Color, 1993, 132m.
Directed by Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay
Starring Karan Shah, Archana Puran Singh, Mayur, Johnny Lever

Color, 1986, 117m.
Directed by Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay
Starring Hemant Birje, Aarti Gupta, Sheetal
Mondo Macabro

You know what was wrong with A Nightmare on Elm Street? It didn't have any Michael Jackson impersonators. Thankfully that oversight is corrected with Mahakaal, the headlining entry in Mondo Macabro's Bollywood Horror Collection, Volume 3. The opening sequence of this unabashed imitation of the Wes Craven classic kicks off with a young college student, Seema, stalked through a creepy, chain-filled subterranean room by a disfigured maniac wielding a nasty, razor-fingered glove, only to wake up in her bed and find scratches on her nightgown and arm. The next day we meet our heroine, Anita, who hangs pictures and makes out with her boyfriend, Prakash, when not prancing around with him engaging in random musical numbers. Meanwhile a tough guy named The Boss and his posse have their eye on Anita, who also hangs out at a cafeteria run by Canteen, a flamboyant Michael Jackson wannabe who prances around in front of a big MJ Bad poster, kisses his male clientele on the lips, and brags about getting a part in the new Ramsay Brothers movie (hey, maybe Wes ripped this off for Scream!). Turns out Seema is Anita's best friend and tells her about this Freddy wannabe (who looks the same except he has a mullet instead of a big hat), and soon Anita's having similar nightmares about a spooky little girl in a white dress and Hindi-Freddy chasing her while his face melts off. The next morning The Boss and his boys try to gang rape Anita in broad daylight on campus by, uh, spraying her with a garden hose until Prakash shows up to kickbox the bejeezus out of them. To get over the trauma, Anita and her pals (including Canteen, of course) decide to head out for a picnic ("where we can sing, dance and have a good time!"), where they perform a big musical number about - what else? - picnics. Unfortunately their car breaks down, so the fun-loving kids have to stay overnight at a weird hotel run by a goofy manager with a Hitler mustache who enjoys peeping in on his guests while they paint their toenails. That night, faster than you can say "Tina, come to Freddy," Seema is butchered in her sleep by dozens of claw-gloved hands bursting through the carpet as her boyfriend watches. Soon Anita's having horrible daydreams about a white-eyed Seema following her in a body bag, Canteen has a daydream where he turns into a Paul Naschy lookalike named Shahenshah (with his own theme song), and Anita's parents reveal the horrible truth about Shakaal, "a foul stain on the human race" who killed children to increase his black magic powers. Turns out they killed him after he murdered Anita's older sister (in a very stylish, Very Ramsay flashback), and everyone must race against time before Anita becomes the demon's next victim.

Though the plot itself is more than a bit familiar, the colorful Mahakaal is filled with bizarre touches including a big snake attack in a jail cell, an atmospheric nightmare sequence in a labyrinthine aquarium, a nifty spin on the waterbed scene from the fourth Elm Street film, and a fluffy-haired mystic guru straight out of an Alejandro Jodorowsky film. The 132-minute running time zips by surprisingly quickly thanks to the brisk pacing and whiplash switches in tone, though this being a Bollywood film, the story is more conservative than its model; both of Anita's parents are alive and morally absolved from any wrongdoing, Seema "asks for it" by having sex with her boyfriend and even sabotaging the group's car to isolate them at the hotel, and the family unit is ultimately held as the greatest good above all. Had the Ramsays decided to follow this up with their own version of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, the results would have been really, really interesting. (This film does include some fleeting nods to the other films in the series, but for 99% of the time, it's really all about the first one.) Hilariously, the score also cribs from Charles Bernstein and Christopher Young's music for the first two Elm Street films, with Depeche Mode's instrumental "PIMPF" even making an unexpected cameo! As for the obligatory songs, they're all very upbeat and generally catchy, with one third-act disco nightclub number ("Hey Baby, Baby") coming completely out of left field. For some reason the title is translated as "The Monster" on the DVD packaging, but the dialogue instead translates it quite clearly as "The Time of Death."

Now on to disc two in this collection, an earlier and more traditional Ramsay offering entitled Tahkhana (or "The Dungeon") is another giddy haunted house with monsters yarn about two Singh sisters, Sapna and Aarti, whose black magician uncle Durjan tried to sacrifice them to a demonic god as children before he was imprisoned for eternity in his dungeon lair. They were separated during the ordeal and possess two pieces of a necklace which leads to a treasure within the cursed estate. Now their wizened evil uncle has managed to finally revive his dark lord, and when word gets out about the hidden fortune which must be secured with the aid of the missing sister, some shady family members come out of the woodwork. Meanwhile Sapna is now an unemployed vixen in a tight leather miniskirt who runs afoul of the scummy Shakhal, coincidentally her cousin, who tries to "ravage" her and in the process comes into possession of her locket. A wild goose chase ensues as he sends everyone else after the wrong treasure while looking for the real loot himself, but in the process the excavation lands everyone face to face with the very angry blood demon now looking to avenge the master whose soul provides its sustenance.

Packed with thunder, lightning, cobwebs, vultures, pounding synth music, and ooga booga beasties, Takhkhana is a solid, representative example of Ramsay horror with an original if somewhat convoluted story and the usual creepy-crawly atmospherics. Though you get plenty of shots of the monster's red eyes and scowling face, most of the real mayhem is packed together in the brisk final half hour which finally lets the demon loose with a host of amusing death scenes, most memorably a pickaxe impalement and a bizarre attack scene in a haystack. Made in the prime of the Ramsays' horror stride during the mid-'80s, this isn't the most inventive entry but it's perhaps the most representative and a pretty solid introduction for those who like a bit more plot and music than usual to temper their ghoulish antics.

Both features are presented on separate discs and look vastly superior to the blurry, unsubtitled tape editions fans have had to hunt down over the years. Color and detail are both very satisfying while the elements look clean and solid throughout. Some ghosting is evident during scenes with heavy motion, indicating this was probably sourced from a PAL master, but it's so gratifying to see these looking good it's a very minor sacrifice. The optional English subtitles are also lots of fun and well-written. Extras here are the usual Mondo Macabro "about" text extras and the Bollywood/Lollywood episode of the Mondo Macabro TV show, featuring coverage of the Ramsays and their successors with footage from plenty of wild-looking titles like Ammoru (which really, really needs a DVD release). As with their other Bollywood horror double bills, this delivers way more bang for your buck than any other collections out there.

Color, 1988, 134m.
Directed by Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay
Starring Jasmin, Hemant Birje, Sahila Chaddha

Color, 1989, 139m.
Directed by Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay
Starring Deepak Parashar, Amita Nangia, Sikander
Mondo Macabro

Bigger and better than its previous volume, Mondo Macabro's second pairing of titles from the shameless Ramsay family (read below for more about them if you haven't already) features two of their most effective and successful releases, both transferred from negative elements vastly superior to any prior Bollywood horror films out on the market. First up is Veerana, a powerhouse Indian riff on the old "witch-demon returns from the dead after being executed" trope that's been around since Black Sunday and Horror Hotel. However, this time the presence of screen siren Jasmin really kicks the proceedings into high gear as she seduces men willy-nilly and occasionally turns into a creepy bug-eyed wraith. In this case she's possessed by the spirit of the original, foxy witch whose disciples decide it would be a great cosmic joke to place her soul into the body of the local thakur responsible for the inquisition, using locks of the innocent girl's hair. As she reaches maturity, no one seems to be the wiser as the possessed girl goes about her grim business, picking off locals in cobweb-shrouded palaces. (The character's name is Jasmin, too, which probably resulted in a lot less confusion on the set.) Usually the routine seems to involve her seducing a man while surrounded by candelabra, only to turn into the gross-looking witch monster who likes to suck blood out of the guys' wrists. Meanwhile the disciples stay busy praying to a giant, flame-adorned demon in a nearby cellar before the townspeople gradually wake up and realize what's going on for the big action showdown.

If that doesn't sound wild enough, Veerana (which has zilch to do with vampires despite its DVD title translation, a bit of bloodsucking aside) also tosses in a hammy horror writer (whose latest book instigates a "huh?" clip from the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers), a possessed TV set, an overactive fog machine, a funk-scored spear fight with a bunch of monks, and lots of fluffy '80s hairstyles. How could you possibly resist? Though Indian films still prohibit actual kissing or overt nudity, this is much sexier than the usual Ramsay offering thanks to the premise, which often feels closer to an Italian gothic in flavor. Obviously, you won't be bored for a minute.

The Ramsays were really known for their wild haunted house films populated with vengeful demons, and Purana Haveli on the second disc of this Bollywood Horror Collection Vol. 2 is a representative example in line with their other hits like Purana Mandir, Darwaza and the great Hotel (which would make a killer future title for the Mondo Macabro folks). The film kicks off with a monstrous scream in a spooky cemetery (complete with the obligatory thunder and lightning), followed by screaming, a ticking grandfather clock, and a slow tracking show through a haunted mansion. That pretty much sets the tone for this film, which also unspools its disco-scored opening credits over paintings of the final days of Jesus Christ (for reasons never really explained). Our tale opens with a horny young couple in a broken-down car forced to spend the night in the spooky ruins only to fall afoul of a hairy monstrosity tucked away in one of the tombs, but the menace is caged in a handy iron-barred basement by a passing priest wielding a crucifix. Cut to our main story as pretty young Anita inherits the estate and decides to check it out, unaware that the drunk groundskeeper and two appraisers have just become the latest victims of dark forces lurking inside. After a baffling but very entertaining action scene with some menacing locals on a bridge, she and her buddies (who all enjoy bursting out in musical numbers, of course) go to check it out, while her scheming uncle (who occasionally disguises himself in drag) tries to figure out how to swipe everything aware from her. This sets the stage for pure, demonic evil to be unleashes, with a horned statue kicking things off in high style by perforating one of the guests. Lots of fun in a gory but strangely innocent fashion, Purani Haveli is very entertaining and ridiculously stylish, clearly influenced by everything from Edgar Wallace thrillers to... well, whatever you want to call a fat guy stripping down to his undies while belting Donna Summer's "Love to Love You, Baby." You'll never see that in American movie, folks.

Given the very dodgy history of Ramsay movies on home video, it's pretty miraculous how good these two titles look on DVD. The previous volume did its best with flawed video masters, but the transfers here look fresh and very crisp, easily outclassing many of India's own digital releases. Some very minor speckles are evident here and there, but that's very negligible quibbling compared to the classiness of the presentation here. As usual, the full frame presentation looks accurate, and the optional English subtitles are just fine throughout. Also as usual, the mono soundtracks can get very loud and shrill sometimes, so be sure to think about the neighbors while you're watching these. Extras are fairly minimal this time out, limited to theatrical trailers for both titles and the usual thorough, well-written text extras for the cast and crew. An essential weird world cinema release from top to bottom.

Color, 1990, 147m.
Directed by Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay
Starring Anirudh Agarwal, Vijayendra Ghatge, Hashmat Khan, Majeet Kullar

Color, 1984, 146m.
Directed by Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay
Starring Ajay Agarwai, Mohnish Bahl, Arti Gupta, Puneet Issar
Mondo Macabro

Though the Bollywood industry has only recently embraced outright horror films in the past few years with song-and-dance screamers riffing on the likes of I Know What You Did Last Summer, the country's horror heritage secretly stretches back several decades, largely thanks to the efforts of two men: Shyam and Tulsi Ramsay. Packing their movies with wild monsters, screaming damsels, gothic castles, hefty doses of gore, and colorful lighting, they stunned Indian audiences with such films as Hotel and these two wild outings, presented to American audiences for the first time. Cult film fans have been salivating for Ramsay releases on DVD since reading about them in Pete Tombs' indispensable Mondo Macabro book, and this double-dose should make a welcome appetizer for Western viewers.

The more famous of the two, Bandh Darwaza ("Closed Door") is a colorful, deliberately kitschy, violent vampire saga, with bloodsucker Neola entering an unholy pact with an expecting mother who promises her newborn if it's a female. Not surprisingly, mom has second thoughts and sends her husband to dispatch her partner in evil; however, faster than you can say Dracula, Prince of Darkness, the vampire is resurrected eighteen years later to continue his quest for the promised maiden. Not surprisingly, she isn't too thrilled with the prospect of becoming a bride of the undead, and her suitors and friends are packing up their gear for some rough-and-tumble monster hunting.

Though made in 1990, Bandh Darwaza feels very much like the Ramsays' more frequent early '80s outings and would play well with the likes of Fright Night (itself also remade into a Bollywood film). The ridiculous production design and fiesty performances make it great fun to watch, and the Ramsays wisely throw in some action footage every time the plot threatens to lag. The obligatory songs are extremely brief and delivered in an offhand fashion by India's standards, leaving plenty of room for monster mayhem -- particularly Agarwai's knockout, truly monstrous lead performance, complete with fiery eyes and gnashing teeth. From the profuse fog machines to the bat-themed decor and even some not-too-subtle musical lifts from American horror films, this is about as close to pure drive-in Indian cinema as you can get.

One of the Ramsays' most financially successful films was the earlier Purana Mandir, again featuring Agarwai as a vicious monster-- in this case, Saamri, a baby-eating, tourist-slashing fiend who gets rounded up and beheading by angry villagers. Two centuries later, the youngest male descendant (Bahl) of the beheaders has a sexy young girlfiend (Gupta) and a nasty curse hanging over his head; namely, all the women in his family turn into demons after giving birth. With his head and body soon reattached, Saamri is back in business terrorizing the countryside, with the naive young couple fighting for their lives to undo the sins of their fathers.

A bit more in line with the usual Bollywood formula, Purana Mandir spends more time on character development and romantic subplots than the average Ramsay fare but still delivers where it counts, particularly in the rousing final third when Saamri really cuts loose on the enitre cast. Once again the Western influence is evident from the '80s horror-style soundtrack to the heavy doses of neon-colored stage blood, and the colorless lead characters don't have a chance compared to the flamboyant villain.

Evaluating the condition of these films on DVD is a bit tricky, as anyone familiar with most Indian DVDs is well aware that (a) most films aren't well preserved if they even manage to survive at all, and (b) most transfers of anything older then five years or so tends to be plagued by rampant compression artifacts and inconsistent black levels. Bandh Darwaza looks surprisingly nice overall -- not spectacular by the usual DVD standards, but the colors and sharpness are impressive enough. Purana Mandir is taken from the best surviving video master, which still looks rather soft and dated -- but it's nice we have it all. Both come with optional English subtitles, and the full frame compositions appear to be accurate.

As usual the Mondo Macabro extras offer a solid primer on the country and context for the films, beginning with a nifty featurette, "Freddie, Jason and... Sammri: The Ramsays and the Birth of Bollywood Horror," which covers the Ramsays' pre-'90s horror career (mostly focusing on Purana Mandir). The Mondo Macabro episode on "South Asian Horror" broadens the territory a bit with a half-hour overview of unique Eastern terror from India, Pakistan and surrounding countries, with loads of poster art, stills and clips whetting your appetite for Bollywood Horror, Volume 2. Additional text extras ("About Bollywood Horror" and "Ramsay Family Values") provide additional details beyond the featurettes, written in MM's usual insightful style. Finally, you get an updated version of that delicious MM promo reel. Very highly recommended all around, and a refreshing demonstration that Bollywood horror goes far, far beyond the musical lite-slashers from the past few years.

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Frequently Asked Questions