Monday, August 29, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Before You Wreekh Yourself

Year: 1985
Director: Mohan Bhakri
Cast: Javed Khan, Deepika Chikhalia, Birbal
Run Time: 2 hours 11 minutes

Plot: Cheekh opens on the cruel and dictatorial Thakur (Madan Puri) doing cruel and dictatorial things before cutting to many years later. His daughter Deepa (Deepika Chikhalia) falls in love with the sculptor Sunil (Javed Khan of 1989's Khooni Murdaa), but a killer who is clearly seeking revenge for Thakur's past wrongs is lurking around the house. Also, Deepa and Sunil accidentally murder their friend Rohit (Raza Murad), so they must keep anyone from finding the body.

Analysis: A quick note: This film was only available to me in unsubtitled Hindi, so please take my review with a grain of salt. As always, I am focusing on the visual element of the film as well as how well it hews to the slasher formula, which is one that doesn't really require much script retention in the first place.

So it turns out that Bollywood was one of the quickest international cinema spaces to really hop on the slasher trend outside of North America. But after pumping out two films apiece in 1980 (Moodu Pani, Saboot) and 1981 (Sansani: The Sensation, Sannata), India seemed to have tired of the format until 1985 kicked things right back into gear. For my money, I'm glad they did, because Cheekh is the first film out of the five that actually feels like a slasher, which is very exciting.

Mind you, it's not always the best movie qua movies. There is an unfortunate reliance on shakycam when the filmmakers want to drum up some drama, there are a few quite egregious breaks of the 180 degree lines, and the shot of a man's gaze panning back and forth between a jar of poison (labelled, of course, "POISON") and his wife goes on for what feels like minutes too long. Oh, also there's a recurring gag that I believe is meant to be comedic where the punchline is that a woman is repeatedly sexually assaulted. Whee.....

That all definitely takes points off for Cheekh, but believe you me I've sat through much worse for this project. And as far as Bollywood slashers go, this is the cream of the crop. It's got a much better distribution of kills than the previous entries, keeping the pace up throughout, and even including a heaping helping of honest to God chase sequences! There may be a few too many scary moments that turn out to be pranks (including one that, if it happened in real life, would absolutely shatter the friendship between these people), but honestly that's still pretty consistent with the slasher formula. All that's missing is people doing impressions that are 30 years too old for them, and it's entirely possible that they did and I just missed it.

Finally, I'm proud to report, Cheekh is effectively scary more often than not. It's incredibly effective at drumming up nightmare imagery when it wants to, whether it's the material around Sunil hiding Mohit's body by slathering him in plaster and turning him into a sculpture, the scene where a medium accesses the spirit realm with a glowing red crystal ball, or several of the dynamic, quick-cutting sequences that blend chases with other frantic movement (especially dancing, because this is a Bollywood movie, after all). It's true that Cheekh is being graded on a scale that is heavily weighted toward 3/10 to 5/10 movies, but I had a blast with this one and that can't be discounted.

Killer: Deepa's Friend!
Final Girl: Deepa (Deepika Chikhalia)
Best Kill: I'm a sucker for any movie character in a wheelchair being dumped down the stairs, which is a real meat and potatoes murder movie classic.
Sign of the Times: Deepa's friend pranks her by dragging her into the water with her, which is not something you can do lightly in the age of cell phones.
Scariest Moment: The statue that Sunil has made of the corpse seems to come to life and chase Deepa.
Weirdest Moment: A woman takes a bath, wearing a full bra and panty set that is just getting drenched.
Champion Dialogue: N/A
Body Count: 11
    1. Killer's Dad is stabbed in the gut.
    2. Killer's Mom is stabbed in the gut.
    3. Thakur has his wheelchair pushed down the stairs.
    4. Man is burned to death.
    5. Rohit is shot accidentally.
    6. Woman is stabbed.
    7. Bathtub Lady is whipped or something.
    8. Doctor is killed indistinctly.
    9. Karate Man super jumps and falls onto a blade.
    10. Statue Man dies from various injuries sustained during a prolonged chase.
    11. Deepa's Friend is shot.
TL;DR: Cheekh is far from perfect, but it's the best slasher Bollywood has put out in the '80s so far, in terms of both tension building and nightmare imagery.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 798

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