Horror has been taken to new heights by Pakistani filmmakers over the decades

Horror in popular culture provides an accurate barometer of societal concerns and anxieties of the time. So Mary Shelly's Frankenstein talked about the pitfalls of using science to play god and the recent spate of torture porn films is said to be a reaction to the human rights violations happening across the globe.

Ditto the case for horror films from Pakistan. Movies such as Zinda Lash and Zibahkhana reveal a side of the country better than any sociological tome. That it is done in a hugely entertaining manner is an added bonus.

For one, Pakistan was totally swinging in the Sixties as evidenced in Zinda Lash. The films are in Urdu and truly music to the ear. Though the film industry in Pakistan is influenced by the Hindi film industry, Pakistani films have an identity of their own.

Zinda Lash (1967), said to be the only X-rated film from Pakistan, blends elements of the evil professor and the Dracula stories. The movie begins with a professor trying out an elixir for eternal life. He is rewarded for his pain by turning into a vampire. A doctor, Aqil, comes visiting and is infected by the professor.

The professor then stalks Aqil's fiancée's family, preying on the fiancée who turns into a vampire and tries to kill her niece in one of the most shocking scenes in the film. Finally the brothers (Aqil's and the fiancée's) confront and kill the professor who disintegrates when touched by the sun's rays.

The subtext of awakening sexuality is too strong to be ignored — the way the women offer themselves to the vampire and the intoxication of first blood. For a Pakistani movie from the Sixties, Zinda Lash is pretty progressive with bar girls gyrating seductively and a fair bit of skin being shown as well.

Restoring films

The film has been beautifully restored by Mondo Macabro, the U.K.-based company that explores the wild side of world cinema. Why don't we treat our films with similar love and care? Guru Dutt's films are available for Rs. 45, but the quality would make you weep — that, however, is another story!

As part of the extras is a fascinating documentary by Mondo Macabro on South Asian horror films, Horror and Fantasy in South Asia. The documentary traces the horror boom of the Eighties by the Ramsay Brothers and Mohan Bhakri.

The documentary also looks at the action films from Pakistan in the Eighties, which in filmmaker and critic Omar Ali Khan's words “were the opposite of subtle — dialogue would be yelled.” All sorts of innovations were put in place to circumvent the strict moral code of the censors as revealed in clips from a movie endearingly called Haseena Atom Bomb. The documentary ends in Hyderabad where the mythological film found a new life with hi-tech special effects in Ammoru.

There is also an interesting “making of” documentary where the cast and crew talk of the difficulties and excitement of putting together Zinda Lash. Some members of the cast were met at Café 786 — remember Deewar?

Aurat Raj (1979) is simply incredible. Directed and produced by Rangeela, the film on the surface seems to be an unbridled foray into excess of every kind. But the subtext is razor-sharp satire. There is Rani who is tired of her philandering husband and decides to hit back. She starts the Aurat Raj party and wins by a huge majority. She buys an expensive bomb that is a gender bender — making turning men womanly and women masculine. All is well in the end but not before men are put through every indignity a woman is put through from match-making to being objectified in the eyes of lecherous women. There are umpteen songs and dances and also references to Sholay.

Omar Ali Khan's 2007 breakout film Zibahkhana,is a loving tribute to slasher flicks. Five teenagers set out for a concert in a haze of marijuana and rock music. Naturally they take a wrong turn and then are plagued by all manner of horrors from flesh-eating zombies to maniacal moms and burqua-clad killers. The film with its attractive actors, decidedly tongue-in-cheek tone and top-of-the-line production values, presents a super hip vision.

Wonder why our horror films have not moved from ladies in white saris and tantrics to splatter fests peppered with flesh-eating zombies. Are you listening, Mr. Varma?