Color, 2008, 78m. / Directed by Omar Ali Khan / Starring Kunwar Ali Roshan, Rooshanie Ejaz, Rubya Chaudhry, Haider Raza, Rehan, Osman Khalid Butt / TLA (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Touted in its advertising as the first splatter film from Pakistan, Hell's Ground (original title: Zibahkhana) marks the inaugural feature film effort from the weird worldwide cinema excavators at Mondo Macabro, and as you might expect, it delivers the exploitation goods from the opening scenes with a streamlined narrative owing more than a few nods to '70s drive-in horror. Don't be fooled by the zombie references often tagged with the film, as the undead action is very brief and less relevant than it is in Lemora, but backwoods slasher fans should be amused to see a familiar formula trotted out in a very unfamiliar setting.

While bopping across the countryside to an underground rock show in their Eastern Mystery Machine van, five plucky teenagers stop off to grab some tea from a sinister geezer named Old Ralph -- uh, no, make that Deewana (played by The Living Corpse star Rehan), who warns them not to drive through the woods known as "Hell's Ground." They do, of course, and soon find themselves contending with an onslaught of horrors randing from the supernatural (the aforementioned zombies) to the flat-out twisted, namely a creepy old crazy woman and a lunatic slasher running around in a plasma-soaked burqa killing people with a spiky mace on a stick. Before you can say "Who will survive, and what will be left of them?," the body count spikes up as the woods run red with blood.

Short and slick, Hell's Ground was obviously shot on HD but still comes off slicker than many of its predecessors thanks to some colorful, inventive photography and sparing but effective bursts of gore, most notably thanks to that creepy burqa maniac (a very creepy villain who could have used even more screen time). The acting and character development is nothing special, of course, and if this had been in English, you'd be hard pressed to differentiate this from, say, Wrong Turn; however, the Pakistan setting makes all the difference here with little touches involving political protests and local mysticism lending the project an air of novelty even if you know where the overall story is going. In one of the most unexpected stylistic flourishes, the film also uses drawn comic book transitions at key junctures (a la Creepshow) which has to be a slasher movie first. Oh, and you get a decent amount of songs to keep things lively, too.

Mondo Macabro vet and director Omar Ali Khan contributes an entertaining audio commentary for this DVD release, which comes courtesy of TLA's worthwhile and hilariously all-over-the-board Danger After Dark series. He covers pretty much everything you'd want to know ranging from talent scouting to location work and how much the process of mounting a Pakistani film has changed since the heyday of '60s horror. He also appears in a truly unique 12-minute featurette, "Ice Cream Zombieland," which takes you to one of his real ice cream shops (with a striking cinematic visual design) used in the film and how the production fares locally. Other extras include some "LUMS Premiere Footage" with the cast and crew talking about the finished product, a "Zuj Music Video," a softer-looking theatrical trailer, and promos for other titles in the same DVD series. Fans of Pakistani monster films might be a little thrown by the more modern hack-and-slash angle overall, but more open-minded horror fanatics should find plenty of gruesomeness to lap up here.

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