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As part of their unique mission to bring the world's exploitation film fare to Region One DVD, The Mondo Macabro company offers The Bollywood Horror Collection Vol. 1, a dizzying taste of Indian horror filmmaking. The Ramsay brothers initiated a line of horror films starting in 1972, culminating in these two epic-length entertainments. Bandh Darwasa is an Indian reworking of the Dracula myth, and Purana Mendir tells the story of a 200 year-old family curse.
Bandh Darwaza, the newer of the two films, re-invents Bram Stoker's vampire Count as an Indian hell-demon. The imposing Ajay Agarwal sports fangs and strides everywhere with his black cape billowing behind him; he seduces and rapes his victims before leaving traditional oversized bite marks on their throats. The feral and ferocious monster is a decidedly kill-worthy villain.
The demon lives on Black Mountain and would have stayed there were it not for the foolish woman in the film's prologue, seventeen years in the past. Unable to conceive and fearful that her husband will reject her for a bride who can give him an heir, the wife enters into a pact with the Black Mountain cult. She willingly agrees (!?) to allow her female children to be claimed by the demon, and thus starts a multi-generational curse of the kind often seen in Bollywood sagas.
Just as in many Western horror fantasies the blame for Evil is placed squarely on the shoulders of the female sex. The vampire is male but his main agent is a scheming, disloyal servant woman. Behind her husband's back, the foolish wife leaves her house and makes a calamitous independent decision.
Bandh Darwaza is certainly lively; its 145 minutes are packed with incident and action. It's also almost completely artless -- overrun with zooms, obvious acting and cheap production values. The many musical numbers take place in broad daylight and without elaborate settings or group choreography. The horror scenes get all the attention. The vampire's palace is bathed in colored light and the shock editing emulates the style of European hits, especially Hammer films. Some of the cultural wrinkles are especially interesting for genre fans. The vampire is repulsed not only by a symbol of the Hindu god Shiva, but also by a Christian crucifix and the Moslem Koran. At last, a diversified, inclusive cultural villain!
The film is designed to provide an entire night's entertainment for Indian audiences, with songs, a brief jealousy complication between the handsome leading couple, comedy relief segments and Kung Fu fighting tossed into the eclectic mix. Bandh Darwaza's horror content is weakened by a highly repetitive plotline. All three female leads are kidnapped at least twice apiece and then rescued again. The characters continue to wander off alone, sleep unguarded and go driving into the foggy night as if the vampire peril were merely an inconvenience. By the time of the violent ending screenwriter Dev Kishan has killed off almost all the good characters, forcing the film to forgo the traditional celebratory Bollywood ending.
Mondo Macabro bills Purana Mandir as a bonus feature, apologizing for their inability to find the film's original negative with an opening disclaimer card. That really wasn't necessary, as only a few scenes appear to be sourced from imperfect materials. The earlier Purana Mandir is also a better film than the main feature, and strikes a more pleasing balance between horror and the commercial requirements of the Bollywood formula.
The horrible curse from the past in this pot-boiler stretches back 200 years to the typical botched demon-disposal problem of Western films like Mario Bava's Black Sunday: A prince catches the loathsome demon-ghoul Saamri (Ajay Agarwai again) but fails to follow the advice of the holy men. Saamri is decapitated and his head imprisoned apart from his body. The prince's family falls under a horrible curse, and each of his female heirs dies in childbirth after transforming into a horrible monster. This film also emphasizes the idea that Evil resides in the female sex.
Seventeen years later, the prince has apparently ignored the curse, and now forbids his daughter to see her secret boyfriend. The prince pretends that the issue is social barriers but eventually tells the family about the curse -- enough to send the young lovers and their best friends off to the old temple to resolve the problem, but not enough to permit them to deal with Saamri in an intelligent fashion. Once in the old palace and temple they get involved with mysterious caretakers, a comedy-relief bandit and superstitious villagers. The village leader is against the invaders from the city but his sexy sister tries to seduce the hero. The hero's best friend is a martial arts expert sworn to defend his pal to the death. Considering that the story is grossly padded with predictable Bollywood content -- love ballad musical interludes, kickboxing battles, lame jokes from the impish bandit -- Purana Mandir does a better job of holding our interest.
Because the villain Saamri is not a carbon copy of a Western icon he's a less familiar and more menacing figure. Ajay Agarwai's hell-demon is a hairy beast with a habit of choking victims until their eyes turn white. He eventually turns the foolish bandit into a demon slave. As did Bandh Darwaza, Purana Mandir annihilates most of its cast. The good characters sacrifice themselves in theatrical gestures and others suffer violent, arbitrary deaths. Our young and faultless couple pouts while enduring unpleasant trials, such as a shower head that dispenses blood. The remorseful prince leads the villagers in singing a prayer to Shiva. He shows up just in time to see the young hero publicly dispose of Saamri the way the holy men recommended in the first place, 200 years before.
The lessons learned are to keep daughters locked up and always do what the holy men say.
These Bollywood movies can be puzzling to Western audiences, who will appreciate Mondo Macabro's added value extras. The two-disc set's featurettes and text essays explain that the Ramsay family's horror films were shown mostly in lower-class neighborhoods where movie-going remained a popular weekly habit. The audiences came looking for a full range of genre exploitation content: Pretty girls, uncomplicated romance, songs, fighting and violence. Moral complications, intellectual themes and subtle character shadings were out.
Another featurette discusses Indian horror film taste during the 1980s, when Halloween's Michael Myers and A Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Krueger were hugely popular. The Ramsay family's horror output became much more popular when they invented their own demon "star", Saamri.
Mondo Macabro's 2-disc Bollywood Horror Collection Vol. 1 presents both of its feature films in careful transfers, correctly formatted to 1:37. Purana Mandir has sections that appear to be from less-than-perfect prints but both titles look splendid overall -- and together they last five hours. With its unique selection of international obscurities, Mondo Macabro is unique among horror-boutique DVD labels.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Bandh Darwaza rates: