Saturday, 21 December 2013

Review - Hell's Ground (2007 - Dir. Omar Khan)

This has really got me thinking about what makes a great film.  I've ranted recently about Uninhabited with its dull story and irritating characters who are incredibly adept at making stupid decisions. Then along comes Hell's Ground that has some stupid characters and at times, a very cliched story. But I like it. I think I've worked out why. 

If you had to write down a list of the top ten critically acclaimed films of all times using all of your film buff knowledge, there would probably be stuff like Battleship Potemkin, Vertigo and Citizen Kane in there. Now if you write down your top ten films they would probably be very different. So even though the films loved by critics worldwide have great stories, acting, etc they're still missing something. I actually think its two things that decide whether we personally love a film rather than merely appreciate it: atmosphere and tone. 

Without an atmosphere or tone that I like, a film better be pretty strong in other areas or I'm just not going to enjoy it. But for me a film can be lacking in terms of story, acting, characterisation, technical ability etc and still be great if the atmosphere and tone are right. It's the irrational secret ingredient that can make me love a film.

Uninhabited didn't have it. Hell's Ground does. Not in huge amounts but enough to make the viewing experience strangely pleasurable.

A group of five teenagers lie to their parents and slip away for a night of drugs and rock and roll. Ayesha (Rooshanie Ejaz) comes from a conservative family but due to peer pressure goes along for the ride. They have petrol problems on the way (funnily enough), take an enticing short cut (oh dear), pick up a mildly unhinged passenger (one of many, ahem... homages) and meet up with a Crazy Ralph type figure who sells them some dubious drugs whilst cackling and ranting (I did say it was cliched). Contaminated water has turned some locals into flesh eating zombies and the group of plucky chums soon come into contact with the drooling horde. Then things fly off on a bit of a tangent with the appearance of a mad killer who knocks about in a bloodstained white burka, slinging a spiky ball round on a chain at passersby.

So it's a film of two halves. The zombies look great. The special effects guy made them from tissue paper, latex and other zero budget stuff but they're not bad at all, very reminiscent of the zombies from Zombie Flesh Eaters. They get far too little screen time, although this is made up for by the insane serial killer, Baby.

The scenes that contain Baby are brilliant. Easily one of my favourite screen villains of recent times. The sight of Baby swinging that ball of death around is always unnerving. The killings are nicely disturbing but never become nasty and unpleasant (that all important tone I talked about earlier).

Wide angle lenses, smoke machines and lights were all completely abused during the making of Hell's Ground yet they add up to a very pleasing atmosphere. The short lenses aren't used for scene setting landscape shots, but for medium shots in scenes containing the characters, producing plenty of distortion. Due to its overuse, it becomes part of the style of the film rather than just a mark of a low budget horror enterprise. The smoke machines may as well be visible in some shots because they're constantly chucking out smoke. The operator had obviously had way too many Space Raiders and Red Bulls for brekkie. As for the lighting, well it cant be described as naturalistic. Huge inexplicable lights are just there, smack bang in the frame. Yet again, they add to the otherworldly atmosphere.

Being a Pakistani zombie film it shows some interesting differences between cultures. When Ayesha gets ready to go out on her dubious evening's jaunt she takes some risque clothes to get changed into. Risque for Pakistan anyway. In the UK her clothes would probably be considered too safe and dull to even have as a school uniform. It was also interesting to hear in the director's commentary that he was worried about some extreme swearing getting cut by the sensors. After all it was two utterances of a word that means... poo. Wild edgy stuff. 

Despite being fairly standard teen slasher characters, taking drugs and dancing to pop music they're actually fairly likeable. They feel more like real children rather than the stereotypes seen in the usual American fare. I wouldn't go as far as saying that I really cared about what happened to them; I didn't hate them though which has to be a good sign.

Finally a mention has to go to the music. The main theme is fantastic. In the review of A Bay of Blood I went on about how I could listen to the music on the Blu-ray menu for ages. The same applies here. The theme tune was acquired from a seventies film from Pakistan and what a cracker it is. Possibly worth the entrance fee alone.

I've struggled to decide on a final rating for this because it has so many faults but my overall feeling is positive. Plus I want to buy it so that I can watch it again at my leisure (in fact I've just ordered it this very minute). I think I'm going to have to make it a:

If you like this you could also try:
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween.


  1. I dislike the DVD cover, but sounds like this might be worth a watch.

    1. The cover is useless and not really that representative of the finished film. It's way too clean looking. Baby is far dirtier and grimier. It's not a classic by any stretch of the imagination but there's something about it that I couldn't help liking. So yeah, probably worth a watch.