[review by JA Kerswell]
|The detective suspects someone knows what the group did last summer ...
KULU MANALI is a super insane Tollywood slasher. Tollywood is the more over-the-top cousin of Bollywood - which is really saying something. In this Telugu language film, three couples and their comedy sidekick go on vacation to the mountains but start being picked off one-by-one by a masked killer with an ornamental axe. As with many Indian slashers, everyone has time to stop running away from the mad killer for a catchy song and dance number.
In the prologue, a young couple are murdered by the axe-wielding killer as they are camping. They had arrived earlier for a group holiday, but the other three couples have no idea that their friends are dead when they arrive in the mountains - especially as someone has sent a text to say that they returned to the city. The couples are annoyed that the hotel where they are staying has been overbooked. Local tour guide Harsha (Harsha Vardhan Reddy) tells them he has a solution and that there is a large remote house they can stay in out in the countryside.
On the way, they pick up a young woman Aparna (Archana Veda), who has broken down by the side of the road. At the house, they are met with a strange mute housekeeper in hot pants - who likes to turn and smirk at the camera for no discernible reason. The group begin to party, but one of them is murdered and they find his dead body the next morning. Harsha contacts the police and they send a glamorous female detective to investigate (Vimala Raman), but she finds that her car has been sabotaged and the group is marooned at the house. Despite the police presence, the murders continue and they begin to suspect that it has something to do with an event in their past …
|He axed for it!
There is nothing subtle about KULU MANALI - and that is part of its appeal. The incidental music is bombastic and hammers the audience anytime anything slightly dramatic happens. The performances are both stilted and exaggerated at the same time. Everyone’s acting is turned up to a ten throughout. It also seems that every single character falls over whilst being chased by a very nimble killer in the most staged way possible. Comedy sound effects pepper the film at appropriate moments to remind us not to take any of this too seriously.
KULU MANALI doesn’t have quite the magpie tendency of many Indian slashers (which often lift whole sequences and sometimes entire plots from North American subgenre movies). Although it does borrow the sunbed scene from I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1998) - a full 14 years after that film was released! Bloodletting is pretty minimal, with most of the kills happening off-screen - although one gore gag (where someone gets an axe to the head) was digitally blurred in the version I saw. The conservative nature of Tollywood films also means that nudity is also non-existent and leads to a ludicrous scene where a woman takes a shower whilst wearing a towel!
|Tollywood slasher KULU MANALI features perhaps the more chaste shower scene in cinema history.
The film also features some truly bizarre red herrings - including someone who has nothing to do with the killings previously but decides to try and kill two characters because one of them slapped him for perving over them. It also features a you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it showdown between the killer and the remaining members of the group by a river - where they all bust martial arts moves and the murderer gets to unleash a teeth-gnashing monologue about their motive. Plus it has a scene where a supposedly mute character has to explain that the killer has escaped through a game of charades. Stick around to the end to see outtakes showing the dowdy old lady who provides the singing voice for the glitzy actresses in the film!
Like many Indian thrillers, it is far too long (coming in at just under 2 hours), but there’s plenty of fun to be had here. Tollywood and Bollywood slashers are an acquired taste, certainly. However, this film’s sheer insanity and general exuberance is hard to resist for those with a taste for something a little different.
female: 7 / male: 7
1) Male slashed with an axe
2) Female killed with an axe (off screen)
3) Male killed with an axe (off screen)
4) Female killed with an axe (off screen)
5) Female dies of drug overdose
6) Male found hung from a tree
7) Male killed with an axe (off screen)
8) Female gets an axe to her head
9) Male hangs himself
10) Female hangs herself
11) Male whacked with an axe
12) Male hit in stomach with an axe
13) Female has throat slashed with an axe
14) Female shot dead
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