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DVD SAVANT


Savant PAL Region 0 Guest Reviews:

Cellat
and
Kadin Dusmani


Separate releases reviewed by Lee Broughton

The expanding body of surprisingly good Turkish genre flicks that Onar Films have unearthed over the past few years has quite literally resulted in the creation of a new cinematic paradigm: adventurous film fans are now in a position to rethink and revise their old preconceptions concerning Turkish popular cinema's quality and worth. Onar's vintage titles tend to possess fairly solid "cult movie" credentials and they usually compare well to more general Euro cult and exploitation film fare.

The two titles under review here should appeal to fans of both Euro cult and exploitation cinema. Memduh Un's Cellat is a fairly faithful reworking of Michael Winner's Death Wish but it does feature a novel added twist: narrative developments that unfold during Cellat's final third follow a pattern that has more in common with Winner's later Death Wish 2. Ilhan Engin's Kadin Dusmani is an effective take on the giallo genre that gives the genre's Italian originators a run for their money. Actually, since Engin's film appeared at a relatively early stage in the giallo's evolutionary development, it might be that Engin should himself be regarded as a key originator of the genre too. Both films feature Turkish language audio tracks that are supported by optional English language subtitles.


Cellat
Onar Films
1975 / Colour / 1.33:1 flat / 83 m. / The Executioner
Starring Serdar Gokhan, Emel Ozden, Melek Ayberk, Reha Yurdakul, Oktar Durukan, Tarik Simsek, Ibrahim Kurt, Mahmut Hekimoglu
Cinematography Kaya Ererez
Written by Bulent Oran
Produced and Directed by Memduh Un

Synopsis:

Orhan (Serdar Gokhan), his wife Filiz (Emel Ozden), his sister Sevgi (Melek Ayberk) and her boyfriend Jahit (Mahmut Hekimoglu) enjoy the final days of an idyllic holiday in the countryside before returning home to crime-ravaged Istanbul. When a trio of dope-smoking thugs (Ibrahim Kurt, Tarik Simsek and Oktar Durukan) violently assault and rob Filiz and Sevgi, Filiz dies and Sevgi is left in a traumatized state. When the local police offer little hope of finding those responsible for the attack, Orhan becomes a vigilante.

If you enjoyed Charles Bronson's outing as Paul Kersey in the original Death Wish, chances are you'll enjoy Serdar Gokhan's turn as Orhan in Cellat. The Turkish remake of Death Wish possesses the same gritty feel as the Bronson flick and it wholly succeeds in its efforts to present a string of crowd-pleasing acts of vigilante-fuelled violence. All of the major action set pieces from Death Wish are present here and director Memduh Un actually ups the ante further by throwing in a few additional confrontations of his own. One of these new sequences involves Orhan coming across a gang of murderous looters at an electrical store and it plays like a scene from one of the RoboCop films. Violence and bloodshed flows thick and fast here but Cellat remains a slickly assembled, good looking and thoroughly compelling show. Orhan's nighttime jaunts take in some lonely, rundown and highly atmospheric locations that in turn serve to add a palpable sense of tension and suspense to the proceedings.

Orhan is a suitably moustachioed protagonist and, just like Kersey in Michael Winner's original film, he gets to wear some fantastically stylish overcoats when he takes to Istanbul's mean streets and starts dishing out his own form of rough justice. The main antagonists in this flick are a trio of hippie-ish malcontents who dress like the Hair Bear Bunch. Incredibly, in the short scenes that lead up to the attack on Filiz and Sevgi, the trio acts like the Hair Bear Bunch too. Jeff Goldblum and his cronies behaved in a dork-ish manner in the supermarket sequence in Death Wish but Jemal (Oktar Durukan), Hasan (Ibrahim Kurt) and Sabri (Tarik Simsek) are introduced indulging in positively cartoonish misbehaviour here. The wholly eccentric and almost comedic ambience projected by their introductory scenes contrasts sharply with the deadly serious, disturbing and upsetting nature of the trio's subsequent attack on Filiz and Sevgi.

Somewhat unusually for a revenge flick, Death Wish was distinguished by the fact that its vengeance-seeker didn't know the identities of those he sought to punish and never actually caught up with them. David Engelbach subsequently wrote 1982's Death Wish 2 as a much more traditional revenge narrative. Interestingly, Cellat's writer Bulent Oran seemingly anticipated Engelbach's line of thought: a Spaghetti Western-like narrative contrivance appears towards the end of Cellat that allows Orhan to identify the men that he seeks to punish and he duly goes on to track them down. Serdar Gokhan works well as a Turkish Paul Kersey. His liberal and compassionate nature is signalled early on (while on holiday he helps an injured stray dog) and at the end of the film we're left with the distinct impression that a good man's character and mental wellbeing have been left broken and damaged by his decision to become a vigilante. Gokhan isn't as naturally tough looking as Bronson and his transformation into a vengeance-seeking killer allows for some interesting "before and after" comparisons in terms of his acting style and general demeanour.

As indicated earlier, Cellat is not a shot for shot remake of Death Wish and director Memduh Un is very much his own man: he manages to bring something of a personal touch to this familiar tale. Production values here are generally very good and Un consistently employs a good range of stylish camera angles, thoughtful and effective editing and good blocking. The show's action choreography hits the mark nicely and once the action is up and running, Un keeps things moving at a fairly brisk but even pace. I'm not sure who was responsible for the film's excellent soundtrack score: the superb main theme sounds like it would be right at home in an Italian cop/crime flick. I've no doubt that a couple of the impoverished and ill-advised Turkish knock-offs of big budget Hollywood films fully deserve their terrible reputations. But it would be a real shame if an attitude akin to "guilty by association" was to prevent film fans from seeking out interesting and worthwhile efforts like Cellat.


Given the film's age and obscurity (and the seemingly precarious nature of film preservation in Turkey), the picture quality here is pretty good: the elements used are largely free from scratches and print damage. The picture does tend to be a little on the soft side overall but apart from that there's really no cause for complaint here. The disc's sound quality is pretty good too. The DVD's extra features include Turkish Vendetta, a fascinating and clips-laden documentary that focuses upon Turkish revenge flicks and the actors and directors who specialized in producing them. All of the extra features presented here are English language friendly.


Kadin Dusmani
Onar Films
1967 / B&W / 1.33:1 flat / 90 m. / Woman Despiser
Starring Sema Ozcan, Ekrem Bora, Erol Tas, Engin Inal, Reha Yurdakul, Tanju Korel, Guzin Ozipek, Nurham Nur
Cinematography Memduh Yukman
Edited by Ozdemir Aritan
Written, Produced and Directed by Ilhan Engin

Synopsis:

A homicidal maniac is on the loose in Istanbul and the detective investigating the case, Kemal (Ekrem Bora), has very little to go on in terms of clues or leads. The fact that he's slightly distracted by the prospect of a new romantic relationship with an attractive young widow, Oya (Sema Ozcan), doesn't help matters. By coincidence, Oya's adoptive brother Kenan (Engin Inal) is on Kemal's long list of suspects because his wife was the maniac's first victim. Desperate to halt the killing spree, Kemal eventually places Kenan and four other suspects in custody but it soon becomes apparent that the killer is still at large.

Onar provoked a bit of a stir some time back when they released a Turkish giallo from 1972 (Mehmet Aslan's Aska Susayanlar Seks Ve Cinayet) as part of their Turkish Horror Double Bill DVD. Now they've gone one better by unearthing a Turkish giallo from 1967. Ilhan Engin's Kadin Dusmani is a fairly original and relatively well-made regional chiller that compares well to its similarly themed Italian counterparts. There are a number of highly effective and really quite creepy sequences present here that feature vulnerable individuals and couples walking around Istanbul's desolate back streets late at night. More often than not, they wind up being openly stalked by a sleazy and seemingly predatory oddball who carries a violin case that is full of inappropriate items. Atmospheric locations, crisp black and white cinematography and good lighting play a major part in enhancing these sequences and director Ilhan Engin successfully conjures up a determinedly gothic ambience. Engin ramps up the doom-laden air that pervades these claustrophobic nighttime street scenes by shrouding some of his gloomy avenues and alleyways in a veil of swirling mist.

The tension and unease prompted by these exterior sequences doesn't end when the action moves indoors. The killer in Kadin Dusmani has a penchant for wearing an assortment of fright masks and a pair of monstrous rubber claw gloves. The masks employed include a devil's face, a skull, a Frankenstein's monster face and a creature with bulging eyes. A couple of long shots of the maniac menacingly moving towards a victim whilst wearing his Frankenstein's monster mask actually bring to mind similar shots of Halloween's Michael Myers. However, the masks and gloves also allow Engin to employ set ups that are perhaps more reminiscent of supernatural horror films and monster flicks: a claw slowly coming around a door frame and flicking off a light switch, a monstrous face looming up to peer through a window, a grotesque figure emerging from a shadowy area, etc. These set ups are expertly executed and result in one or two really effective boo! moments. Engin's efforts to rattle the audience's nerves are ably abetted by the show's striking soundtrack score: there's plenty of jarring sub-avant-garde jazz and percussion present here that is reminiscent of that found in Jess Franco's The Awful Dr. Orlof. Interestingly, Franco's work is also recalled via the presence of a bizarre nightclub act that involves an erotic dancer, a sharp sword and a seated mannequin.

Another of the show's strengths is the sheer number of well-drawn but deeply eccentric and disturbing characters that Engin manages to legitimately cram into the film. There are an inordinate number of red herrings/potential suspects here but their odd characteristics come across in an unforced way and their presence within the show's larger narrative remains plausible. Oya comes from a particularly dysfunctional family: her adoptive mother is a strict control freak who secretly listens in on Oya's telephone conversations and both of Oya's adoptive brothers fell in love/lust with her. She married one of them but won't entertain the other. Kemal's sister is another control freak who pretends to be an invalid in order to exert psychological pressure on him whenever he gets too close to other women. Throw into the mix the aforementioned man with the violin case, a weirdo sculptor who has anger management problems and a wealthy intellectual whose choice of reading matter is highly inappropriate and you've got the tip of this show's who-dun-it iceberg. All is revealed during the show's final act, which gets underway when Oya finds herself being chased around a large, gloomy and cobweb-strewn attic.

Parts of Kadin Dusmani are a little bit rough around the edges but, at a technical level, there's really not much to complain about here bar a couple of overlong sequences that feature Kemal and Oya discussing their complicated back stories and wondering whether their blossoming relationship will work. These are very static scenes (something that cannot be said about the bulk of the film) and they hurt the flow of the show's otherwise well-paced narrative. Furthermore, the dialogue in these scenes just meanders around and around and the actors appear unsure as to whether they're meant to be bringing romantic, melodramatic or soap opera-ish touches to the proceedings. By contrast, the show's fairly frequent bits of police procedural business are presented in a suitably gritty and hard-hitting way. But good as these cop-related scenes are, it's in the sequences that focus upon the themes of horror and suspense that Engin really comes into his own. Highly atmospheric, disturbing and at times upsetting, Kadin Dusmani certainly succeeds in its bid to be acknowledged as a tense -- and somewhat twisted and sleazy -- little thriller.


Given the film's age and obscurity (and the seemingly precarious nature of film preservation in Turkey), the picture quality here is quite good. While small fine scratches pepper some sections of the show and odd instances of print damage are apparent, the picture itself remains clear and sharp throughout. The show's contrast levels do fluctuate a little from time to time but this doesn't pose a huge problem. The film's sound quality is relatively good too despite being a little crackly in a couple of spots. The DVD's extra features include Turkish Fantastic Cinema Part Three, a short but intriguing and clips-laden documentary that focuses upon Turkish Science Fiction and Horror films. All of the extra features presented here are English language friendly.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Cellat rates:
Movie: Very Good ++
Video: Good / Very Good -
Sound: Good ++
Supplements: Turkish Vendetta documentary (26 min), biographies and filmographies for Serdar Gokhan and Memduh Un, an image gallery, a selected filmography of Turkish revenge films, three trailers and a fold out poster

Kadin Dusmani rates:
Movie: Good ++
Video: Fair ++ / Good ++
Sound: Fair ++ / Good ++
Supplements: Turkish Fantastic Cinema Part Three documentary (11 min), biographies and filmographies for Ekrem Bora and Ilhan Engin, an image gallery, four trailers and a fold out poster


Packaging: Separate releases in keep cases
Reviewed: April 30, 2010



Text © Copyright 2010 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2010 Glenn Erickson

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