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Plot: horror-loving girl fights vampires with the help of a celebrity author.

For nearly 40 years the hallowed house of Ramsay - Bollywood’s own seven-headed low-budget horror monstrosity - held a long tradition of aping popular American properties and reimagining them for Hindi sensibilities and catering to the retrograde and regressive tastes of low-end grindhouses in rural villages. The Ramsays never shied away from dousing their productions in blood and they were in the habit of casting beautiful young women. They were the force behind illustrious classics as Darwaza (1978), Saboot (1980), Purana Mandir (1984), Tahkhana (1986), Purani Haveli (1989), Veerana (1988), Bandh Darwaza (1990), and Mahakaal (1994). If Shyam Ramsay’s Neighbours: They Are Vampires (simply Neighbours hereafter) is indication of anything, it’s that little to nothing has changed in the intervening three decades since their 1980s heyday. Shyam Ramsay would direct Gentayangan (2018) some four years later with a no-name cast and to little fanfare. It would also prove to be his swansong. The curtain did not fall over the house of Ramsay in some grandiloquent fashion. Instead the brothers went into the night in quiet resignation and humiliating defeat. The world had moved on. Without them.

Was everything the brothers seven produced a classic? Well, no – but they picked up on trends albeit usually about a decade later. They responded to the gothic horror revival from the early-to-mid seventies with Purana Mandir (1984) and Purani Haveli (1989), they paid tribute to the work of Mario Bava with Veerana (1988). They even went as far as to do an unofficial A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) remake with Mahakaal (1994). Mexico and Indonesia got there earlier with Trampa Infernal (1989) and Srigala (1981), respectively but at least the Ramsays had the good sense to make it half as crazy and about twice as cheap. Neighbours, for those not in the know, is the brothers illicit remake of American horror sub-classic Fright Night (1985). While it follows the Tom Holland original quite faithfully and some details have been altered to better suit Indian cultural sensibilities. The biggest change is that it gender-swaps the leads which leads to some interesting problems and gender dynamics that the original didn’t have. There’s also enough blood, fangs and implied nudity to put it on par with the average Renato Polselli or José Ramón Larraz romp. Allegedly Neighbours was intended as a throwback to the erotic horror of yore but suffice to say it never quite succeeds. However, all things considered Neighbours works well enough as a regional reimagining of Fright Night (1985). The old Ramsay formula is given a contemporary make-over but the old ills are still very present…

In Kulbatta, a suburb of Mumbai, one of the last surviving vampires Kapalika (Roushika Reikhi, as Rushika Reikhi) has settled down. Forest officer Vikrant (Gavie Chahal), a Shiv Bhakt, almost falls for her dance of seduction but is beset by ominous looking monks after spotting a black mark on her back. He’s able to ward off Kapalika by burning an Om symbol on her forehead and not much later reducing her to ashes by unleashing his amulet’s mystic powers. From the foliage watches her Master (Arbaaz Ali Khan) who vows to resurrect Kapalika’s spirit and avenge her slaying. In the city horror-obsessed teen Sanam Chopra (Hritu Dudani, as Hritu) gets an invitation to meet her novelist idol professor Malhotra Indernath (Shakti Kapoor) when modeling for her photographer boyfriend Karan (Sunny Singh) one day. Meanwhile in another part of the city Tanya (Roushika Reikhi, as Rushika Reikhi), who turns out to be Vikrant’s sister, experiences a punctured tire. The Master comes to her rescue and takes her to his studio apartment opposite of Sanam’s building. There he engages in a ritual summoning of Kapalika’s spirit who possesses the body of Tanya. She relays her story to professor Indernath and his assistant Sweety (Kirti Vaidya, as Kirti Vaidhya). The two initially brush off Sanam’s mad ravings about vampires as product of a fertile imagination. Sanam’s jock friend Aryan (Rufy Khan, as Rufe Khan) takes an interest in Sweety and when she’s vampirized Sanam, the professor, and her friends join forces to cast Kapalika and the Master back into the darkness from whence they came…

While this sounds like the trusty old “good girl fights evil” plot ubiquitous in horror cinema the gender-swapping of the leads creates some interesting problems. This being India, and this being a Ramsay production, the possibility of Sanam being a woman with determination and agency was nil. Sanam from the beginning is introduced as the nominal hero of the piece, but she’s as passive and immobile as female love interests were in Ramsay features thirty years ago. Springing to her rescue at every turn is her boyfriend Karan. In Fright Night (1985) the main character’s love interest was pretty much a nonentity and had no weight from a narrative standpoint. Here Karan is the most upwardly mobile and pro-active of the entire group. Sanam, to her everlasting detriment, usually stands around, scared out of her wits, waiting patiently to be rescued. This is a good time as any to talk about the duality of how women are portrayed here. Kapalika, Tanya, and Sweety all are given some, or multiple, things to do and possess a degree of agency that Sanam doesn’t. It makes you wonder why. The Ramsays have a long history of ripping off poster art, and here it's Disturbia (2007) that very blatantly gets the treatment. Which sort of makes sense as Neighbours rips that one off about as much as Fright Night (1985).

All Christian iconography has been replaced by their Indian counterparts, and the sacred Om (ॐ) symbol features prominently in several scenes. The vampires here will be familiar to European - and American audiences and for a change they bear no meaningful resemblance to the bhoot or bhut of popular Indian folklore. The bhoot is far closer to the Chinese ghost than to the Hungarian-Romanian nosferatu that Roushika Reikhi portrays here. The most interesting thing about Reikhi’s character is that they decided to name her Kapalika. The Kāpālikas (“skull bearers”) were a small sect of Shaivite (devotees of Shiva) ascetics prominent in India from the 8th through the 13th century. They differed from the more respectable Brahmin household of the Saiva Siddhanta in that they engaged in esoteric rituals including meat-eating, intoxication, and sometimes cannibalism. It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect of a Hindi horror production, even in the modern age, to be rife with religious superstition.

Since no A-list Bollywood superstar would be caught redhanded appearing in a Ramsay production (pretty much like it was in the olden days), Neighbours has to content itself with lesser stars as Hritu Dudani, Roushika Reikhi, and Kirti Vaidya. The Ramsays taste in women was always impeccable and they gave the world hourglass-figured wonders as Jasmin, Sahila Chaddha, Archana Puran Singh, and Aarti Gupta. Even sometime Shah Rukh Khan muse Juhi Chawla cut her teeth with the Ramsays. Never in a thousand years would Rani Mukherjee, Kajol, Vidya Balan, Deepika Padukone, or Preity Zinta ponder the thought of lowering themselves to cheap exploitative dross like this. Neighbours is at least custodian to one funny running gag where everybody keeps mistaking Hritu for Priyanka Chopra (not-yet Jonas) and, admittedly, the resemblance is striking. Just like Chopra Dudani has those wide eyes that women of this part of the world are known and loved for. Hritu has survived her foray into the strange world of the Ramsay pretty much unscathed while Roushika Reikhi and Kirti Vaidya remain to prosper in their own ways. Reikhi has done commercials with Shah Rukh Khan and Hritik Roshan. In a just world Reikhi and Vaidya would be cast in a Krrish (2006) sequel or a Shah Rukh Khan production. Dudani found work in television afterwards but, as of this writing, has not acted in anything since 2019. Roushika Reikhi has since moved bases to Australia where she found steady employment in television as a beloved host of live events. We’re unsure what became of Kirti Vaidya but she too seems to have survived her brush with Ramsay mostly intact.

Back in the day the only real competition the house of Ramsay had were Mohan Bhakri and Vinod Talwar while these days they have an entire new generation of horror filmmakers to compete with. While it doesn’t lack in blood and sensuality Neighbours never quite manages to get as beguilingly strange as some of the greatest Spanish or Italian horror from the wicked and wild 1970s. Obviously there’s far better Bollywood horror to be had elsewhere. To make an imitation of an American property thirty years after the original is a difficult enough proposition under the best of circumstances, let alone to make one under India's repressive and restrictive cultural sensibilities and one of a different folkloric origin. In that respect you’ll have to respect Shyam Ramsay for at least attempting to do something like this. There were plenty of easier, local things to remake – yet he bravely chose to go for this instead. Does it live up to the brothers’ 80s output? Yeah, if very narrowly. The classic Ramsay output was slightly more unhinged than this. Neighbours is actually a cool little fright flick if you’re prepared to meet it halfway. That’s better than most.

Plot: young woman navigates a forest full of horrors and terrors.

Little Red Riding Hood was (so far) the last of three European fairytale adaptations from California filmmaker Rene Perez. In the years before he had lensed versions of Sleeping Beauty (2014), and The Snow Queen (2013). Little Red Riding Hood came five long years after Catherine Hardwicke’s big budget Red Riding Hood (2011) with Amanda Seyfried, and thus could impossibly be accused of trying to ride its coattails. It was shot back-to-back with his other moodpiece The Obsidian Curse (2016) and it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that Perez wanted to briefly focus on something lighter before delving further into the Playing with Dolls (2015-2017) franchise and starting pre-production on his now infamous Death Kiss (2018). Little Red Riding Hood is a cosplaying extravaganza gone very much awry, and it’s understandable why Perez never returned to adapting fairytales after.

While the history of Little Red Riding Hood can be traced back to several 10th century European folk tales it was 17th-century French poet Charles Perrault who provided the basis for its popular and most enduring iteration with his Le Petit Chaperon Rouge. That version of the story can be found in the Histories or Tales from Past Times, with Morals or Mother Goose Tales (Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités or Contes de ma mère l'Oye) collection from 1697. In the 19th century German poets Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm retold the Perrault fairytale loyal to the source material, but toned down the darker themes considerably to make it more audience-friendly. Rene Perez’ adaptation of the tale keeps the basic contours of the Perrault and Grimm iterations of the story, but takes some strange twists and turns along the way. Normally there isn’t a whole of ways to bungle something as simple as Little Red Riding Hood. Alas, Perez and screenwriter Barry Massoni have managed to do just that.

Little Red Riding Hood (Irina Levadneva, as Iren Levy) is traveling through the woods to bring medicine to her “gravely ill” grandmother (Marilyn Robrahm). On the way she’s warned by an apparently dead knight (John Scuderi) that the forest is haunted by terrible horrors, and that her “pureness” will attract the agents of evil. In the castle in the deep forest the Master (Robert S. Dixon) has sensed Little Red Riding Hood’s presence, and from the dungeons below he releases the Lycanthrope (Louie Ambriz), the Blind Creature (Jason Jay Prado, as Jason Prado), and the Evil Siren (Raula Reed) into the woods. Little Red Riding Hood is chased across the forest and into the castle by the Lycanthrope. Meanwhile in the earthly dimension social media influencer Carol Marcus (Nicole Stark) is on a hikingtrip across California shooting nature pictures. Eventually she comes across a mansion in the deep woods where she’s haunted by a spectral manifestation of the Master. As Little Red Riding Hood wanders around the castle she comes across an imprisoned monk (Colin Hussey) who tells her that the Master is one of the Ancients, the last survivors of Atlantis, and that he feeds on fear. On the other side of the forest a knight (Robert Amstler) is lured into the castle by the Evil Siren in form of a beautiful gypsy (Alanna Forte). Now that they’re both imprisoned in the castle walls there’s no other way to escape but to confront the Master in any way they can, and release the spell that binds them to the castle…

To say that Little Red Riding Hood is both virtually plotless and hopelessly convoluted at the same time would be charitable. As a simple three-act story Red Riding Hood lends itself ideally for adaptations. Except that Barry Massoni and Rene Perez forgot to set up the main characters in the first act, pad the second act with meandering and endless shots of the castle interiors and the Nicole Stark subplot, only to hastily wrap everything up in what looks like an improvised ending. Then there’s also the fact that this Little Red Riding Hood has very little to do with either the Perrault or Grimm fairytale, while it does feature a girl in a red hood, a wolf, and a grandmother. The Nicole Stark subplot feels more than a little out of place, and would have fitted better in Playing with Dolls (2015), or Playing with Dolls: Bloodlust (2016). Why the Nicole Stark subplot was even included is anybody’s guess. It goes nowhere, adds nothing of value, and is never brought up again once the valiant knight is introduced. More than anything it feels like a b-roll from Playing with Dolls: Bloodlust (2016). Instead of introducing grandmother and setting up why it’s imperative that Little Red Riding Hood reaches her destination, a throwaway line is all motivation we get. The warrior is the closest equivalent to the woodcutter (or hunter) from the fairytale, but he will not be rescueing Little Red Riding Hood from the Big Bad Wolf, or carving him up. Not that this is the first time that Rene Perez took to adapting a European fairytale very, very liberally, Sleeping Beauty (2014), and The Snow Queen (2013) suffer from the same defects, and the latter even had the gall to introduce a para-military subplot.

On the plus side, this is a Rene Perez production which at least ensures that there will be plenty to look at. In case of Little Red Riding Hood that means we are treated to a multitude of beautifully composed shots and scenic Redwood National Park landscapes. What little production value Little Red Riding Hood has is almost entirely thanks to extensive location filming at Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley. As early as The Snow Queen (2013) Perez has proven that he just as easy could make a living shooting music videos when he isn’t making movies. Just like that movie Little Red Riding Hood occassionally reverts back to an extended LARPing exercise captured on camera, but just like Rene has a good eye for locations he loves beautiful women just as much. On display here are Irina Levadneva, Nicole Stark, and Alanna Forte. Stark, and Forte are Perez regulars and would turn up in future Perez features, contrary to Levadneva who would resume modeling. Little Red Riding Hood is low on action, story, and lacking in about every department – but it works wonders as a moodpiece. If Perez should decide to revisit this fantasy direction he should probably lens a Jean Rollin erotic horror feature, or dig up the wolf-suit and helm his own Paul Naschy inspired El Hombre Lobo epic. He has the monster suits, the locations, and the actresses to do just such a thing.

Just like Sleeping Beauty (2014) had a demon that resembled the Jem'Hadar shock troops of the Dominion from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999) Perez has Stark playing a character named Carol Marcus and has her do the Vulcan salute, for… some reason? The least you can say is that Rene has a sense of humor about it all. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a Neil Johnson science-fiction feature, thankfully Rene would find better stuff to do for, and with, Nicole Stark in his later productions. The dialogue, when it appears and however little of it there is in the first place, is about as clunky as you’d expect. Matters are made worse by Robert Amstler’s and Irina Levadneva’s impossibly thick native accents (Austrian and Russian, respectively), hence that they were dubbed by Kristina Kennedy and Robert Koroluck. Overall, and a few beautiful composed shots notwithstanding, Little Red Riding Hood is a fairly static affair. This was before Perez really got a grip on creative camera set-ups and moving shots. Little Red Riding Hood, just like The Obsidian Curse (2016) the same year, often feels more like a technical exercise than a feature intended for general release. And that’s okay, Perez’ later productions obviously benefitted from it in the long run.