Wednesday, October 20, 2021

SEYTAN (aka DEVIL aka THE TURKISH EXORCIST) (1974) Movie Review

Scare-A-Thon Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 18
Total First Time Views: 12
Amount raised for ALBANY PARK THEATER PROJECT: $1363.50

Seytan (aka Devil aka The Turkish Exorcist) (1974) d. Metin Erksan (Turkey) (101 min)

Once upon a time, there was a novel about a possessed little girl named Regan McNeil. It was called The Exorcist and it was written by a man named William Peter Blatty. It was supposedly based upon a real possession case, and lots of people read the novel and got very scared. Then Mr. Blatty went to another man named William Friedkin, a film director who had just become very famous for making a movie about scruffy cops and car chases. The two Williams (isn’t that funny!) decided they would make a movie about the same story and even though they fought a lot, it turned out to be a good movie. They called it The Exorcist, just to keep things simple. It made a LOT of money and even won some awards! A movie about a possessed little girl. Can you imagine? Then, other people wanted to make money and win awards, so they made movies that were a lot like The Exorcist, with other possessed little girls (or boys or grown-ups or dogs or cats) all over the world. Sometimes they got in trouble for copying, like when you cheat on a test by looking at your classmate’s paper. But the other people didn’t care and they just kept making them, even in other languages. And one of the funniest things that happened was a big fat Turkey that came from a place called… Turkey! Neat, right?

I first became aware of this infamous knock-off back in 2005, but was not able to lay my hands on a copy until around 2010, which coincidentally was the first year of the Scare-a-Thon, brought into being as a response to my one and only foray into Corporate America. Long story short, I was two months into a soul-sucking job and looking for something, anything to take my mind off the misery. I wanted, nay, needed to do something worthwhile, and when the annual October Horror Movie Challenge rolled along, I decided that I would turn it into a fundraiser. The rest is history, and the last movie I watched that month was… Seytan. I didn’t have a chance to write about it then. 11 years later, that’s about to change.

In some ways, it’s 100% accurate that the film is nothing more than a scene-for-scene remake of the 1973 classic, only in Turkish. However, there’s also something far more interesting and charming going on, being that it’s made in Turkey, where Christianity doesn’t exactly hold a lot of sway. Director Metin Erksan (who had enjoyed a long and distinguished career up to that point) and screenwriter Yilmaz Tümtürk are clearly dead set on bringing the most faithful example of plagiarism to movie screens as possible while at the same time serving their target audience. As a result, there are some distinct differences within their game of low-budget copycat, and that’s what makes the viewing experience so delightful. They don’t necessarily understand why Friedkin film works, but darned if they aren’t going to give it their best try.

Case in point, it’s worth remembering that Michael Oldfield’s now-iconic theme “Tubular Bells” only played twice during the original, once during a rather innocuous scene of Chris McNeil walking home on Halloween night, and then again during the end credits. That’s it. By contrast, Erksan plays it during the OPENING credits and never really stops playing it throughout the entire movie. “It’s scary, right?”

Speaking of the opening, we also get an scene that is kind of like the Iraq opening with Max von Sydow’s Father Merrin, minus any mood or atmosphere. It’s just a nameless old bearded dude (Agah Hün) in the desert at a random archeological dig (we don’t know where, because who can bother with such things) who wanders around until he comes face to face with a paper-mache statue in the middle of nowhere. This kind of blatant aping of the original sets the tone for what we’re in for – all the high points without any of the set-up. As if to shore up suspicions, the next scene has a mother, Mrs. Ayten (Meral Taygun), being woken up from sleeping on the couch by noises in the attic, then going to check her daughter Gul’s (Canan Perver) room, shutting the window, and requesting her servants the next morning to fetch some traps for the mice in the attic. Sound familiar? Good, because there’s 99 minutes more of this coming down the pike.

What follows is a nonstop parade of bastardized dialogue, framing, and plotting, but just when you think it’s going to be an exact copy, the curve balls come across the plate. Because it wouldn’t do to have a Jesuit priest, Father Karras is replaced by a failed researcher/writer psychologist named Tugrul Bilge (Cihan Ünal), one with a sick mother who insists on staying at home alone and infirm. Instead of Captain Howdy living in the Ouija board that the young girl plays with, it’s “Captain Lersen.” Rather than Mrs Ayten being a famous actress, she’s just a tennis-playing idle rich divorcee (strongly resembling Lynda Day George) who’s cranky with her ex and courted by a certain Mr. Ekrem (Ekrem Gökkaya). When she goes up to the attic to investigate further, she discovers a book, “Seytan: Soul Abduction and Exorcism Ceremony Under the Light of the Modern Opinions about Mental Illness” by Tugrul Bilge. I mean, come on, that’s good.

I could detail the entire affair’s idiosyncrasies, its blatant similarities and (rare) sharp departures, but the real fun is in experiencing it firsthand, preferably with the same subtitling service that I had, where the individual in question cannot refrain from throwing in WTF exclamation points from time to time, as well as full-on commentary such as “search Google” when our exorcist produces some “Zamzam water,” and “book opener????” when a letter opener is described as such. Instead, I will just notate a few of the many gems:

* The shock therapy sequence
*Gul’s nasty green urine
*Punching the hypnotist in the junk
*“Help Me” on Gul’s stomach, written in finger paint instead of the skin raising
* Demonic insults like “Filthy crone!” and “Tramp crock!”
* Gul’s entire bed floating off the floor, which you think it going to be the low-budget solution to Regan floating off the bed… and then Gul floats off the bed as well! I very nearly cheered out loud.
* So much zooming in and out
*The blue pudding vomit instead of green pea soup
*When the exorcist deliberately uses his stole to catch said vomit
*The extended punching out of the possessed Gul by Tugrul
*That fall down the stairs

"Who you calling Tramp Crock?"

I’d love to write more, but there’s still another half of October to go, so I will just leave you all with a hearty “God’s grace be upon you!” repeated about 157 times, to the tune of “The power of Christ compels you.”

Mmmmmmm, Turkey.

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