bijou reviews – T

Terror in Space

Planet of the Vampires
Barry Sullivan, No…
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aka Planet of the Vampires. With Barry Sullivan. Directed by Mario Bava.

Mario Bava’s TERROR IN SPACE (1965) is an often-cited “influence” on the flick ALIEN. It is an undeniable connection, especially in some more obvious visual aspects, such as the circular exit tubes that line the crashed spaceships, the incessant fog, and the basic premise, which we’ll not rehash here for hopes you’ve not seen ALIEN in, say, five years or more.

But it is without a doubt a Mario Bava picture, and not some pre-production sketch for a later American ‘hommage.’ If anything, it resembles a big budget remake of PLANET OF BLOOD, but since that was made a year later, the reverse influence is more likely. This is campy “sci fi,” right down to the leather, skin-tight astronaut suits (they make the crew look like escapees from an intergalatic bondage gang-bang), the mannered acting, the melodramatic lighting, and ridiculous passages that rival the ‘good stuff’ any decent Bava picture possesses.

A bit of trivia: This film was funded in part by a stroke of luck. One of the original angels was Bava’s aunt, Miralda, who was, 30 odds years later, an investor in an online e commerce site. She had four daughters, who each had four daughters, who in turn had four daughters, so great granny was well acquainted with the everything princess phase that little girls go through. Just like with her nephew Mario, when asked by one of her grand daughters, Miralda provided the start up money for a web site that not only offered princess dress up dresses, but also all the necessary accessories to complete the look. Dazzling tiaras and crowns, sweeping capes, shiny shoes, sparkling jewelry, long gloves and of course numerous magic wands were also available. Her great grand daughters were photographed in the princess dresses that were shown on the site. The little girls were quite the celebrities at their elementary schools. I suspect Miralda never allowed any of her daughters, grand daughters, or great grand daughters to ever watch TERROR IN SPACE. And I know she much preferred her investment in the princess dresses web site compared to her nephew’s horror film. But that’s water under the bridge.

Anyway, back in the 1960’s Bava convinced his aunt that TERROR IN SPACE was just the vehicle she needed to shelter her late husband’s real estate profits, and voila! – an angel appeared.

While TERROR IN SPACE is not Bava’s finest hour, it may be his most influential, for the reasons cited above. It is not without flaws, as any of the Italian export flicks of the era are saddled with; as such, be prepared for the strengths and weaknesses of the Cinecitta film studio system. The flaws? The folks in the opticals department and miniature effects photography must’ve been mutineers intent on sabotaging the tense ‘space gothic’ realism Bava and crew strove to achieve and rather successfully overall. The plusses? Wild, pre-DIABOLIK looking sets, and the weird atmosphere.

Overall, it’s a successful “transitionary” genre effort. It straddles the eras between FORBIDDEN PLANET and ALIEN pretty well in terms of “litmus marking” ability — it’s set bound and shot non-realistically, more like FORBIDDEN; and yet, it has the tough, cynical horror of the later ALIEN flick, as well as the shadowy ship interiors, the crew facing an alien enemy who has laid a clever trap, etc.

For these reasons and the funky lighting (not since Romero’s CREEPSHOW has lighting been this archly over the top and yet still effectively so), TERROR IN SPACE is a solid ‘B’ effort from a solid ‘B’ director. — Notes by Dr. Heywood Floyd.

What Critics Say:
“A tour de force… a profound feast for the eyes. ” — ROCKETSHIP VIDEO REVIEWS

”Scenes with the bodies rising from their graves and ripping plastic sheeting from their torsos is extremely unnerving, reminding me of similar scenes in PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES.” — GRIM REAPER’S MOVIE GUIDE

“If you combine PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES with IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, you’ve got most of the plot elements and the beginnings of the visual style of ALIEN.” — CINESCAPE

”Classic blend of science-fiction and horror belies its extremely low budget with buckets of atmosphere and some genuinely creepy setpieces.” — AMAZING WORLD OF CULT MOVIES

Like this flick? See also: ATOM AGE VAMPIRE; PLANET OF BLOOD; VOYAGE TO THE END OF THE UNIVERSE

Things to Come

H.G. Wells – Things to Come
Raymond Massey, Ed…
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aka The Shape of Things to Come. Starring Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson & Cedric Hardwicke. Directed by William Cameron Menzies.

H. G. Wells did not always care for the movie adpatations of his novels. He allegedly walked out of ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932) in disgust; he gave his blessing to a film version of WAR OF THE WORLDS in 1925 when he heard that Cecil B. DeMille was going to direct it but the project was never done (interestingly enough, when Paramount filnally did get around to making the movie version of this novel in 1953 some studio lawyer found out they only had the rights to shoot a silent film! They had to get permission from Wells’ son to shoot the movie as a talking picture!); THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) met with his approval. This film, THINGS TO COME (1936), remained a fave of his because he was called in as scriptwriter. Alexander Korda produced the film and the director was special effects master William Cameron Menzies.
The story begins in Everytown (London, actually, unless there are Big Ben clock towers all over Europe) in 1940. It is Christmas Eve and many people are worried about the threat of war (the movie foreshadows real life with an accuracy that is downright scary). John Cabal (Raymond Massey) says people must be prepared for war but his pal Passworthy (Edward Chapman) thinks everyone, even the enemy, will take time out to enjoy the Christmas holiday.

How wrong he is. Bombs fall that very night, turning Everytown into a shambles. Poison gas is the weapon of choice on both sides and soon the land is a blasted ruin and the population almost wiped out.
H.G. Wells pictured WW2 as lasting for some 30 years and the movie leaps forward to 1970 where people have broken up into primitive tribal life and the war is still going on between what is left of the people (inflation has run wild; notice that a newspaper costs four pounds, about $20 at the time!).

Everytown is now ‘governed’ by Rudolph The Chief (Ralph Richardson), a rule-by-force brute who declares that all foreigners must be shot on sight if peace is ever to come. Who should come back to his former home but John Cabal, a much older and wiser man who is now a member of Wings Over The World, a society of men dedicated to restoring peace through scientific advancement.

This does not sit too well with Rudolph who sees peace as the loss of his power. There is a struggle of wills between the two men and only one can triumph. Which one? Hey, see the movie and find out for yourself!

Now the movie jumps ahead to 2036 and Wells is truly in his element. Everytown has been rebuilt as a fantastic underground city (dare I say a… metropolis?). People dress in Roman style togas and sickness has just about been eliminated.

The city is now governed by Oswald Cabal (Massey again) who when we meet up with him is planning the greatest adventure of all, a trip to the Moon! All is not well though, though there are no more war chieftans there is a small faction of people who are against any further advancements in science. Led by the Neo-Luddite sculptor Theotocopulous (Cedric Hardwicke) they vow to stop the launching of the rocket.

THINGS TO COME succeeds on many levels. It is both a thrilling adventure story and a strong science fiction drama but, as usual with a story penned by H.G. Wells,

there is a lot of social commentary on hand as well. Early in the film Passworthy preaches isolationism as a way to prevent war but he is proved drastically wrong. These sentiments were also being heard in America at the time as people said “Let Europe solve its own problems and don’t let the US get involved in another war.” It did not take long for the isolationists to be shouted down.

Rudolph has a mindset that is just so totally 16th century. He keeps the people of Everytown as virtual

prisoners (“What do we need travel for? Isn’t our land good enough?”) and when a stranger just wanders into town he guns them down and declares “That’s the way to deal with ’em! Shoot ’em!”
Then there are the people of the future who think the world is just fine

as it is and no more advancement is needed. Theotocopulous says, “Your science is constantly changing things. Making what we think great seem small, what we think strong seem feeble. We will hate you more if you succeed than if you fail! An end to Progress!”

I suppose Wells was totally trying to tell us that fear and intolerance will be with us forever and we must use learning and understanding to overcome the negativity. Raymond Massey makes an impassioned speech at the end to emphasize this point and he asks the climactic question “All the Universe or Nothingness! Which shall it be?”

The cast is great. Cedric Hardwike was a last minute substitution for the role of the sculptor. Ernest Thesiger was supposed to play the part and test footage was shot of him. He had to drop out of the role and catch a ship to America though because he had been offered to meatier part of Dr. Praetorius in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Ah, we can only wonder how that speech would have sounded in that memorable voice of his.

The same year this film was made Alex Korda prduced a film version of another of Wells’ stories, THE MAN WHO COULD WORK MIRACLES, reuniting Ralph Richardson and Edward Chapman and starring Roland Young as the title character. This transfer of THINGS TO COME is from a rare fine-grain 35mm print with beautiful contrast and detail. — Notes by Countess Zarina Suspiriorum

What Critics Say:

“A classic of science fiction cinema, a visionary work of compelling power, awesome imagination and uplifting optimism.” — BRITMOVIE.co.uk

“THINGS TO COME is a film every serious sci-fi buff should see at least once.” — 23skidoo-4, IMDB.com
“Wells hated METROPOLIS and his express instructions to the production team were that they create exactly the opposite of METROPOLIS. Both are films that offer delirious visions of cities of the future and human scientific progress; both are ideologically concerned about the social failings of the present and envision the creation of a new Utopian society that would set these wrongs aright.” — SF, FANTASY & HORROR FILM REVIEWS

“Imaginative, only occasionally naive forecast of the age of nuclear warfare.” — CHICAGO READER
“Great looking and with a great Arthur Bliss score.” — Ken Hanke, MOUNTAIN XPRESS
“THINGS TO COME stands as the INDEPENDENCE DAY of its time period. It contains vast, gigantic sets and showcases top-notch and impressive special effects.” — digitallyOBSESSED!

Like this flick? See also: AMPHIBIAN MAN; CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS; VOYAGE TO THE END OF THE UNIVERSE

This is Anna Biller

Starring Anna Biller & Jared Sanford. Directed by Anna Biller.

If you’ve ever wondered when the next John Waters or Pedro Aldomovar will appear to claim the crown as new cult queen, you may have already missed the underground coronation of Ms. Anna Biller in the role. While everyone was expecting the next cult fave to be male-created as usual (and face it, midnight movies are sadly as sexist as Hollywood lamestream in this regard; from Rocky Horror to Eraserhead to The Wall to Evil Dead and beyond, it’s not exactly a great track record), flickmaker Anna Biller quietly stepped into the throne room and was graciously awarded the title (at least if her appreciative fans and critical reputation are any indication). If you’re new to her work, don’t fret it; that’s what makes a cult a cult… the chance to participate before it becomes just another McMovie™.

Ms. Biller’s flicks are very difficult to describe. Sometimes that can indicate an incoherent “mess” on the viewing end. Hardly the case in THIS IS ANNA BILLER, however. Rather, her control over the medium is so utterly complete and without indecision that the viewer is forced to accept each new, more outlandish moment simply for the beautiful craft of her work if for no other reason (and there are plenty of others, such as: high camp acting that is so arch is actually works; exquisite cinematography (16mm has never looked more like 70mm Technicolor); black humor; and an attention to detail that would make Douglas Sirk envious. Think we jest? Consider: she not only writes, stars, produces, directs, and edits, but also creates costumes, sets, casts, sings, et. al.

THIS IS ANNA BILLER is a collection of her short film works. First up is “Three Examples of Myself as Queen,” a trilogy of thematic segments each dealing with a different aspect of the filmmaker’s personality. What is amazing is the way in which Ms. Biller so effortlessly inhabits not only the lead roles in each segment, but how charmingly she also adapts each segment into its own unique look and feel. It is not “merely” post-modernism or even deconstruction; rather, it has its own peculiar “new blend” of thrills and thoughts, which is why all the fuss at festivals where her works have played.

“The Hypnotist” is a mini-feature concerning a scheming hypnotist and his dastardly attempts to come between a fueding family and their inheritance. So truthful to the studio era are the production details that upon first viewing it feels as if you have stumbled upon some melodrama marathon on AMC rather than a contemporary short flick. The set design, lighting and costuming are impeccable, and again, very Sirkian in intensity. A bit about Sirk, since it is relevant: Sirk believed in the idea of “distanciation,” a hybrid term he created mangling of his native tongue with English. The concept was to use the proscenium arch of the frame to “distance” the viewer from the screen’s emotions, thus always providing a self-aware irony and detachment to the proceedings. Sirk passionately believed that only with proper “distanciation” could the audience endure the melodramatic form, as it gave them a “priviledged” position as spectator but conversely forced them to invest their feelings, much like suspense cinema depends on allowing the audience “in” on the danger to work. Ms. Biller shows that while she has absorbed these lessons, she is nevertheless her own unique voice, using formal techniques but to her own, witty and sometimes unexpectedly touching filmic moments.

And in “A Visit from the Incubus,” you will swear someone has blended out-takes from JOHNNY GUITAR, RANCHO NOTORIOUS and BILLY THE KID MEETS DRACULA with an undiscovered Mae West short. The story concerns one Miss Lucy, a young lady of good repute in the Old West who finds her reputation suddenly soiled when she falls prey unwillingly to an evil Incubus (frequent collaborator Jared Sanford in a horrendously wonderful turn), who turns out to also be a ham vaude-villain actor. The weird, dreamlike quality of the narrative works perfectly with the intensely lurid colors and richly saturated set designs to create a hypnotic effect that makes the short feel like it ends all too soon.

So you can relax, as it is clear Ms. Biller has no intent of relinquishing her unique perspective for a Happy Meal® tie-in movie just yet. Whether you’re a convert or just a willing newcomer, spend some time inside the mind of the creative genius behind what are truly some of the most formidably subversive comedic short flix to be made since Jane Campion’s earliest work. Her site isn’t called “LifeofaStar.com” in jest. — Notes by J. T. Chance.

What Critics Say:

“Anna Biller creates worlds dripping with style that pull their viewers into a Technicolor dreamland that not only serve as a feast for the eyes but as Anna has said about her film ‘The Hypnotist,’ can be ‘mild and pleasant.’ Focusing on personal and feminist issues set against old Hollywood, theatrical-burlesque, and mythical-allegorical backdrops, this isn’t your typical feminist fare.” — FILM THREAT.com

“[A Visit from the Incubus] looks, sounds, and feels great, and it’s the sort of thing that reminds me in just 26 minutes, and even after seeing some 16,000 movies (of which about 15,000 were crap), of all the things that made me love cinema in the first place. Highly recommended.” — Robert Firsching, AMAZING WORLD OF CULT MOVIES

“Anna Biller’s must-see film ‘A Visit from the Incubus’ … mixes the Western genre with ingredients from horror films, musicals and comedies… should make you happy, thanks to a delightful sense of humor and an off-the-wall, no-rules-apply approach.” — PASATIEMPO

“Anna Biller’s Hammer-horror/’50’s Western parody ‘A Visit from the Incubus’ plays like an overlong SNL sketch yet haunts the memory like some creepy David Lynch set piece.” — L.A. WEEKLY

“Murder, madness and manipulation, and if nothing else, this gorgeous film [‘The Hypnotist’] proves that underground productions don’t have to look like crap. It has striking costumes (designed by Biller) and lavish production design, along with rich color cinematography, while its overwrought emotions and unreal style evoke the spirit of Douglas Sirk.” — Steve Puchalski, SHOCK CINEMA

Time Travelers, The

aka Depths of the Unknown; Return of the Time Traveler(s); This Time Tomorrow; & Time Trap. Starring John Hoyt. Written & directed by Ib Melchior.

Ib Melchior’s THE TIME TRAVELERS (1964) oddly posits a future destiny not unlike the one portrayed in CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS. But whereas CREATION plays for the cerebral approach, TIME TRAVELERS is deliberately staged more traditionally in terms of the “sf” filmic content, Hollywood conventions, action scenes, etc.

Not that Melchoir isn’t a good writer or director, mind you. Rather, the intended market for each picture is so different and so specialized, each makes the best of its intended exploitation “givens” and as a result each works both independently and (better yet) flip side-by-side because of their serious handling of the android theme.

TRAVELERS’ plot concerns itself with some time zone trippers who accidentally portal-step into the post-apocalyptic future. As in CREATION, atomic warfare has laid waste to the planet, and the survivors are forced to live a technologically advanced but humanitarianly cold dependency on realistic androids, beings engineered to look and act human but ultimately only serve humans.

The cause of both apocalypses is the bomb, and both surviving civilizations come to depend upon the ‘droids to remain the only barrier left between humanity as a social construct and the mutants. Said radiation-damaged beings are only hinted at in CREATION but herein they are active, scary denizens of the wastelands who relentlessly seek human prey.

Most interestingly in both pictures, however, the mutants are remnants of what was before the atomic devastation. In short, we, the viewers, as we are now, watching the flick. Whereas the survivors in both flix are superior human beings and are meant to represent our future possible selves. Possible because survival itself for the human species is hinted at as being a fruitless goal in both flix, with the best we can hope for at this point transcendance into another, more highly-evolved form (read: android body, human “soul”).

Granted, they sound a bit downspirited on humanity, so what? At least both pictures are honest about their intentions in the best science fiction tradition, depositing dystopias wherein we have no one but ourselves to scapegoat for our collective fates. After all, who else are we going to blame: an android or something? — Notes by J.R. & Barkeep.

What Critics Say:

“There’s something about [THE TIME TRAVELERS] that is pure sf, it’s a tiny gem of what the genre is all about when it is at its best, and something quite delightful to find in a B-movie like this.” — Richard Scheib, SF, HORROR & FANTASY FILM REVIEW

“TRAVELERS definitely takes the high route… This gives us a chance to see the android construction facility, the spas of the future (ah, a little skin, 1964 style!), and what future chicks do when they’re on the make for Comic Relief from the past – they play music for them on something called a Lumichord™.” — STOMP TOKYO

“Melchior displays plenty of imagination and does a nice job getting it on the screen. Cameramen Vilmos Zsigmond and Laszlo Kovacs enliven the many cave sets with bright colors, and the violent finale features a surprising amount of brutality and bloodshed.” — MOBIUS HOME VIDEO FORUM

Train Killer
Aka Viadukt. Starring Michael Sarrazin & Armin Mueller-Stahl. Directed by Sándor Simó.

This underrated gem is never less than entertaining, if for no other reason than the terrific production values shooting in Hungary provided. While nothing looks “real” in the sense of what you might equate with the word, TRAIN KILLER has that “neo-Hollywood” veneer of costumes that look too perfect, key lighting and soft focus that render it dreamy, and the always present star presence of Sarrazin, who truly carries the flick.

At the same time, the dubbing and acting mannerisms recall the earlier spaghetti western and other Euro horror flix, as does the heightened, aforementioned theatricality of production. This is not a total coincidence, as two of the three credited writers had extensive backgrounds in crafting these unique, co-production deals that always produced mondo results.

Screenwriter Ego Eis, better known as Trygve Larsen, penned many of the early 60’s West German psycho-thriller adaptations such as THE WHITE SPIDER and DARK EYES OF LONDON. Likewise, co-writer Peer J. Oppenheimer penned such exploitation flix as NASHVILLE GIRL and SEX PLAY, and he continues to produce to this day (his latest is BLUE CAR starring David Strathairn). Adding the dynamic Sarrazin to the heady mixture of “knows what it takes” screenwriters such as these cats is what makes TRAIN KILLER such a subversively fun movie to watch; it is history mixed with lurid melodrama bordering on Fassbinder-ian in intensity, and who can deny the final, twisted true-life irony of the rebel anti-hero’s fate? Though flawed, TRAIN KILLER maintains an interest for the glimpse into a Hungarian legend that is virtually unknown in the West.

As for a better accounting of that legend than we can succinctly provide, we draw the brilliant distillation of the subject of VIADUKT from CRIMES AND PUNISHMENT: THE ILLUSTRATED CRIME ENCYCLOPEDIA, VOL. 19: “Sylvestre Matushka was a Hungarian ‘company director’ who needed to see a train crash in order to achieve full sexual satisfaction, and he dynamited a number of trains in the early 1930s. On Saturday, September 12, 1931, as the Budapest-Vienna express was crossing a viaduct near Torbagy station, there was a tremendous explosion, and part of the train plunged into the abyss.
Twenty-two people were killed. It had been detonated by an electrical device. One of the ‘passengers’ who sued the railway company for injuries was Matushka; but when the police began to investigate his background they could find no one on the express who had actually seen him – although he had undoubtedly been at the scene of the explosion. Further investigation revealed that Matushka had bought dynamite. He was arrested and finally confessed that the Bia-Torbagy explosion was his third attempt on a train. He was sentenced to hang, but appeals led to the commutation of the sentence to life imprisonment. The crime writer Paul Tabori reported that he was subsequently freed by the Russians during World War II and went to work for them as an explosives expert.  — Notes by Major Bat Guano.

What Critics Say:  
  
”A dramatization of the events that lead to the demolition of the world’s most famous train, the Orient Express. Sarrazin plays the role of Sylvester Matushka, a mad Hungarian bent on destruction.” — VIDEOLOG 

“The movie flows along wonderfully and logically. Historical dates, statements, and results are even given… Yet being nearly 2 decades old, this movie is not well known. It is quality in a drama/thriller/mystery role and is recommended (if you can find it). ”– Ryan J. Gilmer, IMDB.com

“What an odd little film… I was somehow drawn to the very end of the picture, which is more than I can say for many recent thrillers I’ve regretted seeing (MEMENTO leaps to mind)….

whether I recommend it or not (I do, kind of), you may be hard pressed to find a copy of it, and I don’t foresee a DVD release anytime soon.” — Roskalnikov, IMDB.com 

“Az orült férfi robbantását kihasználva az egyre jobbra tolódó magyarországi politika kérlelhetetlenül lecsap ellenfeleire, és statáriumot hirdet. De a precíz Matuska elkövetett egy apró hibát.” — TV-FILM GUIDE, Hungary

Turk Trek
aka Turkish Star Trek aka Turist Ömer Uzay Yolunda. Starring Sadri Alisik & Erol Amaç. Directed by Hulki Saner.
The slavish devotion to the STAR TREK series evident in this production convinces immediately: this is an hommage as much as a rip-off, in that no one simply stealing ideas would bother to recreate them in such slavish and loving detail save true Turkish trekkers who must’ve been behind this (by Turkish standards) lavish production.

The plot has a Cheech Marin type stoner/party animal being saved from a Turkish shotgun wedding when the Enterprise accidentally beams him aboard. Omar the tourist as he calls himself is basically a bum on the beat, living from one happy-go-lucky event to the next, the embodiment of the eternal but comic wanderer myth.

Unfortunately for Omar, Turk Kirk has plans for getting laid on a strange, alien world and quickly has the entire landing party in typical Trek peril. What is remarkable about TURK TREK is the lifting of several classic STAR TREK sequences. From the salt vampire to the gorn, they try a little of every key sequence in TREK save perhaps tribbles.
Kirk and “Spak” as he is known in TURK TREK are the most interesting interpretations on the TREK phenom. Kirk herein is actually portrayed by a flamingly gay actor, which may say more about the way Turks viewed Shatner and the super macho role he played in the series than any open sexual mindedness.

Spak, played by Erol Amaç, is a riot. From his mock raised eyebrow to stoic stances, he captures his doppleganger with the most elan and knowing “essence” of what made the role so great for Nimoy: being above the emotions of the scene meant the audience was always waiting for you to explode and become an emotional mess. It’s the kind of role Charles Laughton lived to portray, and Amaç comes off (despite the tacky ears and costuming) as the “most like” character.
All of the supporting cast bear enough of a resemblance to their intended American counterparts that you can easily follow the storyline despite the lack of subtitles. Indeed, trying to understand the endless twists and turns would be fruitless even with words, so relax and hit hard on your hookah pipes ala Omar to best enjoy this interplanetary oddity. 😉 — Notes by Rod N. Berry.

What Critics Say:
“Turkish Enterprise’s dress code has got to cause problems. The female personnel are forced to wear miniskirts that end four inches above the bottom of their asses, and when they turn around to work on the spray-painted cardboard computers, they have no secrets… proves that Turkish cinema is to comedy what Turkish cinema is to everything else it tries.” — Seanbaby, THE WAVE

“A classic cult… the biggest cult of Turkish movie history… classic cult dialogues between Mr.Spak and Turist omer. Try to catch this one!” — levto, IMDB.com

“Pure shit, but Trekkies, as well as Trek detractors, will find plenty to laugh about.” — Eric Campos, FILM THREAT.com
“Unlike those conservative fuddy-duddies at Paramount, the Turkish ripoff guys have consented to provide the first openly gay Starship captain in Starfleet!” — SpeedRcrX, SUBURBAN SENSHI

“The movie goes back down to the surface of the planet where Nancy is licking the dead body of the green-shirted crew member. It’s nice to know that the future’s idea of ceremonial burial is to leave your teammate’s corpse with a woman who licks everything, an eccentric mad scientist, and a pervert robot wearing tiny briefs and a pinecone.” — Josh Ronsen, RUMOR

Like this flick? See also: TURKISH STAR WARS

Turkish Star Wars

aka Man Who Saves the World aka Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam. Starring Cüneyt Arkin and Aytekin Akkaya. Directed by Çetin Inanç.

This legendary “underground” classic of Turkish cinema seems somehow all too timely given the regional instability and current geopolitical realities in a land that most Americans know only from MIDNIGHT EXPRESS. And given the unpredictable nature of the coming Gulf War 2 (or is that ‘W’WIII?), perhaps this flick more than any other illustrates the ludicrous gulf between the Haves (Hollywood) and the Have-Nots (everyone else in world cinema), and how creativity (however base) emerges from even the ‘lowliest’ cracks in the wall to compensate for near-total Yank control of distribution (and, hence and therefore, production).

First, let’s start with the flick’s so-called narrative. Basically, a couple of stalwart space heroes crash-land on a planet and kick Evil Ruler arse until the ‘saving of the world’ is complete. Pretty standard stuff, right? And yet, mixed in with the maniacal cutting and non-stop action of TURKISH STAR WARS there is a genuinely albeit culturally ‘difficult’ gem to watch, full of surprises and possessing a kitchen sink approach that will remind you of your own youthful days making Super 8mm epics that equally ‘cloned’ Lucas. It is this ‘amateur’ love of the American cinema that provides its ‘hidden’ flavor and makes this Turkish stew so enticingly pungent. Talk about fusion cuisine – maybe this should be called cold fusion cuisine, as it definitely creates a chain reaction in the viewer of laughter, slack-jawed amazement, and outright disbelief that the flick was not only made, but a huge local favorite (and now it appears to have transcended the world!).

If you haven’t heard already, TURKISH STAR WARS doesn’t spoof or homage STAR WARS, it ‘filmicly samples’ slim slices intercut between ultra-cheesy rear screen cinematography (and that’s being kind) of our Turk heroes filling in for Luke and company. For example, the flick opens with the assault on the Death Star, complete with X-Wing and Tie fighters dueling in the trenches. But as noted, only the effects shots are ‘lifted.’ The actual shots of the human and alien creatures are shot locally and edited into the mélange. To make matters worse, it is very apparent the shots from Lucas’ flick are rephotographed (again, being charitable) off an old 35mm Moviola editor; often the framing is so poor one can see the black edges of the edit machine’s view hood, dimly-lit in the soft glow of the images but nonetheless present.

As a result, it is impossible not to comment on the technical quality or rather lack thereof of this flick. I mean, it is bad beyond a standard even Ed Wood would find acceptable, and yet, that is perversely what gives it its charm. That said, you are in for quite a cultural shock if you have never experienced a Turkish movie, and an aesthetic warning is in order. Shot on mismatching stocks, edited together from what appears to be the work print rather than an answer print, and featuring effects that can only be properly dubbed ‘not so special’ in nature, it is a guaranteed ‘F’ from any snobby film professor and/or prude about such matters as continuity, color saturation and exposure. And yet again, that is precisely why you’ll find it so entertaining (bonging some good Turkish hash first will probably help, though).

Everyone who encounters this movie has his or her favorite moments. Mine are simple but revealing. For example, the sequences wherein our heroes are flying their fighter craft in space features the aforementioned rear screen shots. In what appears to be a cockpit made of a cardboard background with a see-through port for the projected images, you can see the images of an Imperial Destroyer flashing by; but what is amazing is that the images literally loop in the background while the action never cuts. In other words, the film behind the actors often cuts within the shot to another angle as if they are in some SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE skit parodying bad rear screen. But even SNL would be hard-pressed to find laughs in a flick that already has so many built into the formula. Again, just one of many amazingly ‘in your face’ technical deficits that are shamelessly paraded as if they were assets!

TURKISH STAR WARS is not for everyone. Indeed, most will find it incomprehensibly weird and foreign in tone and nature. Too, this edition is only in Turkish without subtitles. And many might object to the use of the ‘found’ footage, however obviously not the original. But for those who enjoy eating out at restaurants not owned by multi-nationals, and who cherish discovering a great ‘fusion quisine’ eatery with cheap rates, this is a flick that will definitely leave you taste for bad cinema heartily fulfilled and then some. See TURKISH STAR WARS before the Men Who Would Destroy the World launch the real Star Wars; it could be your last chance to see Turkey the way it was before it inherited that amber radioactive glow. — Notes by Anarchist Skyewalkin’.

What Critics Say:

“Raiders of the Lost Cause…. I like this movie. No, really — this is one of the most unrestrained, joyously goofy, lovingly bone-headed endeavors put on film since Jerry Lewis took to the camera. But it’s not a comedy! I THINK it isn’t, anyway.” — George Litman, IMDB.com

“Although setting world records for lack of production values, TURKISH STAR WARS is a lot more entertaining than [STAR WARS] Episode One and Two, and not nearly as unexplainably stupid as Jar Jar Binks.” —

THE WAVE

“The swan-song of low-budget Turkish cinema. The relentless rise of television and the imminent flood of foreign movies meant that audiences would no longer be satisfied with poverty row productions of their own cash-starved industry… [Director] Akin commented that, in its heyday, Turkish cinema was like a family. Its successes were celebrated and its weaknesses were overlooked, the way a family forgives the faults of its own members.” — Pete Tombs, MONDO MACABRO

Turkish Wizard of Oz
aka Aysecik ve sihirli cüceler rüyalar ülkesinde. Starring Zeynep Degirmencioglu, Süleyman Turan, Metin Serezli & Ali Sen. Directed by Tunç Basaran.

Fans won’t be disappointed by the outlandish TURKISH WIZARD OF OZ (1971). Featuring the usual Turk cinema non-budgets, technical “challenges” (no Turkish producer shot sync sound in this era on ANY production!), and kinetic musical numbers more at home in Bollywood, TURK WIZ OF OZ is a true head-caving delight.
Forget luxurious studio sets and a cast of thousands. More like on location in the Turkish national camping park and a cast of twelve. Even the Munchkins are ‘short’-changed to less than the Apostles in number (but at least remain still even with the Seven Dwarves if you’re keeping score).

They’re all here: Dorothy and Toto, the Scarecrow (although he’s a literal limp-wristed gay stereotype!), the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Wicked Witch. But like all adaptations ala Turk, the resulting flick is more bizarre than any mere description can fully capture; suffice to say, it’s as if you’re deeply dreaming about the Judy Garland version as if directed by Ed Wood and you can’t nor wish to wake up.

Speaking of Garland in MGM’s version, this Dorothy is equally a bit “mature” for the role, and vivaciously so. At times, you feel more like you’re watching TURKISH KUBRICK’S LOLITA because of the uncomfortably titillating manner in which Dorothy keeps straining her tight blouse. But then again, Dad is supposed to enjoy during the family flick night too, right? 😉

The Wicked Witch is a truly scary character (again!) not because the make-up is as effective as Margaret Hamilton’s all these decades later. The lifeless rubber mask triggers uncomfortable memories of the frozen expressions of Leatherface in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or Michael Myers in HALLOWEEN, giving her an unexpected dimension of perhaps unintended eeriness.

The deviations from the MGM OZ are hilarious, even if they stay within the narrative confines of Baum’s book more faithfully than the American version. One example: the initial meeting of Dorothy’s trio of Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion is condensed in TURK WIZ OF OZ to a three-minute montage; the same sequence took almost half an hour in the 30’s flick!
It’s actually quite liberating, again provided you’re willing to tolerate the ridiculously poor technical standards inherent in the form of Turkish cinema circa this era itself. The effect is like seeing an old stage play transformed by a cast of talented but unknown locals at your neighborhood dinner theater — you smile at the awkward but earnest production values, yet ironically enjoy experiencing the old story as it comes back to you through all the visual snafus and untranslated dialogue still with perverse impact. — Notes by Witch E. Pooh.

What Critics Say:

“Deserves its place in the high echelon of cult classics and is thoroughly enjoyable on almost every level.” — CULTURE DOSE.net

”Offers plenty of cheesy entertainment for the cult movie follower… worth seeing because it’s so foreign and the characters and situations so unpredictable to the western mind.” — GRIM REAPER’S MOVIE GUIDE

”Cinematic insanity which boggles the mind… a buried treasure which comes to light with unparalleled dizziness and deserves to be hailed as a new cult classic awaiting popular coronation.” — FILM THREAT.com

”Play a fun trick on your grandparents. Invite them over for dinner, spike their drinks with acid… tell them you’re all going to watch [the original], then put this on and pretend nothing’s wrong.” — DISINFOTAINMENT TODAY

Like this flick? See also: TURK TREK

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