Rise of the Zombie – India, 2013 – reviews

‘India’s first zombie origin film’

Rise of the Zombie is a 2013 Indian horror film co-written and co-directed by Luke Kenny and Devaki Singh. It stars Luke Kenny, Kirti Kulhari and Ashwin Mushran.

Neil Parker is a passionate wildlife photographer who pays more attention to his wildlife than his human life. As a result, his relationships with the real world suffer. When his girlfriend walks out on him he resigns himself to isolation and nature…


Now here’s something utterly bizarre. Indian films sometimes copy the plots of western films. I’m not talking about shameless, copyright-busting cheapo clones like the old Turkish stuff. Just a tendency for Bollywood producers to use the plots of successful American (and sometimes European) films with an Indian setting and an Indian spin.

Anjaane: The Unknown is an Indian version of The Others. The first half of Koi… Mil Gaya is an Indian version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the second half is an Indian version of E.T. Why bother coming up with an original storyline when there are proven plots out there which can be easily reworked to make them attractive to a huge domestic audience?

The thing is: the source material for these films is usually well-known, successful movies – not obscure little British indies. Yet here we have Rise of the Zombie – an unofficial, unacknowledged Indian remake of Andrew Parkinson’s 1998 indie feature I, Zombie: The Chronicles of Pain!

Luke Kenny (Indian born to Irish and Italian parents) stars as wildlife photographer Neil Parker who splits up with his girlfriend Vinny (Kirti Kulhari: Shaitan, Jal) and seeks solace in a trek into the woods. He hires a tent and has a local man bring him hot food every day. He cycles around the mountains and sometimes goes down into a local town for provisions.

Things start to go wrong when he is bitten by a strange bug. The bite on his arm spreads, the flesh rotting away, and his body starts to reject cooked food. Instead he takes to eating bugs, and then lizards and birds, ripping the raw meat from the bones. Unkempt and bloodied, he staggers around the woods, increasingly unaware of what is going on.

Eventually, he starts attacking people that he meets, ripping into them and eating their flesh. Meanwhile, Vinny is worried about Neil and teams up with his best friend Anish (Ashwin Mushran, who was in supernatural comedy Hum Tum Aur Ghost) to try and find what has happened to him. Benjamin Gilani (Alaap, Mirch Masala) plays Neil’s father, a hospital consultant with the very un-Indian name of Dave Parker.

There are a lot of differences from I, Zombie, obviously. A bug bite rather than a crazy lady. The couple split up before he disappears. He’s a wildlife photographer rather than a biology student. The setting is rural rather than urban. And he doesn’t kill himself at the end with chloroform. (Nor does he masturbate over a photo of the girlfriend he can never see again.)

But… I could come up with a similar list of differences between The Others and Anjaane. So what? The derivation is obvious. The basic story here is clearly modelled on I, Zombie. A young man, isolated from his previous life, becoming more and more ill from an infectious bite which rots his flesh and gives him a desperate hunger for human flesh – cannibalistic necrosis – while his family and friends are concerned about, and mystified by, his disappearance. Andy Parkinson’s film is completely distinct and utterly unlike any other zombie picture (even Colin, which shares the basic concept of a zombie as the central character but is otherwise utterly dissimilar). Somehow Luke Kenny – or more likely, writer/co-director Devaki Singh – has seen a copy of Parkinson’s film, or maybe just read a review of it, and decided to make an Indian version.

I’m not criticising. Unofficial remakes happen. Julian Richards took the basic concept of The Wicker Man and turned it into Darklands. Jason Impey took Andreas Schnaas’ Violent Shit and turned it into Sick Bastard. Even if this was a clone, there are enough differences to make it worthwhile: not just the geographical switch but the passage of twenty years (no digital cameras or Blackberries in the 1990s). I bet the budget for Rise of the Zombie was not dissimilar to what Andy Parkinson spent on I, Zombie but that much money buys you a lot more nowadays – in India or England – in terms of technology. No grainy 16mm here; just crisp, clean digital video.

Ritu Jhanjani has the main make-up credit and was cited in publicity as responsible for the zombie make-up, although Saved Ismaile gets the actual credit for ‘prosthetic make-up’. Whoever did it, I’d be lying if I said it was particularly good. Pranab Lahkar is credited as ‘Creative VFX Supervisor’; his previous credits include Dhoom-2, Rocket Singh and even 28 Weeks Later.

Luke Kenny came to prominence in the 1990s as a VJ on a video music channel. He now fronts a rock band (called Luke Kenny LIVE) and DJs as well as making films. Since Rise of the Zombie he has shot a short film called Stephen King, I am Your Biggest Fan. Devaki Singh, who was described in publicity as the first woman to direct a zombie film (actually, Kerry Anne Mullaney directed The Dead Outside in March 2008), is an artist whose first exhibition was in 2009.

In 2013 three films vied to be ‘India’s first zombie film’: Kenny and Singh’s angst-ridden drama; Goa Goa Gone (a fun action-horror-comedy); and Rock the Shaadi, a rom-zom-com set at a Punjabi-zombie wedding (!). Kenny’s film was originally going to just be called Zombie but the makers of Rock the Shaadi had registered that title so he went for Rise… instead and somehow avoided confusion with the contemporary Danny Trejo picture Rise of the Zombies.

The end of Rise of the Zombie promises a sequel in 2014, Land of the Zombie, and includes shots of numerous zombies shuffling around, implying that the virus has spread beyond its initial host. Kenny apparently had plans for a trilogy but Land… has yet to appear.

Truth be told, Rise of the Zombie isn’t a bad movie. Kenny gives a spirited performance and Pagdiwala’s camera-work captures both urban and rural locations well. The film runs 86 minutes and has a few songs on the soundtrack (but no dance numbers).

What’s missing is the bleak nihilism of the original, and there’s not really anything to replace it. Instead of cutaway talking heads of the people he left behind, the film simply lurches into Vinny and Anish’s story in the third act, which goes nowhere. Instead of social comment or character development, we’re treated to lots of fast-edited flashbacks and dream sequences which look flashy but don’t give the movie any substance.

Nevertheless, one must grudgingly admire Kenny for taking such a non-commercial tack on his zombie film. It would have been easy to just go for a standard living dead siege and throw in a few culturally specific gags. The story of one man’s lonely descent into a zombie state was radical when Andrew Parkinson made it nearly twenty years ago and it’s still pretty radical now.

In March 2013, when promoting the film, Luke Kenny was interviewed by Bollywood Life: “If we were telling a zombie survival story, there are forty years of zombie survival films to see who did what, and what we could try to do differently. … In this case, there was no precedent; there has been no zombie origin film ever been made. There is no story that has ever been written that tells you the story of this one human being and what happens.” Now, that’s not strictly true, is it?


[NB. A slightly longer version of this review first appeared on MJ Simpson’s Cult films and the people who made them blog and is reproduced here with the author’s full permission.]

Main cast and characters:

  • Luke Kenny … Neil Parker
  • Kirti Kulhari … Vinny Rao
  • Ashwin Mushran … Anish Kohli
  • Benjamin Gilani … Doctor Dave Parker
  • Tasya Stepanova … Bachelor party dancer
  • Vithal Pujari … Police inspector
  • Prem Thapa … Thapa Ji
  • Pinky Negi … Lata
  • Rekha Negi … Lata’s friend
  • Mazhar Khan … Mazhar
  • Shiv Charan Singh Bisht … Vishnu


V One Entertainment picked up the film for international distribution and there is an English-subtitled version available on Amazon.co.uk Instant Video


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