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DVD SAVANT
Savant PAL Region 0 Guest Reviews:

Casus Kiran
and
Demir Pence Korsan Adam

Separate releases reviewed
by Lee Broughton

The mad scramble to bring the diverse delights offered by wild world cinema and Euro-cult flicks to DVD viewers is still in full swing but most boutique labels tend to bypass Turkey when searching for likely sources of marketable cult films. Operating out of Greece, Onar Films have seemingly noticed this gap in the market and have set about releasing an impressive selection of ultra-rare offerings plucked from the heyday of Turkish popular cinema. Resolutely low budget but fuelled by crazed inspirations and produced with great enthusiasm, these intriguing regional shows place a big emphasis on non-stop action and thrills.

Reviewed here are two of Onar's Turkish Superhero releases that date from the late 1960s. Shot in black and white, these fun shows take the fast paced, overly-dramatic derring-do of Hollywood's old superhero serials and place it within a wild melange that also strives to incorporate more contemporaneous cinematic concerns: casual violence and sadism, scantily clad sexy babes, reasonably stylish art direction, comic strip-like plotting and just a touch of the kind of camp factor found in Adam West's Batman series. Their soundtracks, which feature a mix of groovy Sixties pop/rock sounds and cues of a more dramatic and filmic nature (often borrowed from Hollywood films), serve to set the appropriate tone for the shows' requisite fist fights, gun fights, motorbike/car/boat chases, illicit nightclub rendezvous, erotic dance performances, etc.

Both shows reviewed here feature masked heroes who have more in common with Batman than Superman: they're ordinary men turned crime fighters-cum-protectors of the nation who, despite their costumes and specialist equipment, possess no actual super powers as such. Unlike Batman, these heroes wear holstered guns that they use at every opportunity. Yilmaz Atadeniz's Casus Kiran finds Spy Smasher taking on the nefarious Mask while Cetin Inanc's Demir Pence Korsan Adam finds Iron Claw upsetting the villainous plans of the legendary Fantomas. Both films feature Turkish language audio tracks that are supported by optional English subtitles.


Casus Kiran
Onar Films
1968 / Black and White / 1.37:1 flat / Spy Smasher / 68 m.
Starring Irfan Atasoy, Sevda Ferdag, Yildirim Gencer, Suzan Avci, Reha Yurdakul, Cahit Irgat, Erol Gunaydin, Faruk Panter, Huseyin Zan, Haydar Karaer.
Cinematography
Rafet Siriner
Written, Produced and Directed by Yilmaz Atadeniz

Synopsis:

Acting under the villainous Mask's (Yildirim Gencer) orders, Black Glove's evil agents attack prime sites around Istanbul with a view to bringing the city to its knees. A costumed patriot-cum-vigilante, Spy Smasher (Irfan Atasoy), and his female sidekick Sevda (Sevda Ferdag) spring into action and their fighting skills and sharp-shooting results in the recovery of a secret tape recording that contains vital security information. Fearing punishment from the Mask, Black Glove tries to make amends by kidnapping a professor and holding him to ransom but Spy Smasher and Sevda foil his plans again. A furious Mask makes contact with Black Glove's female colleague Suzy (Suzan Avci) and demands that the pair eliminate Spy Smasher immediately.

Loosely based on William Witney's 1942 serial, Spy Smasher, this show's frenetic, comic strip-like opening sequence serves to set an exasperatingly fast pace that stays in place for the remainder of the feature. This opening series of super fast vignettes, which show teams of enemy agents, all dressed in black suits, white shirts and black hats, causing unrestrained mayhem (blowing up official buildings, executing enemies, taking hostages, etc) on the streets of Istanbul, serves to introduce us to Black Glove's army of violent goons. The sequence works well enough but director Yilmaz Atadeniz's decision to apply the same speedy pace to the rest of the show means that keeping track of the film's fast unfolding narrative isn't always easy. For example, early in the feature, an overly elliptical approach to plotting and editing results in Spy Smasher and Sevda literally zipping from one confrontation to another with no explanation as to what might have happened to the duo or their enemies in between fights. And further narrative confusion arises courtesy of sub plots that are introduced without really going anywhere: in one, Black Glove appears to have a scientist working on some experiments that will turn humans into zombies.

In terms of superhero-driven spectacle, the many fist fights, gun fights, chases and rescues that take place here are generally fun and entertaining. But, more often than not, there simply isn't enough in the way of character development or scene setting to be found amid the frenzied rush of action scenes. This is one show that really does play like the proverbial grindhouse feature that is missing a reel or two. That said, a number of Casus Kiran's component parts work pretty well when examined in isolation. The music (presumably) borrowed for the show really enhances the busy action scenes. Most of the fights unfold to what sounds like an unreleased instrumental by Syd Barrett's original Pink Floyd while sequences that detail Spy Smasher racing about on his high powered motorbike employ either a stomping freakbeat number or a Shadows-like, twangy guitar-inspired cue. Spy Smasher's Batman-like outfit looks good and Sevda's suitably feminized, Robin-inspired costume looks even better. Consisting chiefly of a pair of groovy shaded goggles, a tight blouse, a sleeveless and extremely short black leather tunic and a pair of knee-high black leather boots, Sevda's outfit will undoubtedly appeal to those who like their superheroines' costumes to display a strong fetish wear influence.

Sporting a neat Sixties-style bouffant hairdo, attractive actress Sevda Ferdag is perfectly cast as Sevda and the character is more than strong enough to intermittently disrupt the show's male-centred narrative. Sevda can hold her own when the fighting starts and she does a great job of rescuing Spy Smasher on a couple of occasions. A fun detail lays in the fact that Spy Smasher's Commissioner Gordon-like contact, Detective Cavit, doesn't know or even suspect that his own mild-mannered daughter is actually the caped crusader's ass-kicking sidekick. There's another strong female character present here in the form of Suzan Avci's sassy and brassy blonde, Suzy. Although Avci impresses here, her character plays like a stripped-down and much less interesting re-write of the fabulously devilish moll that she played in Atadeniz's moody, stylish and enigma-laden Kilink films. The contents of the three Kilink movies that Onar have released are so remarkably compelling that the comparisons prompted by Avci's presence here can only serve to highlight Casus Kiran's shortcomings.

It's not that Casus Kiran is a particularly bad looking film. The show's technical aspects aren't overly hampered by the low budget employed and the acting on display here is of a decent enough quality. As indicated earlier, the film is hurt most by its underdeveloped approach to plotting. It's possible that the inclusion of a villain of Kilink's calibre might have given the show a bit more depth. Dressed in a regular, smartly-tailored suit and hat but with his face completely obscured by a long, bell-shaped, plain white mask that has a couple of slit-like eyeholes cut out of it, the Mask does actually make for a fairly sinister-looking villain. Sequences that detail his sudden appearance in the secret basement of Suzy's nightclub and his use of the hidden passage that leads into the club via a telephone booth both make the most of the Mask's slightly disturbing look. But the Mask doesn't get a lot of particularly effective screen time. More often than not he chooses to delegate his dirty work to his underling Black Glove who, in turn, farms the work out to his largely incompetent henchmen. While this approach successfully plays up the mysterious nature of the Mask, it also prohibits the build up of any real sense of suspense or danger, which ultimately prompts the feeling that Spy Smasher and Sevda are sure to emerge victorious every time they fight with the bad guys.


Allowances have to be made when assessing the picture and sound quality of Turkish films from this period. It seems that very little in the way of film preservation has been practiced in Turkey and many of the country's popular cinema films have simply been lost to the ravages of time. Although Onar officially licence their releases, the film and video elements that the company are given to work with are rarely in pristine condition. Mastered from the only surviving elements in existence, Casus Kiran is in pretty rough shape: in their back cover sleeve notes, Onar themselves describe the elements they received as being "surely rotten".

Jumps due to missing frames positively abound in some sections of the film and tramline scratches and outbreaks of debris and film damage crop up with some regularity. And the show's picture contrast fluctuates wildly from scene to scene too. The sound quality isn't too bad but it is a little crackly and abrasive in places. All that said, Onar have carried out some restoration work at the transfer stage and the show is watchable. Overall, the quality here is probably on a par with some of the DVDs of public domain Hollywood films from the 1940s that sometimes make their way onto the US DVD market via masters taken from battered film prints.

This is an apparently rare and little-seen title and genre fans will no doubt welcome its release on DVD whatever the state of its picture quality. In keeping with the respect that Onar affords these genre flicks, the company have compiled some interesting extra features here, the most remarkable of which is a video interview with director Yilmaz Atadeniz. All of the disc's extra features have English subtitles or are written in English text.


Demir Pence Korsan Adam
Onar Films
1969 / Black and White / 1.37:1 flat / Iron Claw the Pirate / 85 m.
Starring Demir Karahan, Yildirim Gencer, Feri Cansel, Nebahat Cehre, Necati Er, Danyal Topatan, Faruk Panter, Huseyin Zan, Hakki Haktan, Muammer Gozalan.
Cinematography
Rafet Siriner
Written by Erdogan Avci and Kamil Ersahin
Produced by Isik Toraman
Directed by Cetin Inanc

Synopsis:

With his operations in Istanbul being continually upset by the masked patriot-cum-vigilante Iron Claw (Demir Karahan) and his female sidekick Mine (Nebahat Cehre), the legendary super villain Fantomas (Necati Er) travels to the city intent on eliminating the pair. In the meantime, a government operative, Yilmaz (Oktar Durukan), is killed during a raid on one of Fantomas's lairs and his brother Yildirim (Yildirim Gencer) vows revenge. Teaming up with Iron Claw, Mine and the mysterious agent Uncle (Danyal Topatan), Yildirim soon finds himself in the thick of the action. But if our heroes are going to defeat Fantomas, they must first get past his chief henchman, the hulking, metal-handed Behcet (Behcet Nacar).

If an on-form Jess Franco had directed a superhero film straight after making The Diabolical Dr Z, chances are that it would have looked something like Demir Pence Korsan Adam. The distinctly Franco-esque tone of this show is set while the front credits roll: a psychedelic nightclub band grind out an instrumental number, that is built around a superbly sleazy Hammond organ riff, while a shapely and scantily clad performance artiste-cum-stripper does her thing for an appreciative audience. Further interludes featuring erotic dances crop up throughout the film, perhaps most notably when Fantomas recruits a new partner in crime, a rich countess, and takes up residence in a haunted gothic mansion. The countess seals their partnership by performing a ritualistic dance routine that Fantomas watches from the comfort of his elevated throne. Said throne is positioned in front of a wall hanging that bears a large letter F and is flanked by two giant art deco figurine lamps. A ceremonial fire plate and some bizarre candelabras are the only other decorations on display in the large but sparsely furnished room. In terms of art direction and design, this fairly stylishly shot and choreographed sequence brings to mind the work of both Robert Fuest and Jean Rollin.

Writers Erdogan Avci and Kamil Ersahin's decision to include the legendary French villain Fantomas in this show was a masterful move. And it represents yet another example of Turkish popular cinema's inspired and pleasingly inventive approach to borrowing characters that are already firmly established within the realm of worldwide popular culture. For example, in Onar's release of T. Fikret Ucak's colourful 3 Dev Adam, Captain America and the Mexican wrestler Santo team up to take on a villainous variant of Spiderman. As usual, Fantomas is a particularly cruel and heartless villain. He dresses in stylish and smartly tailored suits but he also sports a tight-fitting black ski mask that serves to accentuate his deranged stare and angrily twisted lips. As such, he's a very sinister looking individual. More often than not, he's surrounded by a harem of scantily clad, The Stepford Wives-like, female automatons who are devoted to his cause and a veritable army of machine gun wielding goons who sport black jumpers that have a large white letter F on the front. His chief henchman, Behcet, has a metal hand that he uses as a weapon. Unlike the Mask in Casus Kiran, Fantomas takes care of his own dirty work and there are a number of fairly disturbing scenes present here where he sadistically disposes of individuals who have displeased him.

The film's hero, Iron Claw, is introduced when he breaks up a deal that Fantomas's men are thrashing out with the local mafia. Another high-powered motorbike-riding, Batman-like caped crusader, Iron Claw's costume looks like it was fashioned from an adapted set of high quality motorbike leathers. In addition to his gun, Iron Claw also has a bullwhip that he uses as both a weapon and an impromptu Indiana Jones-like swing-enabler. Some of the action moves that Iron Claw performs here look like they involved some pretty dangerous stunt work. His female sidekick, Mine, has a matching outfit but her's features a short leather skirt and, at times, thigh high leather boots. Instead of a regular superhero mask, Mine wears a neckerchief that covers her lower face, cowboy outlaw-style. Mine's neckerchief's nod to the Wild West is wholly appropriate on two counts. Firstly, the plethora of gunfights found here all look as if they were staged by Sergio Leone's influential stunt coordinator, Benito Stefanelli: the bad guys' bodies spin, flail and contort wildly as they dramatically tumble to the ground and the show's cumulative body count is absolutely huge. Secondly, the film makes good use of dramatic music cues borrowed from both American and Italian Westerns.

Thematically, Demir Pence Korsan Adam has quite a bit in common with Casus Kiran but Demir Pence Korsan Adam is a much better film. This show's narrative plays like it was properly thought-out and fleshed-out, with attention being paid to some degree of character development and scene setting. Demir Pence Korsan Adam's wonderfully disparate characters all have some sense of depth about them. Fantomas is a highly disturbing, hands-on villain who lives up to his evil reputation here while the metal-handed Behcet makes for a menacing and dangerous henchman. Iron Claw is a brave but ultimately flawed hero who perhaps acts more like an amoral secret agent and he rarely shows concern for those caught in the middle of his battle against Fantomas: he neglects to rescue the people he should and he seduces and abuses Fantomas's female operatives, knowing full well that his actions will result in them feeling Fantomas's deadly wrath. Mine is the ever-faithful sidekick type while the high-kicking, vengeance-seeking Yildirim is a wild card hard nut whose volatile emotions lead to reckless actions. It's hard to tell whether the slightly sleazy Uncle is a government operative who has been undercover for too long or a genuine street hustler who simply feels compelled to give the good guys a helping hand. The show is further enhanced by a good sense of pace and some noticeably consistent attempts to develop and employ some reasonably stylish camerawork and art direction. The quality of the film's acting is decent enough too.


It seems that Onar managed to track down a master that was in pretty good shape for this release. Picture quality fluctuates between good and very good here and the clarity of the picture allows proper appreciation of the show's effective black and white cinematography. There are still odd outbreaks of minor scratches present here but these are not particularly problematic. The disc's sound quality remains good overall. The extra features include a fascinating documentary about the work of director Cetin Inanc that features much in the way of film clips, stills and poster artwork. All of the disc's extra features have English subtitles or are written in English text.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Casus Kiran rates:
Movie: Fair ++ (Good ++ for superhero fans)
Video: Poor ++ / Fair ++
Sound: Good -
Supplements: Interview with Yilmaz Atadeniz, Yilmaz Atadeniz biography/filmography, Irfan Atasoy filmography, image gallery, trailers and a poster insert

Demir Pence Korsan Adam rates:
Movie: Good ++ (Very Good ++ for superhero fans)
Video: Good / Very Good -
Sound: Good -
Supplements: Documentary on Cetin Inanc, Demir Karahan biography/filmography, Yildirim Gencer biography/filmography, image gallery, trailers and a poster insert


Packaging: Separate releases in keep cases
Reviewed: February 8, 2009



Text © Copyright 2009 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2009 Glenn Erickson

See more exclusive reviews on the Savant Main Page.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics. Also, don't forget the 2009 Savant Wish List. T'was Ever Thus.

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