(aka. Drakula Istanbul'da)
Dir. Mehmet Muhtar
Noticing a gap in the decades covered, all there was left were two. The 1910s and early cinema since its existence, which is a vast area that does need to be uncovered for myself, knowing well how much of it has unfortunately vanished never to be seen again, and how much is not available from what has survived. The other is the 1950s. Giant creatures, aliens, the Kaiju growing as a genre or commie scare stories. Not a lot of it looks like its unconventional, but at least be quirky. A potentially rich era are for me more for gazing at the flying saucers on screen then discuss unconventional editing techniques. So let's cover a Turkish Dracula film instead. One story, three reviews for this season - Dario Argento's, a camp and now fascinating misfire; Francis Ford Coppola's, how you adapt it as a film; now for Mehmet Muhtar's. The Jonathan Harker figure, as in the previous two covered, goes to the castle of the Count for the purpose of negotiating a deal on estate, Dracula taking inclination for the female population where Hawker has come from and their blood, especially his fiancée Guzin, the Mina character.
It's the same Dracula plot but set in Turkey. Technically, it's an adaptation of a novel by Ali Riza Seyfi from 1928, though what exactly is different from Dracula the story is up to debate. Mina, as Guzin, is now a dancer and performer, there is no Van Helsing but an old male doctor instead, no Renfield, and only one female vampire briefly in Dracula's castle like with Argento's adaptation. From here Dracula prays off the Lucy stand-in and eventually takes interest in Guzin. I unfortunately have to cut to the chase, hoping for an entertaining Turkploitation film when I started watching it, and say that this was a tedious viewing experience. Some of the film has amusement. Admittedly the subtitles were a part of this, but considering how battered the film looked in the version I viewed, maybe too obscure to have a DVD release, I can appreciate any type of subtitle that at least let's me understand what's going on. I can appreciate Dracula's male servant at the castle, with a giant, bushy moustache and going against his master's wishes by purposely helping Hawker to protect his neck. The few moments of supernatural powers of Dracula are depicted including crawling down a wall are watchable. And anyone can appreciate a fake bat transformation. But a lot of the film is tedious for one very simple reason - the pointless, unnecessary interest in dialogue. Here, with Dracula In Istanbul, I have proof that, unless it's to do with the subtitles and language barrier, that no one should attempt lengthy dialogue scenes unless they are good at them, and stick to action and events happening instead. So many genre films are clearly created by people who think it's better to have lengthy dialogue sequences which add no character development when you actually stop and think about them. The word, the monologue, conversation, is seen as immensely important in cinema, and for every example where it proves to be true, the rest of the time it's a holdover from theatre and a little bit from literature, though we only realise with the latter when you read a novel that dialogue is not necessarily the backbone of them compared to visual world building. Dialogue is only good when its good or hilarious.
Characters talk in Dracula In Istanbul talk. They talk a lot. Of their relationships and about Dracula, and none of it is needed. Most of it isn't funny intentionally or not, or interesting baring an occasional line. Some amusement is found in it, some interesting, one case where even in Turkish Dracula you have the famous "Children of the night" quote. But most of it is white noise, comparable to the many, swarming scratches and scars on the film on the version I saw, but at least the damage visually was registered, while at times I suddenly fell out of physical awareness of what was going on when characters started talking I admit parts of the film are blank in memory while I was watching it in real time. Only moments directly related to its supernatural story woke me up, connecting tangentially - those from the original tale or whenever Dracula is involved, like canoodling with a female victim by the sea in full sunlight (?!). This led to the film being a cut-up of sequences which I drifted through, registering only as vaguely interesting bits. This should be interesting for me, who references surrealism in these reviews and dream logic, realising in a film a vague connection of sequences thought-up in a haze, but here I felt the long drags even if it was in a stupor where the images didn't register.
Viewing this film forces me to realise that a big percentage of cult cinema - the space between appreciating a film for its flaws and "so bag its good" - is mostly worthless to me. Dare I say it, I'm growing up and realising that I cannot stand sitting through shonky overlong dialogue no matter what nationality it was originally written for. The first film covered for this season Things (1989) qualifies in this category of cinema, but movies like it are an exception because its beyond the merely incompetent on the technical level that most "bad" films are, which is why I like that film. I immediately think of the film that really does need the tag "Turksploitation" on it, Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam aka. Turkish Star Wars (1982), one of the most technically incompetent films I've seen but it's not just another movie with risible production. Most bad films, like Dracula In Istanbul on this viewing, are bloated, over wordy, don't actually deliver anything of interest. Turkish Star Wars is, in a perverse way, the more technically accomplished film in terms of incompetence for its haphazard editing, its music, its content and set design, and most importantly not for scenes of actors mostly talking but actually giving you the goods in terms of memorable scenes. It becomes a good movie because of its memorable content and energy regardless of its technical imperfections.
Dracula In Istanbul, despite the battered version I saw, was clearly a respectable film. It seems bad in fact to have used "Turksploitation" in context to it because barring the fact it's Dracula, it's the kind of mainstream horror movie for a big audience in tone, with romance, an opening quarter in a gothic castle, scares and even dance numbers. But its lifeless, with people sitting around or standing, talking, rather than events of interest taking place. Even the horror content, when you get to it, has no power to it. No fright, no tension. Dracula is not menacing or seductive here because he's not allowed to be. He's allowed a funny moment glaring at someone whilst laying in his coffin because they've smacked him in the head with a shovel, but this isn't a role where the titular being really gets to terrify Istanbul at all. Baring the fact that a minature Koran, rather than a cross, is used to ward off Dracula, there's little in terms of interesting cultural additions with this, more surprising when Dracula's real life inspiration, Vlad the Impaler, was an enemy of Turkey, which should've lead to fascinating additions along with the religious and cultural differences from other Dracula adaptations. At the end there isn't even a climatic duel. It involves suddenly going into a graveyard, borrowing a blade and getting out after before someone is arrested, which is an exact part of the dialogue in the scene after. The remaining characters talk about life getting back to normal, completely casual and nonplussed, barring the fact one never wants to see garlic again. There is no jubilation, just as if a mosquito has just been swatted. Nothing has a weight and the result is dreary.
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
Don't expect anything remotely unconventional here. A dance sequence gets ghoulish, keys on a piano moving on their own fruition, but that's it.
A Cinema of the Abstract movie?
Inherently, a Turkish Dracula is, because Turkish genre cinema is not really talked about. Turkish art cinema is talked about more for obvious reasons, genre films looked down upon especially when they borrow music by John Williams. Only blogs and websites that really dig deep cover Turkish genre cinema, and I know that as a fact as, shameless plug, I write for a site called Videotape Swapshop that has many an entertaining Turksploitation review from my colleagues. This one I've covered would probably test a lot though, and I speak as a Turkish Star Wars fan. In tone and actual content, it's not a film for the site, a pedestrian and utterly dull movie that really shouldn't be here. I realise with a film like this that I need to put away my toys and act like an adult, to use the phrase, because this material was and never will be of interest for me. The closest to this that I love are films that are bizarre even placed next to similar films, and they are rare exceptions when the delight many get in these films is the overlong dialogue and bad fashion, which is not of interest for me. Only the curious should view this, and it's amazing now Dario Argento's Dracula (2012) is a peek above this in terms of quality even if it shares similar flaws.