Are you interested in eternal life? Well, listen carefully, there exists a scroll that – if translated – may reveal all your secrets. Interested? Well, lots of people are and this is the basis of Karanlik Sular, a Turkish movie from 1995. Though there are a couple of genres you could force this movie into, I’d shove it in the box of gothic horror.
Onar Films, the archeologists of Turkish B cinema, have dug up this relatively unknown movie. Karanlik Sular is unlike other releases by Onar Films: a lot of their output are Turkish versions of international superheroes (anything from Turkish Superman to Tarzan in Istanbul), but this movie is a genuine slice of Turkish horror. In fact, I wasn’t aware that this sort of cinema was being made in Turkey.
Amongst the people dwelling in this movie are a mother whose dead son shows himself to an American man (whose business in Turkey looks a bit shady), an eight-year-old girl who may be the incarnation of a 800-year-old Byzantine princess and/or a vampire, a French translator and the mysterious “they”.
Sounds odd enough? Well, Karanlik Sular (or, The Serpent’s Tale, to use its international title) is odd enough to make you scratch your head several times.
Like other movies in similar genres, Karanlik Sular tries its best to keep you as confused as possible? Is the son dead or not? Is the little girl a vampire or is it an act? Is the mother hallucinating or is she being plagued by the netherworld? Questions, questions, questions… and you may have to sit through the entire 82 minutes before some of your questions will be answered. That’s right: some, not all.
Mondo Macabro described the movie as “an Argento script directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet”. Now whereas I can see what they’re referring to, it may just be a bit too much praise for the movie. I don’t think it’s the sort of movie that can stomach any expectations, let alone high. It works best if you start the movie with an open mind and allow yourself to be taken by surprise. And if you are a fan of those occult horror movies that were made by the dozens in the seventies.In fact, had it been made twenty years earlier, Karanlik Sular would’ve been a cult classic nowadays. Now it’s just an underrated gothic horror movie born in Turkey in the wrong era (then again, being born in the wrong period is not the worst thing that can happen to an occult horror movie).
In order to look a bit more international, the cast features two foreign actors (one French, one American). Hence the movie features dialogue in both Turkish and English. It doesn’t really matter that most of the local actors have a peculiar English accent: they only use it when talking to the foreign actors.
This is why the movie is presented with English subtitles for the Turkish scenes. The subtitles are legible enough and were burnt into the film, so don’t try to switch them off (well, not that you would, chances are high you don’t speak Turkish).
For a movie that isn’t even 15 years old, it is a bit of a shame that the original negatives aren’t available anymore. Onar Films were handed a tape and cleaned it up as good as possible. The result is that you will have to endure a handful of seconds of tape damage, but only in two scenes will you really notice that.
The DVD presentation also features an interview with director E. Kutlug Ataman. Surprisingly, Karanlik Sular was his debut and ever since he only released two other movies and a documentary on Veronica Read, an expert in the cultivation of amaryllis flowers.
Despite a couple of scenes which are too hard and obvious in their attempt to confuse you, Karanlik Sular doesn’t look like it’s someone’s first movie. If the director had had a bit more experience, this might have become a classic in the lines of Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness. Now, it is just a very good effort and a unique slice of Turkish horror cinema. Or maybe that is a bit unfair: have you seen the occult thrillers that were released in the nineties? Most of them felt pretty shallow if you compared them to the occult movies of the 70s. If you compare Karanlik Sular with most of its international contemporaries, you’ll find it has little to be ashamed of.
Our verdict is a pleasant 7 out of 10.
Onar Films: http://www.onarfilms.com (or available via Xploited Cinema)
The DVD is a Region 0 PAL release.