Monday, February 22, 2010

The Horror Continues - SSSSHHH

Here is another in a series of Bollywood horror films that I plan to post on. This is a more recent production than the last one – Sssshhh from 2003. I have no idea what the film title has to do with the film but Sssshhh is the kind of sound I make after a third beer. I am not a great drinker needless to say. After one beer I am feeling fine, by the second beer I am getting sleepy and on the third beer I want to discuss politics. That is always a sign that it is time to stop.

But before that, I need another happy Shammi moment. This one from the classic An Evening in Paris, where he woos the wonderful Sharmila Tagore on a helicopter, a boat, skis and on land as only Shammi can. Why didn’t I learn to romance a girl like this? Of course, in this country it’s called stalking.

Director: Pavan Kaul
Year: 2003
Duration: 166 minutes

Malini (Simone Singh) is having a bad hair day on the squash court. First her back hand is out of sorts, then a ball she slams like a 45 slug just misses sideswiping her face on the rebound and next her buddy Sunny falls dead against the glass door covered in blood. As if that isn’t enough, an ethereal voice out of the darkness tells her she is next on the cutting board of life. And so she is, as a person hiding behind a laughing clown’s mask catches her in the deserted building and slices and dices her like a raw onion. It is a very effective beginning to this rarity – a Bollywood slasher film. In fact, a musical slasher film. Just what the world needed. Not a campy one, mind you but a straight up slash and gore film with musical numbers. I had my doubts about the camp aspect when the film jumps right from Malini’s corpse to a musical interlude/credit sequence in which all the background dancers were carrying blades on them – but no this is actually a fairly decent if waaaaay too long slash and splash film (kind of like if Annette, Frankie and friends were being gutted).

Back in 2003 Bollywood was hitting the skids and there were a number of attempts to give audiences something different and so a few films like this came out. The films are clearly greatly influenced by that I Saw You Last Summer type of film – young good looking actors who nearly all come to bad ends and one of them is doing it. That is certainly the case here – a group of new actors with the exception of Dino Morea who had been around a few years trying to make it as a Hero in “A” films but never quite getting there. He is handsome enough I expect but there is just something intangible missing – you can’t warm to this fellow – he is the kind of person I would not trust to hold my bag lunch while I ran an errand. But the big news in the casting was Tanisha in her film debut. Tanisha probably figures she can go by one name because it didn’t hurt her sister too much – that being Kajol. It was her first film so it is unfair to judge her acting skills and I haven’t seen her in anything since so I won’t – but my guess is that if she was say Tanisha Smith instead of Tanisha Mukerjee she would not have gotten within a mile of the studio. Nothing wrong with using connections though and she is cute, well built and from certain angles she has a definite resemblance to the great Kajol.

It is six months later and Malini’s sister Mahek (Tanisha) is still in a state of shock and cries every time she sees a squash racquet. She lives with her mother and goes to nearby Simon College where she has a small clique of close friends. Let me introduce them to you since we will be seeing a lot of them in the next 160 minutes. There is Rocky (Dino) who is the group tough guy – giving lip to the cops but clearly smitten by Mahek. His nerdy buddy Rajat (Gaurav Kapoor) – these kind of films always have one – gives him love advice but seems to take none himself. Mahek’s best friend is Gehna (Suvarna Jha), a tough talking no nonsense girl who may have a thing for Rocky or maybe for Mahek – hard to tell. Then there is Nikhil (Kushal Punjab) and his girlfriend Rhea (Tina Choudhary) who seem like love birds, almost too much so. Finally, there is the new kid in class, Suraj (Karan Nath), a quiet guy who is immediately attracted to Mahek as well. One of these nice people is very likely a psychotic killer. But which one? The film keeps you guessing till the very end as they decide to play Ten Little Indians and begin to die one after the other. At one point or another I suspected everyone – even Mahek’s mother, the cops, the neighborhood dog or maybe even Kajol out to stop her baby sister before she replaced her. So at some point I was right!

Coming in at nearly 3 hours is just too long for a suspense film – the viewer can easily weary long before the end of Mahek continuously escaping this killer who is out to get her in his crazy clown mask. But the individual set pieces (i.e. murders) all work fine and the actors are all charming and attractive and the locations are stunning. I am not sure where the first half takes place – somewhere up in the hills of India but good Lord it is gorgeous. I’d love to visit. And never leave. Then at the halfway mark the group decides to take a holiday from death and go to Thailand! So there are some nice shots in Bangkok and then off to one of Thailand’s magnificent Koh’s – islands – where you feel like you could spend a month just looking at the beautiful clear water and the stunning rock formations. I think it was Phi Phi Island where other films have been shot – the Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun, being one. Sadly, our little group thought they were stuck on a deserted island where they could get no help. I kept wanting to shout out – just walk a mile in any direction and you are sure to run into hordes of sun baked red Europeans drinking beer in the bars.

The music comes from Anu Malik, one of the current day’s most prolific composers, and it is fine if nothing I need to hear again. The songs are placed well though so as not to interrupt the build up too much – my favorite being when they get to Thailand and see a sign advertising Punjabi Night at the local disco! I know that’s where I always am on Friday nights in Thailand!

Punjabi Night. Don’t miss it if you visit Thailand. Sorry - crummy quality.

My rating for this film: 6.5

There are three other films I just wanted to mention. One is another Euro Spy film but the other two are from those budget public domain DVDs. Those $5 DVDs are really nice treats – some truly obscure films that on occasion are good finds. Just take a look at the cover of Liane, Jungle Goddess and tell me if there is one guy out there who would not plunk down $5 to see what was inside! Made back in 1956 by a German production company and shot in both Africa and Germany, it stars Marion Michaels as a white girl discovered in the jungle by a safari headed by a young Hardy Kruger (who was later to star in some major Hollywood films such as Hatari, Flight of the Phoenix and A Bridge Too Far). Like good white Christian people, they can’t have a white girl living among the savages though she seems to be having the time of her life swinging on vines, climbing trees like a cat and having a baby tiger as a pet. So they take her back to Hamburg where they find out she is the heir to a fortune. Neat how that works out. But Marion Michaels is Nymphet squared – totally cute – a little Bardot in her pouty face and Wikipedia claims that she was only the second German actress to appear nude in a film. Though barely visible, she clearly is here beneath her long blonde hair, but what is even more peculiar for a 1956 film is that it opens with a tribal dance routine with all the female natives topless. It always amazed me how nothing risqué could be shown on TV back when I was growing up unless the subject was black and from Africa and then showing nudity was fine because they didn’t really count as people. Here in fact is a lobby card showing such. Any way the film is totally harmless and also co-stars cult icon Reggie Nalder as the villain. Marion was apparently jailbait at the time of the filming – 16 years old – but I had no idea so please don’t set the police on me. The most curious thing about her life though is that she defected to East Germany – not too common an occurrence I imagine. There were two sequels to this film and in 1996 there was also a TV film biography made about her life. She died in 2007.

The other bargain basement DVD was Shadows Over Shanghai. I buy anything with Shanghai in the title. It was made in 1938 and was for its time interestingly very anti-Japanese invasion of China. A few Americans are caught up in the Japanese occupation of Shanghai with lots of stock footage of the bombing of the city (or some city). They are looking for a way out with both the Japanese and a Russian agent trying to stop them from delivering the McGuffin to Chinatown in the USA. The only actor that I have heard of in the film is James Nolan who won a Supporting Actor award in the 1945 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Ok - but not really recommended.

Before I get to the Euro Spy film, here is a Blog dedicated to spy movies and books. I like the looks of it and it mentions that the lovely Maggie Q is going to star in a TV La Femme Nikita series. I don’t know exactly why but that gets me a little bit excited. Good old Maggie Q.

A few posts back I made mention of the Euro spy series with Ken Clark starring as Agent 077. There is a third in the series and I watched it today – Special Mission Lady Chaplin (1966) – and I’d say it is the best in the series – action from the get go when a nun brings back the clean laundry to two monks and whips out a machine gun and shoots them down – and Clark is much less smarmy than in the other two films. But best of all, the femme fatale is played by the willowy blonde Daniela Bianchi, not seen by me since the fade out in From Russian with Love. I am intrigued by some of the other titles in her filmography – The Tiger Likes Fresh Blood, Operation Gold, Requiem for a Secret Agent, Your Turn to Die, Dirty Heroes and Operation Double 007. She was the runner up to Miss World in 1960 but I don’t know if choosing these parts was a great career path. Anyway, as Lady Chaplin she is the number one killer for a wealthy industrialist with power ambitions and an arsenal of nuke missiles. She is very good and very ruthless at her job, but then she has never had to deal with the masculine charms of 077! Stopovers are in London, Madrid, New York and Paris.

All of the 077 films had those slightly overblown early Bond-like theme songs – this is the one from Special Mission Lady Chaplin, sung by Italian pop star Bobby Solo.


Steve said...

If you like Tanisha you should see Neal N Nikki OTOH, it's not a horror movie, it's a horrible movie, though some people do like it.

Brian said...

Oh thanks, like I haven't been watching enough bad movies lately!

Brendony said...

Thanks so much! I have been searching for the Lady Chaplin theme song forever! This is very exciting!

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