Tuesday, February 20, 2007

SEYTAN: THE TURKISH EXORCIST

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1974/Directed by Metin Erksan

When William Friedkin's big-budget, studio produced horror classic The Exorcist was first released in 1973 to not only critical acclaim and big box-office but also significant controversy, exploitation filmmakers were quick to jump onto the demonic possession bandwagon, with a glut of cheap knock-offs hitting the screens within months of its release, ranging in diversity from the Euro-trash horror of The Antichrist (1975) and Beyond the Door (1975) to later American obscurities like Al Adamson's Nurse Sherri (1977).

Another of these was Abby (1974), a highly entertaining blaxploitation film starring William Marshall and Carol Speed, which so closely resembled its source material that Warner Brothers (the studio who had produced The Exorcist) successfully had the film pulled from release, and to this day it has never been officially released, and is available only in bootleg form through various underground DVD dealers.

If Warner Brothers saw red over Abby, they would have no doubt suffered a near-coronary when (or indeed, if) they eyeballed Seytan, a mind-boggling Turkish production. Thanks to their lax (and/or blatant disregard for) foreign copyright laws, Turkish filmmakers are famed in their country for churning out their no-budget interpretations (i.e., rip-offs) of all the latest Hollywood hits, with the period between 1974 and 1987 being particularly prolific. During these years, Turkish audiences were treated to their country's own unique takes on Superman, Star Wars, Star Trek, E.T., The Wizard of Oz and many more. Often, these films utilised the original soundtracks and even whole chunks of actual footage from their mainstream counterparts.

If you've yet to be seduced by the wild, wacky and totally off-the-wall world of Turkish fantasy cinema, then Seytan would make for a perfect introduction. Anyone who is at all familiar with The Exorcist doesnt have to understand the dialogue to follow what is going on, as this is a virtual scene-by-scene remake of the original, with all head-turning, pea soup-vomiting scenes intact. Even the sets and locations do their best to mirror the original (they even managed to find a long, steep outdoor staircase for the Father Karras character to tumble down at the film's climax). And naturally, Mike Oldfield's signature Tubular Bells is repeated frequently throughout the film.

Of course, where Friedkin's film was a polished, brilliantly paced and staged exercise in supernatural, brooding terror, Seytan is merely gross and hysterically inept, despite the fact that director Metin Erskan was a respected filmmaker in his homeland, with over twenty years of filmmaking under his belt before helming this. My favourite scene has the possessed Turkish Regan (Canan Perver in the Linda Blair role) flaying about wildly on her bed - it's blatantly obvious that the effect has been achieved by someone lying under the bed and pushing the mattress up with their hands (watch the way in which the poor girl grabs desperately to the bed post to avoid flying off onto the floor!). The dialogue has been changed throughout to reflect Islam rather that the original's Catholicism, although according to some sources the racy language is not repeated here.

Naturally, the VHS copy of Seytan which I sourced (from a Turkish Beta cassette, released on the Istanbul based Alpaslan Yapim label) is in Turkish language without any English subtitles, although none are particularly needed to follow the plot of the film (in fact, watching it this way helps to make it even more of a surreal viewing experience). Still, it would be nice to see some enterprising and visionary label officially pick up some of the best examples of Turkish genre cinema and release them in clean, subtitled prints on DVD.

Very entertaining and highly off-the-wall, and most recommended, particularly for those jaded viewers who are looking for a whole new world of cinematic oddities to discover and delight in.

Copyright John Harrison 2007