Monday, October 19, 2020

Hotel (1981)

Directed by:
Shyam Ramsay
Tulsi Ramsay

The biggest turn-off for Bollywood movies, at least to me, is the length coupled with already knowing going in that the amount of filler is going to be huge. This one runs two hours and fifteen minutes, which perhaps isn't so terrible in theory. That is, until you consider that 135 minutes includes well over an hour of horror-free primary plot set-up, various (usually completely pointless) subplots, countless characters of varying degrees of importance (some of no importance whatsoever) and five musical numbers. That's just how they roll in India.

Suraj (Navin Nischol) is still in love with the beautiful Sushma (Neelam Mehra), even though she's long since married someone else. But that doesn't stop him from masochistically thumbing through old photos of her and having a five-minute-long musical fantasy with lyrics so corny they sound like pages ripped right out of an 11-year-old girl's diary. It's revealed that Sushma's father refused to allow her to marry him back in the day because he didn't make enough money. Nowadays, Suraj is very successful, however. He's a millionaire land developer and businessman who lives in a mansion and is busy building his empire when he's not obsessing over the one who got away. He sends his crooked, amoral building contractor Chhagan Patel (Ranjeet) and assistant Lalwani (Sudhir) to the remote, picturesque area of Balipuram to purchase some land on which he hopes to construct a lavish hotel called Hotel Hilltop.

Upon arrival, Chhagan attempts to bribe government officials into letting him buy state-owned land but is unsuccessful. He then discover there's one plot in a good location. The problem? While it may be unused it's not exactly unoccupied. It's an old Christian graveyard filled with hundred-year-old graves. Overseeing it is the elderly priest Father Benevolent (Krishnakant) who is aghast that the men would even consider disturbing the peaceful cemetery. That is until he learns that Chhagan is working free of charge for a deceased millionaire philanthropist's widow and hopes to build an orphanage and hospital there. All lies, of course, but it does the trick. He returns to Suraj, lies to him about needing two million dollars to purchase the land then returns to the priest and is able to get it for free because he believes it'll be used for a good cause.

Chhagan has his sexy secretary Shabho (Prema Narayan) pose as a wealthy widow who will be financing the project, buys off lawyer Kapoor (Pinchoo Kapoor), zoning official Mr. Gupta (T.P. Jain) and even the priest's young servant Yudi (Prem Bedi) to help seal the deal. As for bad omens, during the contract signing, the power goes out, a thunderstorm erupts and a wolf howls as soon as pen meets paper. Once the priest discovers the scam he's fallen for, he keels over from a heart attack. Chhagan arranges for the bodies to be dug up and then thrown into a mass grave while he puts the grave markers in a warehouse and hopes to sell them. We're then treated (?) to another long musical dance number which, to be fair, is much better than the first because it's set at a disco, features ass-bumping (!), grinding (!!) and what appear to be nunchucks (?!) and a weird song where dueling male and female vocalists debate about whether or not she should give up her virginity (!?!)

Vijay (Rakesh Roshan), Suraj's business partner, sends his immature brother Sanjay (Prem Krishan), who typically wants money but doesn't want to actually work for it, to oversee the hotel construction. There, he overhears Chhagan and company discussing what they've done. Sanjay gets his hands on some incriminating papers but they murder him, hide his car and bury his body. When Vijay shows up, they simply tell him he took off and, since that's fully in-character for his ne'er-do-well sibling, he believes them. Besides, he's a bit distracted. A feisty village woman named Vandana (Bindiya Goswami), who makes daily ice deliveries to the hotel, has struck his fancy. He even gives her a job at the hotel as a cook.

Just in time for the grand opening, smoke rolls out of the mass grave and then a series of supernatural "accidents" occur, starting with a man getting crushed by a falling chandelier while the secretary performs a song / dance routine wearing gold lamé hot pants and go-go boots. Sushma shows up with her much-older husband Girdharilal (Narendra Nath), who's an ill-tempered, insecure wife beater she was forced to marry to relieve her father's debt. In an embarrassing "comic" subplot, Mehmood plays a guest hoping to rekindle his relationship with his whiny wife only to run across a film director (Rajendra Nath) who keeps hitting on his spouse. The director attempts to slip an herbal love spell into the wife's drink but Mehmood drinks it and ends up falling in love with him instead. He then shaves off his mustache, starts acting like a flaming queen and stalks the director around the hotel trying to "romance" him.

Everyone's trapped there by a landslide, the phones go out and, in between all of the bickering, romance and comedy (not to mention a horribly choreographed / edited / sped-up fist fight on the terrace), we get the occasional supernatural murder. Someone's knocked down the stairs and impaled on a spear, another is run over by a driverless car and yet another is struck by lightning and then explodes! There's also death by boulder crushing, shards of broken glass flying out of a mirror (copied from the 1978 film THE LEGACY) and a phantom Doberman that keeps attacking. The most amusing bit is when a lovey-dovey musical number gets interrupted after the female singer discovers a corpse with its head twisted around backwards and starts shrieking mid-song. While most of this is silly there are a few standout serious horror moments, most especially the atmospheric bits in the woods where hands burst from the ground and shambling zombie-like figures in shrouds slowly lurch toward prospective victims.

What we've really got here is the epitome of a mixed bag. The long set-up is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the elaborate con game Chhagan is orchestrating is pretty interesting and motivations and characters are very well established before the horror even kicks in around the hour-and-fifteen minute mark. On the other hand, you have to wait an hour and fifteen minutes for the horror and even then it's constantly interrupted by the mood-crushing subplots. The seemingly complete disregard for pacing and tone is jarring and difficult to adjust to. One minute it's zipping right along and the next it slows to a crawl during an overlong dialogue scene or musical number, or it will immediately cut from a serious moody horror sequence to something goofy and lightweight. Both of the romance subplots, plus Mehmood's story, feature lame, half-assed resolutions because, well, they probably didn't have time for anything else. Actually, the Vinjay / Vandana one features no real resolution at all and you're kind of left hanging there.

As usual, there are a lot of Ramsay names on the crew list. Kumar Ramsay wrote the story and screenplay, Gangu Ramsay was the director of photography and Kiran Ramsay was the audiographer. Singer / dancer Leena Das appears in the second musical number. The same hotel location was used for other Ramsay films like Guest House (1980) and Dak Bangla (1987).

Though there were many soundtrack album and home video releases (on VHS, VCD and DVD) for this title in India and other parts of Asia, it was never released in America. Strangely, there was a pre cert VHS release in the UK from Orson Video but this release was only in Hindi. The later DVD release on the Indian Ultra Movies label supposedly comes with English subtitles.

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