Shyam Ramsay and Tulsi Ramsay
Mondo Macabro

Making their way back to Bombay, Mondo Macabro returns to the vaults of the brothers Ramsay to mine two new gems for the second volume in their Bollywood Horror Collection. Busy with Gothic mansions, satanic curses, hard drinking men, exotic dames and cemeteries that burst into flames - if you’ve never had the pleasure of partaking in a night of Bollywood horror, this is an ideal place to start.

In a lonesome forest on the outskirts of a small Indian village, a witch has been seducing travelers to a gruesome and deadly demise. With the bodies of her victims beginning to pile up, it is decided that swift action must be taken after the latest cadaver turns up on the front steps of the village Thakur (Kulbhushan Kharbanda). Traveling into the dark forest alone, Sameer (Vijayendra Ghatge), the Thakur’s brother, quickly encounters the witch Nikita, wandering the dark woods by herself. Agreeing to give her a lift, Sameer escorts the witch to her seemingly abandoned abode, where he naturally makes himself at home, partaking in his host's spirits before disrobing for a relaxing hot tub session. Undressing to join her guest in the bath, Nikita prepares to strike for blood once more but find the tables turned when Sameer rips the bat amulet from around his demonic host’s neck causing her to revert back to her natural, hideous form. Subduing Nikita with the handy AUM symbol on a stick, a gift from his brother, Sameer brings the she-devil back to the village where she is hanged and burned. Gathering up her remains, Nikita’s loyal disciples, lead by an imposing high priest, vow vengeance against the Thakur’s family and immediately set in motion a plan that will transfer the spirit of their fallen goddess into the Thakur’s only daughter, Jasmin.

The next day Sameer agrees to take Jasmin into town with him, following a route that takes them straight through the dark forest. When his car breaks, Sameer unwisely leaves Jasmin alone in the car, where she is abruptly approached by the witch Nikita’s high priest. Rolling his eyes back into his head, the priest escapes with the young girl to the cavernous lair of Nikita. Returning to find Jasmin missing, Sameer follows the two, uncovering a devilish den filled with imposing horned statue that shoot flames from its palms and a ceremonial roundtable populated with zombies adorned with Easter Island heads, all of which appear to have been squeezed through a Play-Doh fun factory. Unable to stop the soul swapping ceremony, Sameer stands helpless as young Jasmin is locked inside a coffin with the charred body of the evil witch Nikita. Later that night, the high priest returns Jasmin to her father’s door, claiming to have found her wandering the forest alone, the only surviving passenger of a horrible accident. Grateful and unaware of his true nature, the Thakur invites the man to stay, foolishly granting him the title of Jasmin’s guardian. Years pass and Jasmin has grown to be quite a fetching young woman, but once again, bodies of young men are beginning to turn up in the dark forest, pointing to signs that Nikita might be preparing for a bloody return.

Loosely adapted from Jose Larraz's VAMPYRES, VEERANA (also known as "Vengeance of the Vampire") has everything a fan of world weird cinema could hope for. Poorly choreographed fight scenes, daunting behemoths of mystical origins and song and dance routines that are hilarious instead of inappropriate and annoying, all incased in a distinct local flavoring. Musical numbers and comedic relief provided by the portly Satish Shah, who plays a wannabe director named Hitchcock, are primarily played for camp, whereas the film's horror elements are taken quite seriously and are noticeably influenced by many western film aesthetics. Touches of Mario Bava can be seen throughout the picture in its use of colored lights, as are several visual cues from Sam Raimi’s THE EVIL DEAD and William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST. The majority of the film feels very westernized, with a particular Hammer horror leaning, but it's the touches of local folklore and mythos that provide for a distinctive and enjoyable cinematic experience.

Despite being held up by a variety of conflicts and battles with censors, VEERANA would prove to be a hit for the Ramsay Brothers, thanks in no small part to a sultry performance by newcomer Jasmin. While quite the captivating beauty in a straightaway, Jasmin’s profile reveals a schnoz that would make Jimmy Durante envious, however looking past her prominent nose (which could require binoculars depending on your height) reveals a pair of equally massive, trance educing eyes. Wisely exploited for optimum effect, her peepers, often highlighted by a single shard of light across her face, are used to express both the hypnotic control over her victims and to simply freak out the viewer at the sheer vastness of her ocular globes.

To complement VEERANA, Mondo Macabro has offered PURANI HAVELI, aka "The Mansion of Evil," which doesn’t have near as strong a feminine presence as its companion piece but does boast a far more impressive monster. The film opens with a couple breaking into the signature mansion, complete with its own handy adjacent graveyard, after their car breaks down on a nearby isolated road. Initially reluctant to spend the night in the home's dark catacombs (why they choose the basement to set up camp instead of one of the dozen empty rooms upstairs is anyone’s guess), the couple beds for the night only to be awakened by strange, foreboding noises nearby. Getting up to investigate, they are attacked by a giant Sasquatch-like beast that rips the two lovebirds limb from limb before being banished to a caged cellar by a cross wielding old man. Cut to Mr. Rana (Pinchoo Kapoor) who is looking to sell the very same mansion to eager buyers Mr. and Mrs. Kumar (Vijay Arora and Neelam Mehra). The couple plans on buying the property using money that their naive niece Anita (Amita Nangia) received from a settlement after the tragic passing of her parents. While a price is never set, Mr. Kumar agrees to the purchase, traveling to the house the following day to view his latest acquisition. Upon his arrival, Kumar barely has time to place his bags down before he is attacked by a large iron statue come-to-life. Chased out of the home by the horned knight, Kumar stumbles into the neighboring cemetery, which bursts into flames, trapping him before being pulled down into the earth below.

Meanwhile back home, Anita finds herself torn between her love for photographer Sunil (Deepak Parashar) and her aunt's wishes for her to marry Vikram (Tej Sapru). The arranged marriage, which has been devised as a means to find easier access to the funds of her family’s settlement, appalls Anita who wishes to stay by Sunil’s side. Recognizing the obstacle that lay before her, Anita’s aunts sends her, Vikram and a group of friends to their recently acquired second home, far away from the lovebird calling of Sunil. Tipped off to the impulsive vacation, Sunil follows the troupe as they unknowingly venture on toward the haunted manor. Upon their arrival, it becomes clear that Vikram will stop at nothing to keep Anita to himself, engaging in fisticuffs with any man who stands in his way, but neither he nor Sunil are prepared for the horrors that lie waiting, locked away in the mansion’s cellar.

There is noticeable distinction in the religious nature for PURANI HAVELI in contrast to most Bollywood horror pictures, VEERANA included, as Christian imagery peppers the film, most prevailingly in the opening credits. Likewise, the film's use of demonic deterrents has changed, with the AUM symbol having being replaced by a cross. Save for this tweaking, the film is very similar to VEERANA, but ups the ante in providing a monster that is both striking and hilariously low budget. A large Yeti of a man, the monster’s glazed over white eyes, constant joker smile and large rubber claws make a lasting impression. Save for the film's climax, the creature has little screen time. particularly in comparison to the films many subplots, but what scenes it does populate, it steals. One such memorable set piece, obviously lifted from NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, features the creature rising out of a bed to grab Anita’s sleeping aunt, dragging her down as she screams in horrified terror, before waking up to reveal that it's all a dream.

Taking his Dom Deluise shtick to the next level, Satish Shah returns, playing two roles, that of Manghu, Sunil’s comedic sidekick and Kaala Gangu, a ruthless, if not somewhat bumbling leader of a group of outlaws. A subplot involving Gangu replacing Manghu as the leader of the band of gypsies does little but ensure that the film meets the required 2 hour plus length, but thankfully plays out moments before the gag wears out its welcome. The musical numbers are also not near as knee slapping as VEERANA’s and drain the film's pace, but they are mercifully few and far between.

VEERANA and PURANI HAVELI are presented in brand new digital transfers from the original film negatives, both in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Given the rarity of such films, picture quality is impressively clear, with bright colors and rich in detail, leaving the only distractions to come from the film’s expected wear and damage, which is thankfully kept to a minimum. The audio for both features is an admirable Dolby Digital stereo mix, featuring the film's original Hindi language track, with the occasional spattering of English dialogue, accompanied by newly created, optional English subtitles. Extras include original theatrical trailers, as well as detailed essays from Pete Tombs for each film. The expanding Mondo Macabro trailer reel, which now runs over seven minutes in length, is always a crowd pleaser but unfortunately make no mentioned of the proposed third volume in the Bollywood Horror line which is schedule to include MAHAKAAL, the Ramsay’s brother’s take on Freddy Krueger. Given the amount of fun Volume 2 has provided, Volume 3 can not get here fast enough!
(Jason McElreath)