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Pakistan Gets First Modern Horror Movie

Friday, July 20, 2007

By DENIS D. GRAY, Associated Press Writer

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — 

Omar Ali Khan has added a quirky dimension to the description of Pakistan as a front line of the war on terror _ a Hollywood-inspired movie that's sparking surprising interest at home and abroad.

"We had zero expectations," says the director of "Zibahkhana," the country's first modern-themed horror film which mixes plenty of blood and gore with humor as well as just about every genre cliche and some social commentary about today's Pakistan.

The film (titled "Hell's Ground" in English) has already been shown at festivals in Europe and the United States, cheered at sold-out screenings in Pakistan and garnered positive press, including an article in Time magazine.

Not bad for a what the 45-year-old director disarmingly calls "a very low budget, scuzzy, rough-edged, cheesy little horror film."

He attributes its success so far to it being "a modern-style horror movie from Pakistan when some foreigners still ask, `Do they really make movies in Pakistan?'"

Domestically, Khan sees "Zibahkhana" as a badly needed antidote to what's being churned out by the country's ossified film industry _ bad imitations of India's Bollywood with stylized acting, worn-out plots and obligatory song and dance numbers

"We'd like to rock the movie scene here. Our film demolishes all the traditional film-making barriers in Pakistan," he says. "We hope it will inspire some to take more risks."

Earlier this year, the country's actors, producers and directors appealed for government support to save the industry from near terminal decline, saying it could help reform society and wean viewers away from Islamic extremism.

While Khan doesn't aspire to such lofty goals, he says his film better reflects contemporary realities than most of what's offered by Lollywood, as Pakistan's Lahore-based film industry is known.

In it, five teenagers _ jeans-clad, attractive, mostly hip _ cut classes, then lose their way en route to a rock concert. As they stumble deeper into the countryside, they come across a psychotic family, zombies and a cannibalistic killer dressed in a burqa _ the head-to-toe robe worn by women in conservative Muslim communities. Khan insists it's an apolitical touch.

In fact, the director says there's a solid Muslim underlay to the film alongside a depiction of Westernized, urbanized Pakistani youth finding themselves aliens in Pakistan's still mainly rural culture.

The English-language film is unabashedly American, "a fan's love letter to the great horror movie makers I grew up with and worshipped," says Khan in his living room, its walls plastered with posters of such old U.S. films as "My Bloody Valentine" and "Creature from the Black Lagoon."

He credits his craze for horror flicks to watching the "The Wizard of Oz" at age 4 or 5 and being "annihilated to tears and laughter" by the Wicked Witch of the West character in that 1939 classic. His father was an Alfred Hitchcock fanatic.

Although he studied film in the United States, Khan went on to teach school and set up a chain of popular ice cream parlors in Pakistan before the movie bug bit him again.

"Hell's Ground" premiered in March at Denmark's biggest film festival and was shown at the Philadelphia Film Festival as well as three unofficial screenings in Pakistan.

Censors willing, Kahn hopes for an August release date in Pakistan, where he thinks his tale of gore will "entertain the pants off people."

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