Zombies invade Pakistan

High-def horror pic shot in 30 days

NEW YORK — “Zibahkhana” (Hell’s Ground) might not be Pakistan’s first horror movie, but it’s almost certainly the first featuring midget zombies and produced by an ice cream mogul.

A co-production between U.K.-based video label Mondo Macabro and Pakistani production company Bubonic Films, “Zibahkhana” is directed by first-timer Omar Khan, a Pakistani film historian and the owner of a chain of ice cream shops in Lahore. Producer is Pete Tombs, an expert on Asian horror and exploitation movies whose Mondo Macabro video label has released such titles as Indonesia’s “Lady Terminator” and “Virgins From Hell.”

Shot in 30 days this summer on a high-def camera, “Zibahkhana” combines a cast of young unknowns with Pakistan film vets to tell the story of a gang of teens heading to a rock concert whose path is blocked by a protest against polluted drinking water. Cutting around the protestors on a little-used country road, they run afoul of a family of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”-style psychopaths who slaughter them with relish.

“We don’t have songs or comedy sequences, none of the prerequisites of the South Asian film,” says director Omar Khan. “It’s a complete ripping up of what’s expected from local productions.”

Shot for an unspecified sum, the picture was delayed from its initial start date in October 2005 by the Kashmir earthquake, which killed 73,276 people in Pakistan.

“I really didn’t think it was going to happen at that point,” says producer Pete Tombs.

Instead production was pushed to July, right in the middle of monsoon season.

“In June and July the rain is always just starting or just stopping,” Khan says. “I wanted to use heat, sweat and flies as part of the film. It was a very, very tough shoot.”

Shot by London-trained cinematographer Najaf Bilgrami, who works in the Pakistani television industry, and edited by U.K.-based Andy Starke, makeup was provided by Nawab Sagar, who was used to the less strenuous expectations of local movies.

“If there’s a Pakistani horror movie, he’s worked on it. But he was nervous when he realized what I expected from him,” Khan says. “People on the crew were not used to this level of nastiness, which was very exciting for me.”

“Zibahkhana” features veteran actors like Rehan, who has performed since 1947 in both Pakistan’s and India’s Hindi industries, most notably as the lead in 1967’s “Zinda laash,” (The Living Corpse) Pakistan’s musical version of the Dracula legend and a movie that Khan and Tombs restored on DVD a few years ago.

Producers are almost certain “Zibahkhana” will not be approved for domestic release by Pakistan’s censor board. Nevertheless, both producer and director believe in the marketability of their project.

“We have a dwarf zombie,” says Tombs.

“They are definitely the first Muslim zombies,” Khan adds.

And it seems like everyone wants to see what Muslim zombies look like. “Zibahkhana” has been invited to submit to Sundance, with entry fees waived.

Grady Hendrix blogs about Asian cinema for Variety at Kaiju Shakedown.