“She left the door open.”
“The ghost is about to come from behind.”
“Someone will scream now.”
I remember once storming out of a movie (Shaapit) midway because my friend kept predicting the surprise elements out loud in the theatre.
“Sometimes you need to switch off your logical side and just feel the thrills, man,” I had angrily advised my friend then.
Watching Amazon Prime India’s freshly launched web-series Shaitaan Haveli, created by stand-up comic turned filmmaker Varun Thakur, had me going over my own words.
Can you enjoy horror when you already know what’s coming? Let’s find out.
The makers already set us up with the disclaimer. The series begins with: This is a parody-ish tribute to the 80s horror movies. Don’t take it seriously.
The series follows the shenanigans of a ragtag film crew out to create a low-budget film with an obvious 80s horror hangover, who suddenly see their own make-believe coming alive in front of them.
We are talking drunk zombies, vampires turned ‘tantriks’, chudail with a crush on the said vampire, and a wannabe actor with a distinct Sallu bhai accent.
A Visual Treat For The 90s Kid
Think 80s horror films in Bollywood and you have Ramsay Brothers on the tip of your tongue. With their monochrome frames, predictable storylines, and cheap make-up and costumes, the Ramsay Brothers had given us classics like Bandh Darwaza (1990), Purani Haveli (1989) and Veerana (1988), creating a cult of their own.
Following in their footsteps, Shaitaan Haveli does a good job of bringing alive the aesthetic of a B-grade low-budget horror movie: from the colour-tone, the vintage fonts in the opening credits, the nostalgic early 90s retro background score, to the waiting-to-be-memefied comic expressions of the scary characters.
The opening sequence would make every 90s kid jump up and pay attention. Bless the power of nostalgia.
Plot-wise too, Shaitaan Haveli has all the makings of a low-budget B-grade horror film:
Random godforsaken ‘haveli’: Check
Out-of-context shower scenes: Check
Group of unsuspecting travellers who would wound up at the haveli: Check
More shower scenes: Check
Very loud screams: Check
Blood and guts shots: Check
Unnecessary sexual innuendos: Check
And of course, a hundred-year-old curse that activates itself on a ‘pooranmaasi ki raat’: Check
The characters too are as cliched as wearing red, green and white on a christmas eve. You have the dumb jock fella for the hero, a slightly redeemable second lead guy (played by Varun Thakur himself), the ‘I-am-gonna-try-and-seduce-the-ghost-because-that-has-to-work’ female lead and the token white girl for the shower scenes. The rest are extras to be killed off in the most gory fashion possible.
Beyond the Parody?
Here’s the thing. When a show breaks the fourth wall every now and then and puts out a disclaimer that it would be clichéd on purpose, as a viewer you invariably end up assuming that there is going to be a twist somewhere, right?
Four episodes down this series, one starts to wonder if the bad acting and awkward time lags between dialogues are really intentional at all.
Self-conscious humour is the premise, great. But two-minute-long cheesy follow-up jokes on how ‘fast food kills’ start to get taxing when you are on the 5th of the 8-episode series and the plot is going nowhere.
Around episode 6, the ‘let’s flashback to 200 years ago and introduce a whole new story-line so viewers forget that we have giant loopholes in the main plot’ trope is introduced. While it did relieve the lack of an actual story, it put a nail in the coffin of hope for any major twist taking place.
Even the areas of satire, which the show begins strongly on, start to wane as it reaches its last few episodes.
Horror & Sexual Innuendos
Audiences love sex scenes in horror, sexual innuendos in comedy, but not sex in family drama? Does that even make sense? How can family even exist without sex?Hariman Jeet, the in-movie film-director
This dialogue from the in-movie film director Hariman Jeet pretty much sums up the show’s take on overtly using sexual innuendos and objectifying the female actors when the storyline falls flat.
Shaitaan Haveli also calls out the sexist trope of typecasting the female leads as just objects of sexual gratification for the average moviegoer.
Problem is, after the initial commentary is passed, little is done to make the female characters redeemable from their initial ‘damsel in distress’ status.
The female lead is portrayed as sassy, selfish and conniving, unlike a typical sanskari ladki. But ultimately it’s her ‘lady charm’ that is used as a plot device, not her wit.
The ‘token white female lead’ character does show occasional sparks of insight but when a real crisis happens, she too is seen screaming and running away, leaving the ‘heroes’ to save her.
A 30-minute Youtube video was enough to exhaust all the B-grade film tropes used in the series and even top it off with witty commentary. An 8-episode web series to say the same thing feels like a bit of a stretch, IMHO.
All in all, Shaitaan Haveli, in its effort to spoof the 80s horror films, takes itself too lightly. Watch it for the dash of 80s nostalgia, and the many possible memes.