Country and Year: India (1981)
Review By: Jeff
The Ramsay Brothers are practically synonymous with the Indian horror-film industry. (Indeed, two decades after the Ramsay’s heyday, a Bollywood website recently posted an article dissecting their “formula.”) However, like many Western viewers, I learned about the Ramsay Brothers from Pete Tombs’s classic book Mondo Macabro. (If you enjoy the types of movies reviewed on this website, this book is an
On September 29, 2006, the Mondo Macabro DVD line will release The Bollywood Horror Collection: Vol. 1, featuring Bandh Darwaza and another Ramsay film, Purana Mandir. I am fortunate to have seen Bandh Darwaza a few years ago, and DVD consumers will be in for a treat later this year when they check out this vampire romp chockablock with cool ghoulish props. (I recommend even more highly another Ramsay movie, Ghungroo Ki Awaaz, which is an atmospheric take-off of Vertigo and Les Diaboliques.)
Like most Indian horror movies, Ramsay Brothers films do not closely resemble what most people think of as a horror movie, in that they simply add an additional horror “track” to the traditional Bollywood formula. Thus, viewers of a Ramsay movie should be prepared for a lot of other elements that may or may not have any connection to the movie’s central supernatural plot — singing, dancing, melodrama, and alleged “comedy.”
Although Ramsay films have a bad reputation as low-budget, C-grade fodder for the hinterlands, I have found the non-horror elements in Ramsay films to be engaging, on par with mainstream Bollywood films from the late 70s/early 80s. (With the big exception being the aforementioned “comic relief” scenes, which could bring a strong man or woman to tears, particularly if they feature a horribly unfunny fellow named Jagdeep. I think my IQ permanently drops 5 points every time I sit through a Jagdeep routine.) That said, no one watches a Ramsay movie (or any other Bollywood horror film) for the songs or the romance — the more horror scenes, the better. Hence, Hotel is recommended viewing, as it features a whole bunch of fun fright scenes once the goblins come out of the woodwork (literally).
The main story told in Hotel is that of two friends and titans of commerce — Suraj and Vijay. (Vijay is played by Rakesh Roshan, who is the father of current Bollywood superstar Hrithik Roshan and the director of Krrish, which had its U.S. premiere at Subway Cinema’s 2006 New York Asian Film Festival.) Vijay has a ne’er-do-well brother named Sanjay, who has two character traits: playing the harmonica and sitting in a hammock.
Suraj hires a dodgy fellow named Chhangan Patel (Ranjeet) to build a hotel for him and Vijay. Unbeknownst to our heroes, Chhangan — along with his sultry secretary Shabbo (Prema Narayan) and a gaggle of flunkies — builds the hotel in (naturally) the dodgiest manner imaginable. Chhangan convinces a priest named Father Benevolent (yes, that’s his name) to sell him an old church graveyard, under the false pretense that the land will be used for the site of an orphanage and not a hotel. Once the deal is closed, Chhangan and his crew brazenly remove all of the bodies and tombstones from the cemetery, dumping all of the crosses and gravemarkers in a big, very cool-looking pile in a warehouse. Father Benevolent stumbles upon Chhangan’s cemetery uprooting party and dies of a heart attack on the spot. After the hotel is built, Sanjay comes across the pile of crosses, but is less impressed with it than I was. Thus, the bad guys are forced to dispose of Sanjay the hard way.
Needless to say, the displaced spirits will have their revenge, but not before a whole lot of other stuff happens. Suraj will reunite with an old flame who is now married, and Vijay will fall in love with a girl who brings him ice. Some actors playing hotel guests will drag out a comedy routine involving a love potion, which, tortuous though it may be, still will leave me grateful that it does not involve Jagdeep. Most importantly, Shabbo (who bears a striking resemblance to current starlet Mallika Sherawat) will strut her stuff in a musical number that innovatively combines disco and lapdancing.
The horror set pieces — once they arrive — are a lot of fun. They involve a dog attack, a surprisingly gory impalement, cool makeup effects, lots of camera zooms, death by crashing chandelier, death by lightning bolt, corpses coming out of the ground, double exposures, and untold numbers of ghouls and ghosts. While I do wish there was more horror in the first two thirds of the film, mercifully Jagdeep is nowhere to be found. Not just a film for connoisseurs of Bollywood esoterica, open-minded horror fans will find Hotel to be an engaging way to pass a Sunday afternoon. (And note that, despite the similar “displaced graves” element, according to the IMDb Hotel was actually released one year prior to Poltergeist).
Filed under: General and Movie Reviews and Rating: Good ★★★ and Contributors: Jeff and Movie Reviews: India and DVD Reviews: India and People: Ramsay Brothers