Story time. We had just published the video essay about Abid Brohi, and we had a little poll on twitter about the next video topic. To my surprise a lot of people opted for Pakistani horror. I say surprise, I should also mention that it was rather pleasant. I have always been a horror aficionado, and a video essay would give me a chance to watch a bucket of Pakistani horror films.
As I did my research the one thing that became really apparent was how many hurdles local horror films have to face. And also how, despite this, Pakistani horror is an incredibly resilient genre.
The Birth of Pakistani Horror
Right from the onset, the odds were stacked against horror buffs. Legend has it, that when the idea of a Pakistani version of Dracula was suggested, most people weren’t keen. In fact, they were sure that it would be a disaster. Some even wanted to ban the film from theatres.
Luckily, it wasn’t banned. In fact, Zinda Laash made its way into cinema halls, the festival circuit, and cult status. It was a sweet labour of love, and continues to have a devoted following.
If nothing else, the cinematography cannot be faulted. This film belongs to the beautiful, gothic romance ilk. And in a strange turn of events, it is also very unlike the kind of Pakistani horror that followed.
Pashto Cinema’s Most Bizarre Foray
One can’t help but be intrigued by Pashto cinema. Yes, it is definitely up there with the bawdiest cinematic legacies. Yes, the production values are low to the point of being negligible. And yes, the eroticism isn’t erotic; it is downright vulgar.
In hindsight, all of this made Pashto cinema the perfect backdrop for some of the weirdest Pakistani horror moments ever. Some of the films that make up this cannon have actually scarred me for life. And no; this isn’t because they’re particularly scary.
But I do have to give these devils their due. With the kind of resources (if you can call them that) that were available, I’m surprised Pashto filmmakers even made movies. And these films were incredibly original. Which, if you remember, is one of the problems I have with Pakistani horror in general.
Zibakhanna et al.
The deliciously peculiar Zibakhanna deserves some props. If nothing else, it definitely reminded local filmmakers to experiment with the genre. I love this film, and am still upset that it didn’t get the same props as other films released around that time.
Sure, it may not have been the ‘revival of Pakistani cinema’ like Khuda Kay Liye. And no, it wasn’t a harrowing social commentary project like Ramchand Pakistani either. But it was experimental. It won accolades. And it was a bit more sophisticated than a localised version of the slasher genre.
It has been billed as the sequel to Zinda Laash, primarily because the main vampire from the classic makes a cameo. But I feel that if nothing else, it does share an ‘against all odds’ journey with Zinda Laash. Nobody except the writer-director had faith in this project. And I am so glad that he went with his gut, because this is a local milestone.
Even as I write this, Pari the newest addition to the Pakistani horror cannon is playing across cinemas. I’m sure it won’t be a perfect film, but I’m okay with that. It is another addition to a local film genre that almost didn’t exist. And because of this, it is the kind of cinema that gives me hope.
Local filmmakers often have to work with all the odds stacked against them. So, the fact that they still persevere is something to be admired.