Monday, 2 July 2012

The Living Corpse (1967)

The Living Corpse (Zinda Laash) was only the second horror movie in the history of Pakistan’s film industry (which is based largely in Lahore and is therefore known as Lollywood). Made in 1967 it was a movie that most horror fans had no idea even existed until Mondo Macabro released in on DVD in 2003.

In a conversation with Mondo Macabro’s Pete Tombs Pakistani film critic and self-confessed horror nut Omar Khan mentioned that he had hazy childhood recollections of a 1960s Pakistani version of Dracula. He assumed the movie no longer existed but eventually was able to track down not merely a copy but the original negative. Even more happily the negative was substantially complete (one musical number only having gone missing). And even happier surprises were in store. The negative was in sufficiently good condition to warrant a DVD release and it proved to be possible to find the owner of the rights who was happy to oblige. So a couple of years later this supposedly lost film was once again available.

And was it worth all that trouble? The answer to that is a definite yes.

It’s an enjoyable and often very effective little horror flick with some odd features that set it apart from the usual run of Dracula clones and with its own take on the vampire mythos.

The movie starts with a lengthy pre-credits sequence that immediately sets it apart from most Dracula adaptations. The vampire is not a vampire from folklore. He is a scientist named Professor Tabani (played by the renowned Pakistani character actor Rehan) who believes he has discovered a way to conquer death. And he has done so, after a fashion, but not in the way he expected. He has become a vampire.

He is never referred to as Dracula but the movie credits Stoker’s novel as its source and he is clearly the Dracula character.

The Living Corpse (1967)

Some years later reports of a series of mysterious murders and disappearances draw the attention of a Dr Aqil to a lonely and deserted mansion. He has found what he was looking for but he doesn’t yet know what it is. He will soon find out.

That’s the last that is heard of Dr Aqil but his brother (played by one of Lollywood’s most popular actors of the time, Habib) has followed his trail and discovers the awful truth - Dr Aqil has now joined the ranks of the undead.

Professor Tabani had been fascinated by a photograph Dr Aqil was carrying, a photograph of his fiancée Shabnam. Now he is determined to find the girl in the photo and the girl and her family will find themselves being stalked by a vampire. Dr Aqil’s brother’s problem is that he knows very well what is going on but he cannot convince anyone to believe him. And how can he save Shabnam and her family if they will not believe his story?

The Living Corpse (1967)

The movie is fascinating for both the ways in which in sticks quite closely to Stoker’s novel and also for the ways in which it dramatically departs from it source. Dr Aqil is the equivalent of Jonathan Harker while Shabnam and her sister Shirin fulfil the roles of Mina and Lucy. There is no direct equivalent to Professor Van Helsing although Dr Aqil’s brother fulfills some aspects of that role in that he will be the chief enemy of Dracula/Professor Tabari. There is also an innkeeper who serves the role of filling in the backstory and explaining the vampire lore.

And the vampire lore is rather different as well. Obviously the most radical difference is that the vampire is a man-made monster rather than a supernatural creature. He behaves somewhat like other vampires - he is immortal, he drinks blood, he mesmerises his victims, he can turn his victims into vampires and he cannot tolerate sunlight. He can also be killed, not by a wooden stake through the heart, but by being drained of all his unclean blood. So in theory any weapon can be used against him if it results in sufficient blood loss. He is vulnerable to knives, and to bullets, although killing a vampire this way would be exceptionally difficult.

The Living Corpse (1967)

There is no mention of garlic or, naturally, of crosses. Although the opening monologue stresses the evil of defying God’s laws there is very little emphasis on the vampire as a spiritual or religious evil. He is simply a monster.

Rehan gives a great performance as Professor Tabari/Dracula. Surprisingly he had never seen a vampire movie when he played the role and yet he captures the sinister sexy glamour of the vampire superbly.

The acting is generally very good, with Deeba being particularly good as Shabnam. Habib in the role of Dr Aqil’s brother is the hero and he was the driving force behind the movie, acting as producer (although not credited as such). Interestingly enough he had also appeared in Lollywood’s one and only previous foray into the horror genre in 1964.

The Living Corpse (1967)

The special effects are quite good, especially considering that most of the people involved had virtually zero experience in making horror movies. There’s some nicely moody and shadowy black-and-white cinematography. This was by Lollywood standards a fairly lavish production. It never looks cheap or shoddy. It compares quite well to similar movies made in Mexico and in Europe at around the same time. The producers did not have the resources that Hammer had but even compared with the Hammer gothic horror movies it doesn’t look too bad. The makeup is quite good as well. The film-makers establish the gothic atmosphere without resorting to too many clichés.

And of course there’s singing and dancing!

Mention must be made of the energetic but at times bizarrely inappropriate musical score. At times everything comes together extremely well, even the music, while to other times the music tends to sabotage the atmosphere.

There are some genuine chills and the encounter with the bride of Dracula in which Dracula gives her a baby to feast on is a particularly shocking moment from the book that most Dracula adaptations have steered clear of.

The Living Corpse (1967)

The movie ran into trouble with the censors in Pakistan. They eventually passed it with the local equivalent of an X certificate but only on the condition that the producers should never make another horror movie. In fact they sent a letter to every distributor and producer on the country warning them off this genre!

The movie looks very good on DVD and Mondo Macabro have included a host of extras including a brief documentary on the making of the movie that includes interviews with many of the key actors and production crew, a documentary on southern Asian horror and an excellent commentary track by Pete Tombs and Omar Khan. Omar Khan’s knowledge of both horror movies and Lollywood is invaluable and fascinating.

This one is definitely recommended both for its odd departures from horror movie norms and for the ways in which it draws on the western horror movie tradition while giving it some local colour. This DVD is warmly recommended.

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