Color, 2002, 151m. / Directed by Vikram Bhatt / Starring Bipasha Basu, Dino Morea, Ashutoh Rana / Tips (India R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) / DD5.1

The strange Bollywood horror parade continues with another tweaked and twisted reinterpretation of American shockers courtesy of Raaz. Though blatantly designed as a copy of Robert Zemeckis' anemic What Lies Beneath (itself a pastiche of much better Hitchcock and Polanski films), Raaz incorporates a flurry of other horror references amidst musical numbers, uneven special effects, and photogenic, fashion-friendly Indian performers.

Things kick off with a bang as a gang of college students are playing spin the bottle in the woods. One girl refuses to play along and takes off into the darkness, pursued by her male admirer. Upon nearing a desolate house, the girl stops in her tracks and is suddenly attacked by an unseen force, presaged by an eerie gust of wind. Cut to the local hospital hours later, where a skilled parapsychology professor (Ashutosh Rana) is called in to help the now-possessed nymphet, who has broken her boyfriend's arm and does a Linda Blair routine in the isolation ward. The ghost expert exclaims that this is no medical matter but rather "an erratic spirit" of the sort that has taunted mankind for centuries. He then leads the doctors back to the woods, where a sinister black bird swoops by just as the possessed girl expires. "Lightning will strike again," he warns... as we cut to a nightclub complete with monks performing an Enigma-style dance number. Lovely Sanjara (Bipasha Basu) scolds her husband, Aditya (Dino Morea), for ignoring her all night in favor of his business colleagues; they leave the club and continue squabbling in the car, where she insists on a divorce. He angrily leaves, and while driving home, Sanjara is involved in a horrific accident which leaves her near death. Upon her recovery, Sanjara and Aditya agree to repair their marriage by returning to the Swiss-like valley of Ooty, where they first fell in love. Sure enough, they go to the same house where the "erratic spirit" roams. A series of spooky accidents begin to mount involving whispering voices, smoky manifestations in mirrors, and torrents of blood spewing from a chandelier, but Aditya refuses to believe that something is amiss. Distraught and teetering on insanity, Sanjara enlists the aid of the professor to uncover what will prove to be a deadly mystery in which her husband was directly involved.

Skillfully shot in scope and extremely fast-paced, Raaz is an engaging horror confection with a winning lead performance by Bashu. Most of the musical numbers (apart from the powerhouse "Shanti Shanti" opener, a catchy song to be sure) are the usual romantic filler, which may test the patience of horror buffs unfamiliar with Indian movie fare, but the horrific moments are well handled and feature some wonderfully manipulative split surround audio effects. Though the basic structure echoes Zemeckis' film, this is thankfully a much more confident and memorable effort - and it's pretty to look at, too. The only major drawback is an overly long explanatory flashback to explain the ghost's presence; it could have easily been half the length while conveying the same idea.

Tips' DVD is a technically polished affair, as one might expect from a title this recent. Some exterior scenes display damage which may be a flaw carried over from the original elements, while interiors are beautifully saturated and appear pristine. The dialogue alternates between Hindi and occasional exclamations in English, which can be disorienting; every fifth line or so appears to be a restatement intended for non-Hindi speaking viewers. In any case there are optional English subtitles, which appear far down in the lower letterbox band (so sorry, no zooming in for 16:9 TV owners). The very active (and loud) 5.1 audio track is just as aggressive as most Indian DVD titles. The disc contains the usual chapter stops and song selections, with an array of trailers for recent theatrical Bollywood titles.

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