Monday, April 16, 2007

DVD Review: TURKISH HORROR DOUBLE BILL - THE DEAD DON'T TALK/THIRSTY FOR LOVE SEX AND MURDER



aka OLULER KONUSMAZKI/aka ASKA SUSAYANLAR SES VE SINAYET
Directed by Yavuz Yalinkilic/Directed by Mehmet Aslan
Starring Aytekin Akkaya/Starring Yildirim Cencer
Turkey; 1970/1972
Available from Onar Films!

The Digital Video Gods, having seen fit to lay a BOLLYWOOD HORROR DOUBLE FEATURE on us last year have now in all their wisdom offered us mere viewing mortals a TURKISH HORROR DOUBLE FEATURE and to be sure, it is a weird and wooly evening’s worth of wild entertainment. While the Indian film industry had an honest-to-goodness horror film boom (the so called “doom boom” in fact) from which to pull any number of weirdo morsels for the Mondo Macabro series, Turkey has only ever produced a handful of films that could really be heralded under the banner of “horror”. Two of those obscure few are presented here, and you really should soak ‘em up, as there are not many more out there to be absorbed. While the late 70s film SEYTAN (a.k.a TURKISH EXORCIST) has gotten all the attention from cult film archivists in the west, these two oddball numbers are, in my opinion, far more deserving of cult fan attention. They are disjointed, cheap and utterly ridiculous examples of the Turkish “can-do” cinematic attitude. Made in the face of wide indifference and even outright ridicule, these treasures are ripe and vivid, with a retarded sensibility that nearly borders on the visionary. You can’t really call them successful movies from any sort of conventional film-crit perspective, but it’s that very haphazard “non-classic” air about them that makes them seem special, unique. Like something that, if you held it too long, might crumble to dust in your hands.



Onar Films went through a trial of nearly Biblical proportions in order to get you this astonishing and rare video treat. The details are unimportant, but it should be mentioned, as this was a true labor of love for something that at best has a limited appeal to the worldwide DVD market. But for those of us who horde such amazing artifacts as this, it couldn’t be any more welcome. As ever for Turkish cinema, the elements from which the DVD would be made were decidedly not of the best preserved quality. Onar does what it can and in this case, they’ve done a pretty fuckin awesome job. THE DEAD DON’T TALK in particular looks quite fine (relatively of course), being sourced from an old theatrical print which had been gathering dust for aeons in an Istanbul warehouse and not some old VHS master like most of the Turkish stuff we get (this would be represented here by the materials for THIRSTY FOR LOVE, SEX AND MURDER). So it has that going for it. But it’s really kind of a miracle this exists at all. In fact this film (DEAD DON’T TALK) was at one time considered “lost” and much-missed as it is, as stated above, one of the few true horror films made by the Anatolian film biz during it heyday (if you can call it that). This is its Worldwide Home Video Premiere, and we couldn’t be more exited at it arrival here on our shores. I read about this movie some time ago in the FEAR WITHOUT FRONTIERS book from FAB Press and have coveted it ever since. Thank you Onar! So how is the film itself? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.



I had previously seen THIRSTY FOR LOVE SEX AND MURDER and marveled at its uncanny aura and cheapskate sleaziness. So this DVD presentation of it is most welcome in the Worldweird Household. THIRSTY is a twisty, turn-y Turkish giallo. More specifically it seems indebted to the 70s thriller films of the great Italian director Sergio Martino. Even more specifically it is more or less a remake of that director’s masterpiece THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH. Well, more than less actually. You could even call it THE TURKISH STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH if you wanted to. It is basically a scene-by-scene remake of the classic thriller. And it doesn’t come close to capturing the lurid poetry of that, Martino’s best film (in my opinion). So it’s just a boring third world re-tread right? Why not just watch the original again, right? WRONG! THIRSTY takes the plot and set-pieces of STRANGE VICE and warps them, stretches them out into an almost pure cinematic abstraction. While it’s a totally failure at creating tension, suspense or any sort of strong emotional quality at all, it is a complete success in just being so freaking odd you can barely believe what you’re watching. As usual, the film’s soundtrack is plundered from Italian film scores, but here they are placed almost at random, with different musical cues spliced together in almost Burroughsian fashion, creating a delirious, whirlwind atmosphere that burrows it way though you unbelieving ears and into your now-permanently damaged brain. It keeps you off-balanced and unsure, even as the familiar plot unfolds more or less faithful to its source. There are some differences between this film and it’s inspiration, as the plot is simplified and leaves room for it’s own audiences expectations, like turning the somber final twist conclusion of the original into an all out fisticuffs brawl.



But the plot and it machinations are so beside the point. THIRSTY and it’s talented director Mehmet Aslan (director of many of the astonishing TARKAN films), seem to be more interested in weirdness and sleaziness than plot or characterization. Arguably the original is also only concerned with these points, but as in many Turkish films, these points of interest just totally take over. An uneasy dreaminess subsumes you and conjures unreal images, conflating dream and reality and subverting (probably by accident) the very form of the giallo thriller genre. And so, almost alchemically, we have this film, built essentially on another film but pulling at its elements until it breaks and bursts into something totally unique and baffling. Giallo fans and completists, you won’t be disappointed I assure you.



Now for the lost gem THE DEAD DON’T TALK. Honestly I don’t care much for the old fashioned gothic chiller type of horror film. Spooks, creaky doors, wind through the shudders, spectral visions – eh, feh. But these forms are here crystallized into a abstract facsimile of the gothic horror, it never puts you on your feet, never allows the gothic clichés to ground your experience watching the film, never succumbs to the dull mechanics which have usually put me off these kinds of movies in the past. I don’t know if it’s an intentional approach or sheer ineptitude of the technical challenges involved which have created this utterly baffling atmosphere. But then I hardly think it matters. The plot is beyond confused. A couple arrive in a sleepy Anatolian burg are taken by a brash and somewhat odd coachman to a seemingly abandoned mansion. The reasons for any of these actions are left totally obscure. Logical procession of the narrative is hardly the strong point of this film (or any Turkish film I’ve seen for that matter), but instead of hampering it, it hurtles the movie towards being a totally individual viewing experience not only in spite of it’s narrative indifference, but because of it. Great exploitation films often work this way. Work in ways that more mainstream film-makers and audiences would find abhorrent. Which is what makes them so interesting to those of us willing to “go with the flow” with these rare and flawed celluloid treasures.



Anyway the plot unfolds. That’s about all I can say about it. The couple from the beginning of the film don’t really feature in the main plot, which involves a menacing ghost who arises on the 15th of every month to kill young ladies. Pretty girls perpetually clad in nightgowns, zombie schoolteachers, Koran-bearing hunters and the most insane and incessant diabolical laughter you’ve ever been subjected to involve most of the rest of the films briefrunning time. “Time” itself is an interesting feature of viewing this movie. It seems to disappear within the creaking labyrinth of the story. Characters wander aimlessly, slowly and the editing scheme only enforces the “lost-time” dimension of the film, flipping randomly between events upping the supernatural elements of the film while utterly warping the more conventional aspects. “Dream-like” might sound like a cliché in regards to this kind of movie, but it achieves the uncanny uncertainty of dreams effortlessly, though by design or by budgetary and talent limitations is left open to debate. Some will find this film to boring. Indeed it seems that not much really happens through most of the running time and the things that do hardly make sense. But that’s the gift these movies bring. If you open yourself up to the odd, dreamy momentum of this or other low-budget films of its ilk, you will uncover a different method of involving yourself as an audience member, a method which engages the more unconscious aspects of you critical apparatus. Horror and exploitation films seem especially suited to this bizarre, almost occult interaction, even more so when they hail from a culture with different values and concerns and compounded with the poverty level budgets which while limiting the “believability” of the movie increase the strange “otherness” which seduces the intuitive, dare-I-say magical part of your brain. Engaging it head on, when for most of your day it lays dormant, awaiting unique experience to activate it. Not bad for something considered useless trash just a few years ago, huh?
Cheap entertainment as weirdfilm sorcery. It doesn’t get any better for me.



As mentioned above, and as with most Turkish films available, the video and audio quality are always going to be compromised by the ravages of time and indifference. Here we have two of the better preserved examples however, and there are surely the most watchable Turkish films on DVD since Mondo Macabro’s TURKISH POP CINEMA disc a couple of years ago. THIRSTY suffers the most, being sourced from an old VHS master which seems itself to have been sourced from a fairly worn theatrical print. BUT it still looks pretty great, considering. The sound levels fluctuate wildly at times, and there are many print lines and speckling throughout, but the colors are fairly strong and the image quite sharp despite it’s humble, compromised origins. DEAD fairs much, much better. While there were no negative from which to strike a fresh print, an old barely used theatrical print was found and while not perfect it looks the best of any of the films Onar has released thus far.

And there’s a plethora of extras as well. Interviews are featured with Turkish cinema experts Metin Demirhan and Giovanni Scognamillo, who cover almost identical ground though their interviews, basically an overview of the few legitimate horror films made in Turkey from the 1940s up until the very US and Japanese inspired flicks of the last few years (unfortunately the clips they showed of these movies looked uniformly terrible to me). Interesting but neither one mentions anything about THIRSTY which is a real shame. I wanted to know more about this odd little film nugget. Scognamillo’s interview gets more interesting towards the end when he talks about working with legendary directors Ricardo Freda, Umberto Lenzi and Jess Franco when they came to make films in Turkey. Lenzi is appartenly something of a dick. Oh well, his movies are cool. Aytekin Akkaya is also given a thourough interview covering his entire career but this too is treading the same familiar ground as the interview feature on Onar’s 3 DEV ADAM disc from last year, but he’s charming and there are some great clip and images of lobby cards from his movie edited into the featurette. The professional quality of the interviews is a major step up from those on previous Onar DVDs. You can tell a lot of heartfelt work went into them (and the disc as a whole), so major props must be given. Beyond that we get brief, informative bios and more or less complete filmographies of the directors of each film Mehmet Aslan (THIRSTY) and Yavuz Yalinkilic (DEAD) and colorful and fun image galleries featuring very rare lobby cards and posters for these two films and other Turkish Horror items like SEYTAN and DRACULA IN ISTANBUL as well as a gallery of Addaya film promo items which are totally boss as well. To wind things up there’s a handful of Onar trailers for some of their upcoming releases.

This is one hell of a DVD. The movies are amazing, the presentation the best we are ever likely to see of these films and this might just be the only time these cinematic obscurities will ever see the DVD light of day. This disc is limited to 1200 copies and when they’re gone I can hardly imagine anyone will ever go through this much trouble to release them again. So savor this moment, this magickal, unreal moment of pure filmic delight. Collectors of worldwide video weirdness cannot possibly pass this up and the “worldweird” curious are encouraged to just take a damn chance and grasp this hot little number to your warm, welcoming bosom. These films deserve a home, your home and to rest deep in the hearth of your weirdness loving hearts.
Go! And! Buy! It! Now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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