The power of Allah compels you!
Well, yesterday was rather interesting. After conversing with him online for several years, I was finally able to put a face to a name as I met Baron Scarpia in person for the first time. And what better way to celebrate such a meeting than with a dreadful movie? Yes, after lunch, we boarded the HMS Whimsy to watch a title from the Baron’s own private collection. The film in question was Seytan, a 1974 Turkish production directed by a fellow named Metin Erksan, which bears more than a passing resemblance to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist.
Something of a background primer is required on Turkish cinema before we can progress any further. Although responsible for a number of critically lauded films (none of which I could name at present, as my knowledge of the country’s output is fairly limited), I suspect that most cult film fanatics will be more familiar with the industry’s habit of ripping off Hollywood productions with its own distinctive takes on the likes of ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, Star Wars and even Superman.
Now, lest anyone get the wrong impression, we are not talking “loosely inspired” here. We are talking shot-for-shot remakes, the only significant differences being the minuscule budgets, dreadful production values and complete lack of talent on either side of the camera. Yes, those are the “only” significant differences. Oh, and they all appear to take place in Turkey.
Anyway, Seytan (pronounced “SHAY-tan”, by the way) introduces us to 12-year-old Gül and her mother, Uma Thurman (I’m calling her this because the actress playing her looks like a significantly less talented version of her, and because the character’s name is not provided by IMDB). Gül is a precocious child who has an invisible friend called Captain Lersen (eh?). She also has other, slightly more disturbing tendencies, such as an ability to urinate dark green liquid on cue, spew what looks like orange paint from her mouth, bitch-slap members of the medical profession and rotate her head 180 degrees. Rejecting the rational in favour of the supernatural, Uma calls in the appropriately named Tugrul Bilge, author of a book on demons. I’ll be calling him Alan Partridge, though, because the actor playing him vaguely resembles Steve Coogan. (Besides, the image of Alan Partridge performing an exorcism is in itself deeply amusing.) In turn, Alan Partridge concludes that the only viable solution is to perform an exorcism on poor possessed Gül. Enter an exorcist, whose name I once again can’t remember (IMDB is no help here), and the most sinister-looking moustachioed policeman you’ll ever see on screen, who has a habit of blowing cigarette smoke directly in people’s faces when they are talking to him. I have christened him Inspector Clouzot. Oh, and is that Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells that keeps drowning out the dialogue?
Above: No, really, this actually does happen.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock since some time prior to the end of 1973, all of this might sound vaguely familiar. Remakes such as the recent versions of Halloween (well, the second half at least) and The Omen have been justly criticised for been slavish copies of the original films, but, until you’ve seen what the Turks got up to in the 70s and 80s, you really have no idea what outright plagiarism looks like. To clarify, The Exorcist is less of a sacred cow for me than say, Suspiria or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but I appreciate its importance in cinema history and would argue that no other horror film produced by a major studio achieves anything quite like it. Still, it’s hard to be annoyed at Metin Erksan and his cronies for what they have done here because, unlike, say, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, there is no danger of this remake overshadowing the original (seriously, the number of people that don’t realise Marcus Nispel’s 2003 hack job is an update of an earlier film of the same name is quite disturbing). Seytan is so hilariously awful on every level that hating it is not an option: you either get it or you don’t.
Luckily, I got it. Seytan is such a mess in every imaginable way that it makes Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace look like the highly polished work of a cinematic genius. Before anyone asks, yes, I am aware that Darkplace was a spoof. Seytan, however, is not, as hard as that may be to believe at times, particularly when Gül’s bed is bouncing about like a bouncy castle and Uma Thurman thinks that the best way to stop it is to get on the bed and join in. More gales of laughter greet every single instance of Tubular Bells starting up and then stopping as abruptly as it began when the sound technician yanks the needle off his record. Come to think of it, this piece of music is repeated so many times that I’m genuinely amazed that, when Erksan tries (and fails) to recreate the iconic image of Father Merrin arriving at the house, surrounded by fog, Mike Oldfield is nowhere to be heard.
(Mr. Erksan, by the way, is nothing if not a varied director. While most filmmakers would be content to simply zoom in or out, Erksan zooms both in and out, often multiple times within the confines of a single shot. And bear in mind that every scene in the film features at least one zoom. Lucio Fulci and Jess Franco would be red-cheeked with embarrassment.)
And I haven’t even mentioned the climactic exorcism yet, which goes on for an absolutely absurd length of time and concludes, after Alan Partridge and his exorcist friend have yelled “Allah’s grace be upon you!” more times than I care to remember, with poor old Mr. Partridge fulfilling his fate (and ensuring that Seytan doesn’t diverge too far from The Exorcist’s plot) by leaping out of the window and rolling down the longest flight of steps in Turkey. Actually, I’m fairly sure that this scene is performed by the actor himself rather than a stuntman, so it’s actually quite impressive that he was still alive at the end of it all.
I really can’t thank the Baron enough for giving me the opportunity to experience Seytan. It’s actually somewhat embarrassing to admit that this was my introduction to Turkish cinema, so I suspect I should really follow up the experience by watching one of the country’s better films. It’s a bit like making Giallo a Venezia your first port of call when embarking on a voyage through Italian cinema, only several stages worse.