Monday, July 30, 2018

Purani Haveli (1989)

... aka: Mansion of Evil
... aka: Old Mansion, The
... aka: Purani Haveli: Mansion of Evil

Directed by:
Shyam Ramsay
Tulsi Ramsay

Raja (Anil Dhawan) and his girlfriend Rita (Priti Sapru) are taking a drive through the country at night when their car overheats. It happens near a huge, abandoned mansion so they at least have a place to stay, except there's one little problem: The mansion also happens to be home to a white-eyed, rotten-toothed, frizzy-haired, humpbacked monster man (Manek Irani) who makes short work of both of them. A mysterious old man with a crucifix pops up just in time to drive the monster into a dungeon pit, drop the steel gate and chain a crucifix to the top to keep the beast from harming anyone else. But that's not the only horror that's kept this particular mansion unoccupied for some time. For starters, the creepy graveyard in the front yard diminishes the curb appeal. And then there's the issue of corpses from said graveyard sometimes turning up in the house. And the ground miraculously catching fire. And tombstones exploding. And this weird suit of armor (with devil horns!) that occasionally springs to life and crushes people to death. And... Well, we'll get into the rest here in a bit.

Needless to say, haveli owner Mr. Rana (Pinchoo Kapoor) can't wait to unload the place upon some unsuspecting schmuck. And he finds the perfect suckers in the shady Mr. Kumar (Vijay Arora) and his materialistic, evil wife Seema (Neelam Mehra), who've recently acquired a fortune though, technically, that money actually belongs to their naive niece Anita (Amita Nangia). After her parent's passing in a car accident, Anita was left in their custody and they've used her inheritance as their own personal piggy bank even since. While Mr. Rana and Mr. Kumar go to the mansion to have a look around, Seema conspires with her sleazy brother Vikram (Tej Sapru) to get Anita to marry him to secure them the rest of the inheritance. The issue? Anita rightfully can't stand Vikram and is already dating / in love with Sunil (Deepak Parashar), who owns a photography studio.

Seema and Vikram resort to numerous dirty tricks trying to split the two lovebirds up. They hire six goons to attack them but Sunil's able to fight them off. After Anita finds out what they've done, Seema slaps her in the face, pulls her hair and informs her that she won't allow for her to be with Sunil as it would shame the family name for a rich heiress like her to marry a lowly photographer. Vikram puts the final nail in the coffin by promising to kill Sunil if she doesn't break up with him. Backed in to a corner, Anita has no other choice but to comply with their wishes. However, her best friend Shobha (Shubha) goes to Sunil and informs him that Anita does indeed still love him and not to give up so easily.

Rana and Kumar have yet to return from the mansion after a week away (because they're dead), so most of the other characters, plus a bunch of their friends, head there by bus to find out what's going on. Although uninvited, Mangu (Satish Shah), Sunil's co-worker / friend and the obligatory must-be-comic-relief-because-he's-fat guy, goes undercover to spy. Vikram proves what a prick he is by getting drunk, spying on Anita as she's changing into her swimsuit and then attempting to rape her. Sunil arrives just in time to save her by punching Vikram out and beating him over the head with an empty gas can. Most of the mean characters (plus a few innocents) promptly fall victim to the monster that, it turns out, has supernatural powers it can use to strike out at victims from the hidden dungeon where it's locked up. That includes taking control of the statue / suit of armor, animating it and making it kill.

Narendra (Narendra Nath), the weird old man who's always lurking around, functions as both the Crazy Ralph harbinger of doom ("Death can come at any time!") and conveyor of the origins of the monster. Twenty years earlier, he and his very pregnant wife Jyoti were forced into the mansion when she went into labor during a car trip. Ignoring warnings from the female caretaker to go away because the place is an "abode of evil," Jyoti dies there after giving birth to a spirit-possessed mutant baby. The caretaker then instructed Narendra where to hide it and to always keep a holy cross on top. He's been wandering the grounds ever since then making sure his son doesn't escape. He eventually does, of course, due to the scheming of Vikram and Seema as they continue to try to do away with Sunil.

Basically a kitchen sink approach to a basic old dark house horror premise, this is structured almost identically to the previous Ramsay film Purana MandirTHE OLD TEMPLE (1984)... only this time the formula is much less enjoyable despite both possessing the same flaws. We'll start with the positives. This is an extremely visually appealing and colorful film. There's great photography, atmosphere and lighting and the mansion (Janjira Palace), various shooting locations, art direction and sets are all excellent. This also features two really fun creature designs with the monster and the suit of armor. Some of the instrumental music and the first musical number (out of three) are good. And there are some laughs to be had here, though they're almost exclusively due to things like the God awful fight and dance choreography.

While I loved looking at this film and some of the horror scenes are well done, the rest didn't do much for me. The editing is terrible, the dialogue is poor, the amount of filler is through the roof and most of the characters are either irritating or unlikable. The lead actress is stiff as a board and seems miserable and uncomfortable during all of her awkward romantic scenes with her male costar. And there are a lot of awkward romantic scenes. I actually felt bad for Parashar trying hard to generate chemistry with the block of ice trying to squirm away from him every time he's required to hug or kiss her. Much of the rest of the running time is dedicated to 'funny' actors who are required to overact, constantly scream, mug, look directly at the camera and make ridiculous goofy faces.

I didn't care for most of the musical numbers either. Lyrics across the board are cornball, the second upbeat song is terrible and the third is simply a rehash of the first except with a female doing the vocals over the same exact backing track. The attempts at humor are consistently dire, especially the bits with an old gay bus driver named Sher Khan (Raj Kishore), who has the hots for the hairy chubby guy and keeps wanting to rub against his back side, leading to a bunch of embarrassing comments like "I'm used to coming from behind!"

The worst sin of all is an utterly useless throwaway subplot that goes on for what feels like an eternity and seems grafted on simply to give Satish Shah a second role. It involves elephant-riding bandit king Kaala Gangu, his shrill wife Bijli (Tina Ghai) and conspirator Damar Singh (Bhushan Tiwari), who plots to murder Gangu so he can become leader. After Gangu is clubbed over the head, thrown into the river and believed dead, Mangu ineptly impersonates him until the real Gangu resurfaces again alive. None of this is interesting. None of it is funny. None of it really goes anywhere. And none of it has anything to do with the main plot line. In order to stuff that and the music all in, the film's running time is a numbing 2 hours and 20 minutes, which is insane for most countries but basically par for the course in India. While I don't mind genre jumbles so much, I do mind when most of the extraneous material sucks.

As usual, if you throw a rock at the credits, you're likely to hit a Ramsay. The associate director was Arjun Ramsay (who also edited and wrote the script and thus may be the least talented of the clan based on these being the weakest elements of the film), the producer and cinematographer was Gangu Ramsay, the associate producer was Chander Ramsay and it was presented by F.U. Ramsay. Upon seeing the mansion for the first time, one character quips, "The Ramsay Brothers should have bought it for another horror film!"

One of six Ramsay horror films released by Mondo Macabro here in the U.S., this one was paired up with Veerana: Vengeance of the Vampire (1988) on their 2 DVD set The Bollywood Horror Collection: Volume 2.

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