filmography, the next delicacy I came up with was a little something called Gumnam Qatil.
Gumnam Qatil contains all of the incompetence of Harinam Singh’s monumental Shaitani Dracula, but very little of that film’s warped charm and accidental brilliance. Instead, this one lingers on the “boring” end of incompetent, though as one would expect from one of India’s premiere talentless creators of cheap horror films, there’s still enough idiocy on display to make the film worth watching if you are a Harinam Singh completist (and who isn’t?). There’s still plenty of monster-in-a-rubber-mask action, scantily clad chicks, lightning storms, and that same white bench-swing that we last saw in Kishan Shah’s Bhoot Ke Pechhe Bhoot, and which makes a surprising number of appearances in many other no-budget Indian horror films, making it sort of the Bronson Canyon of Indian scare movies.
The story, such as it can be divined and such as it even matters, involves a skull-faced ghoul in a white robe and black fedora, stalking around that park all these cheap horror films from the 2000s seem to share as a location. if nothing else, Singh’s film waste no time getting things rolling. After an awkward shot of a woman standing around waiting for someone to give her the cue to walk forward (which she eventually does), and another shot of a woman in a yellow sari just sort of standing there, we then cut immediately to the credit sequence, which is…oh my God! It’s that animated skull with wings from Pyasa Shaitan. And holy shit! It’s the lemur! It’s the lemur! The lemur has returned! I don’t know what the odds are that, of the few Indian horror films I’ve watched at this point, I should randomly come across this one that so liberally steals the credit sequence from the last one I watched. It could be that Pyasa Shaitan was so popular that dozens of later, cheaper horror films used its credits and dancing animated skeleton. And while this is ultimately just a symptom of the cheapness of Harinam Singh films, it also serves, at least for a warped individual like me, to create a sense of the familiar. Something almost familial, like all these whacked out spook films take place in the same universe and involve the same people.
As is the law in India, the credits are followed by a lightning storm with those same animated lightning bolts that show up in every horror film, accompanying a seemingly random assembly of images that includes the legs of some dude in white jeans, a deformed guy hobbling about, a mansion which, while large and seemingly well-appointed will obviously turn out to be cursed, and the standard issue maniacally shouting and laughing holy man, as common in low-rent Indian horror films as the Taoist priest was in kungfu-horror films from Hong Kong. Then we get a…holy cow! It’s the caveman guy from Shaitani Dracula! That random caveman with the red light shining on his face! His presence in this film is no more explained than his presence in Shaitani Dracula, leading me to posit that he is some sort of of Harinam Singh equivalent of the Greek Chorus or those bald man-children who observed everything in the Marvel universe while wearing togas, holding their arm straight out while spreading the fingers on their hand, and shouting, “Lo! We are forbidden from interfering with the course of the universe!”
We then cut to a guy in one of the worst sweatshirts in the world, and his hot chick, proving once again that Harinam Singh’s chief talent as a filmmaker seems to be convincing beautiful women to appear as terrible actresses in his equally terrible movies. They stare listlessly at the camera, punctuating their bored conversation from time to time by making “scared shoulders.” Singh then gives us another rapid-fire spray of seemingly random images and women in various states of skimpy sari and halter top undress. Then I think somewhere in that assault of images, there was a murder, but it’s hard to decipher from amongst all the random shots of clouds and shrubs and the increasing number of equally random beauties with short skirts and heaving bosoms.
Then Harinam Singh himself strolls across the screen, either in a role or possibly in an example of the director just wandering into a shot on his way to get a gyro from catering (ha ha — as if Harinam Singh films had catering). He’s wearing a robe and a cheap fedora, though when we see him a second later, he’s also augmented his ensemble with a rubber skull mask and looks like he’s on his way to a Michael Jackson video. I guess that’s the sort of thing you have to do when you start strangling big booty girls in hot pink jeans. Well, I think he’s strangling her. He could just as easily be giving her a shoulder massage. This shocking supernatural murder is followed up by shots of Harinam Singh staring at the camera and slowly looking back and forth, some more lightning, and a woman who appears and then disappears.
This is pretty much as coherent as the film gets. As with Sahitani Dracula, this is less a movie in the conventional sense than it is a seemingly random assemblage of images that, were Singh to have the benefit of a pretentious film studies student to defend his art, could be justified as a true cinematic representation of the non-linear, nonsensical, and sometimes completely incomprehensible structure of a nightmare. Unfortunately for Singh, though, he has yet to assemble the cadre of defenders that rally to the defense of European directors like Jean Rollin, Jess Franco, and Lucio Fulci (each of whom I myself fervently defend). So it’s left to me, and perhaps you, to build the cult around Harinam Singh and get his movies identified not as cheap crap slapped together by a guy who didn’t really give a damn, but instead as brilliant, surrealist deconstructions of the subconscious state. Go forth now, and turn this man into a genius.
While you’re busy doing that, Gumnam Qatil will keep itself busy with shots of a cute chick in a red halter top wandering through the woods, presumably being stalked by a rubber mask ghoul that looks nothing like the ghoul we just saw assailing the girl in pink jeans. From time to time, a flame flickers in front of the camera. I assume it’s supposed to be one of those little floating balls of flame that represent ghosts in some Asian cultures, though I didn’t know this folk legend had filtered down into India. It could just be that Singh thought superimposing candle flames on his film would look awesome. The film now settles into a pretty established pattern of watching women in low-cut tops staring at the camera, walking in front of some bushes, and eventually getting attacked by one of the two ghouls stalking the park. Actually, I think it’s supposed to be one ghoul, but no one could keep straight whether he was wearing a black or white robe, or whether it was a dude in a rubber scare mask or just a dude with a mustache.
Once the police show up to investigate the attacks — which already lends Gumnam Qatil an air of realism previously absent from Harinam Singh movies — it seems like we shift briefly to a completely different movie, with a different location (a city) and different film stock. It’s still obviously a Harinam Singh movie, containing as it does a lot of scenes of women in mini-skirts and halter tops lying around on beds, but now we’re following the exploits of a gang of would-be rapists who get their asses kicked by a gang of guys with pompadours and pleated jeans. Then we’re back to the haunted mansion and park, with some more random images and the return of the guy in the awful sweatshirt and his busty babe in the black leather mini-dress. Eventually, a large gang of young people show up.
From time to time, the ghoul menaces a member of this Scooby Doo gang of young folks who show up to walk back and forth in front of that white chair-swing, and from time to time they try to solve the mystery of the monster’s existence. In one scene, the entire gang enters a spooky house and spends several minutes of screen time walking randomly up and down the stairs without any regard for destination. It’s just a shot of everyone walking down the stairs, then a shot of everyone walking up some more stairs, then back down, then there’s probably a bolt of lightning. It’s like Harinam Singh rented out the castle from that M.C. Escher drawing. The scene goes on forever, and ultimately, it becomes the perfect metaphor for the film itself.
Eventually, we get a round to the big showdown, during which the monster is revealed by the laughing holy man from the beginning of the movie (ahh, so Singh had a plan all along!) to be…a guy in a rubber mask! Actually, it’s Harinam Singh in a rubber mask, but rather than teaching us some valuable lesson about how he makes movies full of monsters realized through the liberal employment of rubber fright masks only to reveal that HE is the monster behind the mask, this “it’s old Mr. Singh!” revelation just opens the door to a very long and meandering flashback that explains how the guy came to be stalking people in the park while dressed up as a skeleton.
This explanation is mostly comprised of lots of scenes of Harinam Singh making hot chicks in short skirts walk back and forth while he sits on a couch, which must be a pretty accurate reflection of the man’s real life. From time to time, one of them will dance for him in his bizarre bachelor pad, which has to be seen to be believed. Indian cinema has no shortage of awesome bachelor pads. Some of them have whiskey bars that drop down from the ceiling. Some of them have light up disco floors that ship complete with Helen in a slinky dress writhing around on them. The bachelor pad in Gumnam Qatil, however, looks like the result of a sullen stoner teenager with a sweet collection of Heavy Metal back issues finally being allowed by his parents to move into a room in the basement — having a room in the basement being the ultimate goal of all sullen teenagers. And true to that model, it’s a mostly concrete affair, with a cheap couch, bare floors, and walls covered in day-glo paintings of very 70s looking cartoon characters.
Part of the problem with Gumnam Qatil is that it almost makes sense in places, which means that to those of us who don’t speak the language, some manner of translation might prove helpful. Shaitani Dracula was so utterly bonkers that no language in the world could possibly force it to make sense, and thus watching it without benefit of subtitles was no big deal. It spoke the international language of “what the fuck?” But Gumnam Qatil never achieves those rarefied airs of lunacy, meaning that the lack of translation has some minor negative impact on the overall enjoyment I was able to extract from the film. But keep in mind I do say “minor.” Ultimately, a subtitled copy of this movie would mean that you could be bored by long bouts of nonsensical exposition you can understand, rather than being bored by long bouts of nonsensical exposition you don’t understand.
Gumnam Qatil has most of what I demand from a crappy Indian horror film — that white swing, a guy in a rubber mask grappling with chicks in their bras, that animated dancing skeleton that appears at random and was last seen in Kamal Hassan’s Pyasa Shaitan, a basement pad that looks like it was decorated entirely with items from the bargain bin of Spencer’s Gifts, and of course, a dude who dresses up as a skeleton. We also get some familiar faces from Shaitani Dracula, not the least of which would be Harinam Singh himself cast once again as the ghoul of the piece. In addition, Shweta and Pooja return, as does the random red-lit caveman and that fat guy who waddled around for no real reason (he’s a cop this time around, who shows up to be scared whenever the police arrive to prod at a dead body). Additionally, the same technical limitations hamper (and thus augment) this film as hampered Shaitani Dracula. Singh still seems incapable of keeping his movie in focus. There are plentiful random shots of doors, ceiling fans, and other mundane accouterments that hearken back to Doris Wishman’s famously wandering camera. Many of the scenes are so poorly lit so as to be rendered almost non-existent. And of course, there’s the rubber masked monster which, although it is eventually revealed to be just a guy in a mask even within the context of the film, still somehow has the power to teleport.
But something just isn’t quite as glorious about this film as Shaitani Dracula. It’s far from competent, but it’s just close enough that it loses the magic. Don’t get me wrong — there’s plenty of stuff worth seeing in this movie, but there’s also plenty of stuff worth missing. This is a film for people already initiated into the ways of Harinam Singh, rather than a film that is going to convince you to donate your worldly possessions to the man and join his cult (in the cult’s defense, he will use your worldly possessions to finance another rubber mask monster movie). Luckily, Gumnam Qatil barely inches its way over the hour mark, so even when it gets bogged down in pointless exposition or scenes that don’t involve a guy dressed up as a skeleton or cute chicks in short skirts, it hardly sticks around long enough to overstay its welcome. Ultimately, though, this is merely a slightly amusingly bad film, far from the awe-inspiring insanity of Singh’s true masterpiece.
Release Year: 2001 | Country: India | Starring: Harinam Singh, Sanjay Singh, Bablu, Sanjeev, Babby Singh, Madhuri Kale, Kiran, Shweta, Kajal, Pooja, Farha, Gangaram, Sonu, Yunus Parvez, Mahesh Raj, Ghanshyam Rohera, Rakesh, Shyam Saini, Janardhan Mishra | Screenplay: Harinam Singh | Director: Harinam Singh | Cinematographer: Shyamel Chakravarti | Music: S. Prabhat | Producer: Harinam Singh