R.I.P. (Bill of) Onar Films

The promised regular updates in April didn’t happen and you don’t have to expect them to return this month either. The Avenue will have to update whenever I have a free moment. I don’t mind the busier life as much as I hate the fact of missing important news. Like the death of Bill Barounis in October. Bill was the man behind Onar Films, a small Greek company releasing Turkish cult movies from the 60s and 70s. I say “releasing”, but Bill liked to call it “saving them from obscurity”. Bill’s real name was Vassilis, but he preferred using the American-sounding name Bill to his international customers (he also sold videos on eBay as “deathland”) and correspondents, so in his honour, I’ll stick to Bill throughout this article.
The last I’d heard (from the man himself) was that he’d ended up in a wheelchair after suffering a stroke (caused by a brain tumor). Even that didn’t stop the man from dreaming about a next release.

In his short life, Bill gave 13 dvd releases to the world under the name of Onar Films. He was the mastermind behind the company and got the help from three other people. Bill outlived Metin Demirhan and now, the two remaining men, Turkish director Kunt Tulgar and film journalist Ali Murat Guven, do their best of sell the remaining stock of the Onar Films releases. All the money earned from this will go to Julia, Bill’s widow and their child.

Regular releases cost 25 Turkish lira (approx. 11 euro/14 dollar) and double bills are available for 30 lira (13 euro/17 dollar). You can contact Ali at onarfilms.lastfilms@yahoo.com if you’re interested in a title.
All the movies are down to their last 90 copies or less, apart from Cellat which is finally sold out. If you’ve always wanted to get your hands on dvd releases of Turkish Spiderman (3 Dev Adam), Turkish Superman, Tarzan in Istanbul, Turkish James Bond (Altin Cocuk) or Turkish giallo movies, it’s thanks to Bill that this became possible.

The website to go to is in Turkish, but you can mail them for further information and you’ll get a reply in English (including an estimate of the shipping costs to your country). The link is here, and if you can’t see the list of movies, click on “Filmler” in the tab under the introduction.
I have contacted Ali and he told me they’re trying to get all the stock from Greece to Turkey, but they can only take as many as Customs control allows them. That’s why three of Onar releases will only become available in May. They are Kadin Dusmani (a Turkish giallo), Karanlik Sular (an odd one out for Onar as it was a 90s release) and Demir Pence Korsan Adam (with a Turkish Fantomas as evil mastermind).

Throughout my time as a DV reviewer, I occasionally got my hands on a book or movie to review. I can honestly say that I’ve never corresponded by anyone as passionate about his releases as Bill. This becomes evident in the releases: the first suffered from bad English subtitles and Bill didn’t rest until he found better translators. There is a world of difference between the first and final release of Onar Films. That in itself is enough proof that Onar Films was a labour of love. If you can spare some money, this may be a good way to spend it on. The movies will not be pristine (Bill often worked with the only available prints in order to get something on dvd that was as decent as it could get), but it’s impossible not to watch a dvd of Onar Films and feel the dedication put into this project. If you’re unsure about the films, “Onar Films” is a tag at the Avenue now, so you can get some further information on the movies.

In one of the mails Ali wrote about Bill (which I found on a forum), he wrote: “If you don’t have a deep love for the trash genre, you cannot be a second Bill.”

Bill Barounis will be missed.


Why would you want to watch a movie if you could also watch the Turkish remake? There are two sorts of Turkish remakes: on the one hand you have films like Turkish Spiderman or Badi (Turkish E.T.), which were inspired by Hollywood blockbusters and were overdosed with bad effects, silly plots and sillier costumes. The result is often more hilarious than thrilling, Son of Rambow for adults.
But let’s investigate the other hand today… Seytan is nicknamed the “Turkish Exorcist” because it’s an almost scene by scene remake of The Exorcist. Sure, the movie is hilariously bad (the levitation scene is performed on a giant trampoline and no, I’m not making that up), but Seytan was made because the original film was forbidden in Turkey. That’s the other hand: homegrown movies of originals thought too dark for the local audience.

I don’t know if Death Wish was forbidden or not in Turkey, but the Turks could see something that somewhat resembled the film in the form of Cellat, which was recently released by Onar Films.

In Cellat (which translates as ‘The Executioner’) things start off wonderfully when a man (Serdar Gökhan) and beloved wife are enjoying the company of his sister and her future husband during a well-deserved vacation. The holiday over, the man, goes back to work (he’s an architect) and learns that a group of thugs have been terrorizing the city. Their rampage continues when they spot the architect’s wife and sister coming home. They raid the place, kill the wife and rape the sister. It’s enough to make the girl hysterical and eventually she ends up in a mental ward.
The architect, unhappy that the police haven’t found the criminals (pretty hard though, given that noone has given them  a description of the criminals), fills a sock with coins and has a pleasant walk down the streets, enjoying the fresh air and the chance to beat up a thug. The law isn’t too happy with this vigilante and soon they’re also looking for the architect as well as the criminals.

Sounds familiar? Well, the plot of Death Wish is faithfully copied (here’s the synopsis of that movie) by director Memduh Ün, apart from a couple of details. In Cellat the raped girl is not the architect’s daughter but his younger sister and, unlike Death Wish, the Turkish version allows our hero to find the thugs before being discovered by the police. Of course, it’s nice that the man was able to satisfy his quest for vengeance, but this does leave a weird aftertaste in your mouth: it’s almost as if it’s good to take the law in your own hands here.
Other things were copied with much detail: from Bronson’s haircut to the film’s soundtrack (though it looks as if they only found part of it and played it over and over again).

Cellat may have its Bronson, but it doesn’t have a Jeff Goldblum. One of the major setbacks in the film is that the criminals didn’t look scary to me. Even when they’re raping the architect’s sister, they still looked like the comical sidekicks you see in movies like Captain Swing.
That and, of course, the noticable cheaper budget Cellat had to work with. The scene where one of the culprit is electrified becames unwillingly hilarious because of this.

This makes Cellat an odd entry: on the one hand its budget and talent lets it down and turns the film into the laughing stock of revenge movies. On the other hand, some scenes are quite good (sometimes because they’re blatantly copied, but also because not everyone in this film was hopeless). And I don’t think most of us have a third hand, but a lot of Turkish films don’t bother with continuity either, so on the third hand there’s the movie’s historian view of the film. It’s interesting to see what was copied and what was changed to make it easier for the Turkish audience. It’s not an excellent film and some of the new stuff is downright silly (yes, the wounded architect manages to hide in the house of the only person who could steer him towards the three thugs, fancy that), but watching Cellat is an odd combination of interesting vs. entertaining.

Which brings us to the main extra of the dvd release: there’s a documentary on Turkish revenge films that was especially made for this release. It’s made by someone who clearly loves the genre and owns a lot of relevant material. Sadly, he doesn’t really manage to show that love and instead narrates the documentary rather monotonously. I also found his attitude towards female revenge movies quite irritating: he blabs on for minutes about the main three male heroes but discards the two most important actresses of this subgenre by saying there weren’t a lot of revenge movies with women as protagonists and then he moves on to directors. The bit about the male protagonists lasts over fifteen minutes, the section about female heroines just over a minute. It struck me as rather denigrating and I needed some effort to keep focused on the final part of the documentary (the directors), also because the narrator was unable to pass his enthusiasm onto me.
Nevertheless, the documentaryis quite interesting because it features a lot of clips (although not every clip was found in dvd quality and some were clearly copied from tv broadcasts).

Cellat is a unique Onar Films release in as much as it’s not a barrel of laughs like some films (e.g. Turkish Superman) or genuinely good films (e.g. Karanlik Sular and Kadin Dusmani). That it falls in between those two chairs but still manages to entertain and be interesting for cultural reasons is weirdly enough a plus for this release.

Onar Films can be purchased straight from the source or Xploited Cinema. Cellat was released as a Region 0 DVD in a limited edition of 500 copies. It’s definitely worth your money as the dvd transfer went extremely well and it’s one of Onar’s best looking films so far.

And now it’s time for the trailer of… damn, I’ve forgotten the title of the film. Let’s hope the movie announcer will mention it 487 times…

Kadin Dusmani

Turkish cinema may not make into the annals of film history as being highly original. This site has never thought twice about ridiculing the Turkish homegrown remakes of ET, Spiderman or Rambo. If this has caused you to believe that all Turkish cinema is cause for ridicule, it’s a misconception we hope to end today with the review of Kadin Düsmani (Woman Despiser).

If you want to look for a fitting genre, Kadin Düsmani has to be classified as a giallo. Well, a Turkish giallo. Made in 1967. A time when even the Italians weren’t thinking of mass-producing films in this genre.

If I seem a bit reluctant to underscribe Kadin Düsmani as a giallo wholeheartedly, it’s because my own description of a giallo is a ‘film noir with more blood and nudity’. Judged merely on that account, Kadin Düsmani fails to deliver:  you may get to see some disrobing, but nudity is not around. For that we have to refer you to Thirsty for Love, Sex and Murder (the Turkish ‘remake’ of Sergio Martino‘s The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh).
Hair-splitting issues aside, not every giallo was conceived to make actresses strip as much as possible. Believe it or not, some directors went for a thing called ‘atmosphere’. And, while we’re at it, let’s also drag in Mario Bava‘s The Girl Who Knew Too Much, a 1963 case-study for the upcoming giallo genre and an ode to Hitchcock. Kadin Düsmani feels much closer to that sort of film.

There’s also a gothic horror feeling to the film, largely due to the killer’s fetish of wearing a horror mask while scaring his victims. Unlike most killers, who are content with just one hat and one pair of gloves, the maniac in Kadin Düsmani wears a different mask for each murder.
This ghoulish theme briefly works in favour of the film as you are left wondering whether the killer is a supernatural being or not. A thought you quickly shed, as you see the killer’s hands touching the freshly murdered body. The police inform us the maniac also had sex with his victims after killing them, but again, this is only suggested in the film, rather than explicitly shown. Weirdly enough, this suggestion doesn’t seem to help your conscience.

The way the killer crouches over the body (in the still shown above) brings me to another point worth mentioning. Unlike a lot of Turkish trash movies, this film has a director with a good eye. Here we don’t have just a camera pointed at the action, someone has thought deeply about the position of the camera, hence the occasional clever use of low angles, close-ups and bird’s eye angles.
Not even the murders are coincidental: the victims’ first names start with the same letter as the district they were living in. The killer is obviously trying to tell the police something, even though their idea the killer must therefore be a poet somewhat puzzled me and is one of the less good plot twists in the film.

Apart from trying to catch the maniac, one policeman has another thing on his mind. After the first murder, he finds out the late victim’s husband has an attractive sister-in-law, Oya, and he starts dating her against the will of her mother-in-law. That there’s even a scene where the older woman listens to Oya’s phone conversations on a phone she metticulously hides in a locked cupboard, shows you someone thought about this film and it’s not just some quickie people made because they had time and money.

Some scenes drag a little or are even unnecessary, but otherwise Kadin Düsmani is a good investment of your 96 minutes. As it’s an older Turkish movie, there’s a need to mention the state of the print. Well, it’s either been looked after with care or the remastering crew did an amazing job. Apart from one scene, 55 minutes into the film, where the print suddenly decides to crouch up a bit and you’re left watching headless people for twenty seconds. That scene is irritating, but anyone who’s seen the state most older Turkish movies are in won’t mind for half a minute of headless heroes.

Kadin Düsmani was released by Onar Films about a month ago. The Region 0 dvd offers you the film in Turkish with English and Greek subtitles. Extrawise there’s part of a documentary on Turkish cinema that Onar has decided to spread out over a couple of movies. In this particular segment (10 minutes) we get to hear more about science fiction and horror. Seven minutes are dedicated to sci-fi (from Turkish schlock remakes of ET and Star Wars to 21st century cgi efforts) whereas horror fans have to be content with clips from Araf, Dracula in Istanbul and Seytan (Turkish Exorcist). There’s even a tiny interview with the girl from Seytan, but pardon me if I can’t take her and the narrator’s comments seriously. No, Seytan and Badi (Turkish ET) are not high quality movies and no, they’re not scary, they’re silly. That sci-fi and horror were combined in one segment is because the Turkish cinema doesn’t really appreciate these genres. And whereas the people involved in Seytan and Badi may have overestimated their place in cinema’s history, there’s a cute little story about Dracula in Istanbul (not a remake, by the way). The budget was so minimal the crew couldn’t afford fog for one scary scene. So, as the weather didn’t seem keen on helping them out, the entire crew lit up cigarettes and blew them towards to the camera to create a foggy effect. Yet, that film is nowhere as silly as Badi.

For the record, the DVD also has a handful of trailers, two of previous Onar Films releases and two of upcoming releases… well, provide there will be a next release. This, for now, is the final release by Onar Films. The company will sit and wait till the baker’s dozen of releases they’ve produced so far will have generated enough money before they’ll invest in another remastering of an old Turkish film. It’s not just the lack of sales (though some of the releases are sold out, some will stay available till 2357), but also the lack of distributors like Xploited Cinema (who decided to stop acquiring new releases about a year ago). You can now get your Onar Films releases straight from the source. That isn’t all bad news: a new dvd now just costs you €17.50 (it used to be €23.50). So we can end on a positive note after all.

A brief return to Onar Films

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed the latest Onar Films release, Captain Swing (scroll down to find it here or have a look at the DV website in case you missed it). Two years ago Onar Films released three Kilink movies on DVD (Kilink in Istanbul and a Kilink sequels double bill). If you never got round to buying those, right now might be a good option. On its blog Onar Films spread the rather disappointing news the DVDs will be gone in a couple of months. Here’s why:

As if I didn’t have enough problems, I just received a threatening message from Yilmaz Atadeniz, the producer of the 3 KILINK films I have released, that our contract period is overdue and that I must either give him MORE money to prolong the contract or return him ALL my remaining DVD’s!

Yes, our contract mentioned 18 months and I was stupid enough to believe that he wouldn’t mind giving me a break.
I was stupid enough to ASSUME that after that period, he was JUST free to sell the copyrights to another guy too.
And I was stupid enough to believe that 18 months were enough to sell out. (more)

This is so much harder for the Kilink double bill as for Kilink in Istanbul: the latter was almost sold out anyway (and as limited editions tend to go: the final one is the final one), but there are still some 400 copies of the Kilink double bill left. Copies which will be sent to Turkey, maybe to never appear again (unless they’re sold by the producer himself).

You may remember that I said the Kilink Double Bill was a good choice because a) it contains two films on one dvd (my maths department convinced me that’s quite some profit) but also b) the second Kilink movie (the first film on the double bill) starts with a long flashback of what happened in film one (we’re talking about a flashback of Boogeyman proportions).

Anyway, if you’re still interested in the Kilink movies, you’d better hurry if you wanna play safe. Meanwhile on the Onar blog a new post has appeared, asking reading not to be too negative on Atadeniz. We’ll gladly copy a link to that message too.

As for me… in a couple of days I’ll be looking at a stack of new releases from the Dutch label Filmfreak. Stick around!

Captain Swing

Captain Swing is the latest offering from Onar Films. The movie is a Turkish adaptation of an Italian comic based on the adventures of an American rebel. Well, I say American, I mean “French-American” living with Indian tribes. Did I just manage to include every country in the world in two sentences? Anyway, are you prepared for 90 minutes of Turkish actors pretending to be French, American, British and (heaven forbid) Indian? Let’s review Kaptan Swing (or Captain Swing)…

In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, Kaptan Swing is daft. Well, there’s a Turkish fellow trying to pass as an Indian (which basically means he walks around semi-clothed, has a couple of lines on his face and mentions the great gods in the sky in nearly every sentence)… of course it’s daft. Then again, American movies made in the fifties with similar themes are no less silly (even if directed by heavyweights like Jacques Tourneur). One has to assume it comes with the theme.

Anyway, Kaptan Swing is a rebel sought after by the English (read: Turkish actors in silly red outfits). His love is the ample bosomed Betty, his friends are the slightly overweight Mister Bluff and Sad Owl, the Indian who’s always hungry (and who’s in charge of the film’s comedy elements – which are quite annoying).
The thing is: Sad Owl’s comedy may be a bit annoying, but bear in mind this film doesn’t take itself serious. The addition of comedy characters in Turkish thrillers and horror movies is disturbing, but here you allow yourself to let it pass. Because the film is silly. Let’s face it, the genre is silly: comparable American movies from the 50s were no less cardboard than this feature.

After watching the trailer for this movie, I had a lot of reservations for this film, but to be honest, Kaptan Swing isn’t all that bad. You won’t believe for one second the film is set in North America, but if you look at it as a rogue movie, it’s okay. The film is quite faithful to the Italian comic it was based on, Il Comandante Mark.

As for the picture quality, it must definitely be mentioned this movie looks incredibly good. Often these Turkish movies look in such a bad shape the word “abysmal” would be considered as a compliment, but Captain Swing is one of Onar’s best looking movies so far. Apparently not all was lost.

Onar Films included the second part of its history of Turkish fantastic cinema (focusing on adventure movies) on this DVD, so on top of Kaptan Swing you’ll learn more about this movie and its likes. And what a shame that documentary isn’t longer.

Other extras include a poster insert, a couple of filmographies and biographies, a photogallery and a reel of upcoming trailers. Make sure you watch those trailers, there’s one of a Turkish Bond adaptation, the Turkish version of Death Wish (which will be released later this year) and a couple of other mouth-watering sleaze goodies. Treats ahead, ladies and gentlemen, treats ahead.

P.S. Do you know your one Captain Swing from another? Read the Wikipedia entry for more info, but bear in mind the Turkish movie isn’t included there.

Demir Pence Korsan Adam

Everytime Onar Films announces a new DVD I’m wondering “How the hell will I remember that title?”. But after having seen the film, I can type the title as if I speak Turkish fluently. Demir Pence Korsan Adam roughly translates as “Iron Claw: The Pirate” and features as Hero of the Day one Iron Claw. Iron Claw and his female companion Mine battle it out against… erm… Fantômas. Yes, the French evil mastermind tries to get his criminal business going in Istanbul. If that doesn’t sound wacky enough, how’s this for a comparison? The opening reminds me of the style that Jess Franco used for his movies like Vampyros Lesbos. A scantily clad woman rolling on the floor to the movie’s theme. Yes, up for review tonight the Turkish version of what would happen if Jess Franco would direct a Fantomas movie. (And don’t think the man wouldn’t: he made movies of a.o. Frankenstein, Mabuse and Fu Manchu…)

Speaking of directors up for any adaptation, the director of this is Cetin Icanç who made several weird Turkish remakes himself, most notably the Turkish Star Wars movie (Dünyayi kurtaran adam a.k.a. The Man Who Saves The World). Demir Pence Korsan Adam is a bit more normal compared to that movie, but still it’ll make you raise an eyebrow at least once. Occasionally the plot is quite ludicrous (e.g. the scene where Demir and Mine spy on criminals by standing on an open tower, five metres up in the sky – and noone seems to spot them), so it’s best to throw any sense of logic out of the window before you’re going to watch this movie.
Speaking of windows, the director seemed a bit strapped for cash when he asked the creative team to come up with some sort of television set that would allow Fantômas (when still in France) to speak to his criminal crew in Turkey. The result is that odd thing you see on your right. Good thing we already chucked out our logic.

To be honest, I was sorta rooting for Fantômas here, mainly because I didn’t like Demir Pence. He comes across quite macho and quite wooden (so Man of Wood rather than Man of Steel – apologies for the awful joke). Luckily his companion Mine is a lot more likable. I know there were other Demir Pence movies made, why didn’t anyone think of a Mine spin-off? The girl deserved it! Mine’s uncle (nicknamed The Uncle) provides – I assume it was obligatory in those days – the comic relief of the film and (for a pleasant change) I didn’t find him that annoying. Another plus for Demir Pence Korsan Adam.

Slightly disappointing (for me – but not for you, as I’m warning you now) is that from the beginning Demir Pence Korsan Adam feels a lot sleazier than it genuinely is: the ladies may get scantily clad, but there’s no nudity in this film. You’ll see ladies in bras and panties, but that’s as naughty as it gets. Which doesn’t mean the movie doesn’t try and arouse you: Fantômas often has women dancing for him and more often than once the bellydancer doesn’t face really Fantômas, but the camera (and thus the viewer). This sort of direct contact with the camera is dangerous, but Icanç pulls it off here (well, his actresses do anyway).

I don’t think it’ll be a spoiler to tell you that Demir Pence and his crew catch Fantômas in the end (because that’s how those movies worked). Hurrah for the Turks for succeeding where the French failed. Actually, that’s not me saying this, this is mentioned almost verbatim in the movie. After which, I kid you not, the Turkish anthem starts to play. (To my annoyance, but then again Sam Raimi‘sSpiderman is no better example here: remember how he looped around the American flag at the end of the first movie. So if anything happened in let’s say Angola, Spiderman wouldn’t stop reading his paper, or what? Quite an annoying habit these superheroes seem to have. At least Casus Kiran just had Casus Kiran and his female companion mentioned as ‘patriots’ and that was that. Anyway, this is just one of my pet hates.)

What should definitely be mentioned is how great this movie looks: we know by now that for all their patriotism in the superhero movies the Turks were rather careless with preserving their movies and that often showed in the prints ‘rescued’ by Onar Films. Well, Demir Pence Korsan Adam is different: sometimes the image is flawless, overall it’s very good and there are just a couple of scenes where the wear is evident (but even then the movie remains very watchable). Nice to see an older Turkish movie (it was made in 1969) in such a good state for once.

As I’d mentioned earlier, Icanç seems to have thrown out his sense of logic out of the window when he made this movie. There is some gung ho feeling to the action scenes: Demir and his crew show up at a place where they might get closer to Fantômas, so we need at least ten opponents. No, make that definitely a dozen. Is there anyone who Fantômas suspects of not helping his evil case? Then he or (preferably) she must be killed. Bigger! Better! Bolder!

Which in the end only proves my point: this is the Turkish equivalent of what Jess Franco would do to a Fantômas movies. Minus the excess of nudity, that is.

Demir Pence Korsan Adam was released by Onar Films. The DVD is region free (Region 0) and can be watched anywhere in the world. You can buy the film straight from Onar Films (mind the summer sale discount!) and Xploited Cinema. The DVD contains Greek and English subtitles and the extras include a great documentary on the films of director Icanç.Demir Pence Korsan Adam is released as a limited edition (only 500 copies!).

Casus Kiran

Casus Kiran is Turkish for “Spy Smasher”, the international title of this 1968 action movie by Yilmaz Atadeniz. Spy Smasher was a comic hero from the 1930s and 1940s. Of course the original Spy Smasher was American (as opposed to Turkish) and fighting the Nazis (as opposed to fighting a local gang of thugs), but Turkish remakes were never known for their accuracy.

In 1942 the Spy Smasher comic was turned into a movie serial. The 12 parts were condensed to 100 minutes and rereleased in 1966, just two years before Casus Kiran saw the light. In an interview (available on the DVD) director Atadeniz confesses he was highly influenced by the serials he saw in the theatres as a kid.
Let it suffice to say that this shows: Casus Kiran plays more like a serial taped together to form a film. That doesn’t say anything about the quality of the film: it’s just that Casus Kiran often ends up trying to stop another attempt of his nemesis The Mask to rule Turkey and (by extension) the world.

The comic cover pictured on the Wikipedia page of Spy Smasher leaves no room for innuendo: “Death to spies in America!” shouts the comic’s hero. Casus Kiran was made nearly 30 years later in a year the world discovered the hippies and thus he’s less harsh, but nevertheless the voiceover announces Casus Kiran and his girlfriend Sevda as “patriots willing to die for their country”. It’s good for Casus Kiran and Sevda their opponents aren’t as fierce as the Nazis.
Atadeniz wants to make it clear that our heroes aren’t just fighting any group of local thugs. The movie’s titles and the opening sequence show you these criminals have no problem blowing things up or murdering people in cold blood. Again, some of those killings may look a bit cartoonish, but that often went together with the serial style.

Spy Smasher’s local nemeses are The Black Glove and The Mask. The former is the gang leader, the latter is the mastermind behind several criminal groups and the one who hopes to dominate the world one day. Yeah, we all have dreams. In fact, in a bit of reality kicking in, one of the good characters remarks that it is a bit curious to find all these criminal organisations in Turkey. No, our hero replies, that is often the case in countries where cultures come together. Turkey is stuck on the dividing lines between western and eastern culture and it’s lying next to a sea: it makes some sense that as locations go, it could be the wet dream of an evil mastermind.
Speaking of masterminds, if you always have problems identifying the evil characters, you won’t have too much trouble here: the Black Glove wears black gloves and The Mask… well, see for yourself on the accompanying picture. Though this evil mastermind with perhaps the tiniest budget for facial camouflage always conceals his identity successfully thanks to his mask, you won’t have trouble guessing who’s behind the mask. But then again, it’s not a giallo, eh?

The good guys in this movie are Spy Smasher, Sevda and her father (a policeman) plus Spy Smasher’s friend Badik, who’s mainly there for comic relief (if you like that sort of thing – I myself find little relief therein, only aggravation) and who’s accompanied by a tune which sounds eerily similar to a Henry Mancini tune called “Baby Elephant Walk“. What a coincidence, eh?
Sevda is a more interesting character than her boyfriend. Casus Kiran just has to be the Spy Smasher and even when he takes off his mask, his character doesn’t gain any more depth. (He’s just “guy who sometimes is Spy Smasher”.) Sevda is not only the ally of Spy Smasher, she’s also the daughter of a police detective. This man, Cahit, has no clue why Spy Smasher and his girlfriend always had over their evidence to him. (And why would he? It’s not as if Sevda only put on big sunglasses when she becomes Casus Kiran’s sidekick. Wait… that’s all she does (apart from changing into a leather costume)? Never mind then.

Sevda is more than just a sidekick. It is she who’ll save Casus Kiran and his other sidekick (not that Bedik deserves to go by that name: a gigantic log of wood would be more useful as a sidekick – and definitely less annoying) and, as far as ass-kicking sidekicks go, she doesn’t mind using her knuckles and legs. She’s more akin to Catherine Gale and Emma Peel of The Avengers than to Robin of Batman. (To be honest, Bedik is as annoying as Robin. Holy junkyard, I wouldn’t think that was possible.)

Enough about the film, what’s the DVD like? Well, as you know, Onar Films specializes in digging up Turkish movies that are almost impossible to find. Casus Kiran was not in a good state and occasionally a couple of seconds (sometimes up to a minute) were missing. One time it is absolutely not important and one wonders why Onar Films didn’t decide to chuck out that filler dialogue (now we watch a conversation start and in the middle of a sentence the print skips to the next scene). The answer is of course that Onar Films does its best to release as much of the film as possible. A second cut is a bigger shame: at one point Sevda is abducted and Casus Kiran follows them on his motorbike. There is a cut when the thugs’ car leaves the road and suddenly we see our Spy Smasher battle it out with some of the thugs while one tries to run off with Sevda. (Incidently, during the road chase Sevda does all she can so one of the thugs can’t shoot Casus Kiran who’s following closely and she can only be subdued by getting a couple of heavy punches. It’s nice to see this sort of active sidekick for a change.)

The subtitles sadly don’t have the level of perfection a later Onar Films release (Cizil Tug Cengiz Han – reviewed here two weeks ago), but the couple of mistakes aren’t that distracting.
Occasionally, the print is in an awful state (What’s that behind those scratches? Oh, a movie!) but overall the quality is acceptable enough for you to dish out some money (incidently, did you know there was a summer sale right now at the Onar Films site?).

Yilmaz Atadeniz was interviewed for the DVD extras and he tells us he had to rival Turkey’s other production companies with bigger stars and budgets by shooting low(er) budget movies with a crew that contained both actors and wrestlers (because they wouldn’t mind all the running and (fake) punching). Occasionally it shows the man was a good director: during the sea chase (yes, another chase – told you this movie was related to the serial) you don’t see the director make a mistake, even though as a scene it was probably more difficult to shoot than a scene with just two people talking (and funnily enough, that’s the sort of scene where Atadeniz does make mistakes: by mismatching the actors’ reaction shots for instance). Again, it only shows how much the director liked the action in his movies.

The long interview of Atadeniz was conducted by Metin Demirhan, who was good friends with Bill from Onar Films. Demirhan passed away shortly after the interview and that is why this DVD was especially dedicated to Demirhan. (Later releases also mention Demirhan explicitely, but here you get a final chance to listen to the man interviewing a Turkish director. In case you didn’t know, Demirhan wrote a book on Turkish Fantastic Cinema.)

The other extras are a couple of filmographies, some trailers and a mini poster.

To whom would I recommend Casus Kiran? To someone who loves superheroes when they’re accompanied by an apt sidekick. To someone who doesn’t like movies which are longer than 70 minutes (Casus Kiran clocks off after 67 minutes). And, more importantly, someone who likes the style of the American movie serials of the 1930s and 40s.It’s not a good place to start if you’ve never seen a Turkish adaptation, but it’s meatier than some of those Turkish ‘remakes’. It also has no problem with being violent from time to time, which does make a lot more credible than some superhero movies – which are far too cartoonish, but some people might be offended by the violence (e.g. like the scene where the thugs try and get some information from a couple of women – as you can tell from the picture hovering near this text).

I’d give Casus Kiran 6.5/10 and the guarantee you’ll like it if you’re in for a movie night with lots of action and violence.

Turkey, 1968 (B/W, 67 min)
Director: Yilmaz Atadeniz
Actors: Irfan Atasoy, Sevda Ferdag, Yildirim Gencer, Hüseyin Zan, Suzan Avci

* Limited Edition: 1200 numbered copies
* Turkish audio with English and Greek subtitles (Dolby Digital 2.0)
* Extra: Poster Insert
* Extra: Interview with the director (approx. 30 minutes)
* Extra: Filmographies of Atadeniz and Atasoy
* Extra: Photo Gallery
* Extra: Trailers for upcoming releases

And finally there’s just time for the trailer:

Kizil Tug Cengiz Han

As Pompeii and Rome weren’t the only cities around over 2000 years ago, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that other countries thought: “Hey, we have history too, let’s make a movie about it.” Nevertheless, the peplum genre was mostly popular in Italy and Hollywood. Meanwhile the Germans thought  it necessary to make another movie adaptation of the Nibelungen – and who should blame them? It’s a good story after all.

If you have read my reviews of other Onar Films releases, you’ll know the Turkish people never thought twice about making homegrown adaptations of hit movies. And so they noticed the success of peplum movies, thought about their history and made movies like Kizil Tug Cengiz Han. In Kizil Tug Otsukarci, a slightly boorish but brave warrior, meets three famous warriors (amongst them Genghis Khan – in case you hadn’t figured that out from the title) and manages to put up quite a good fight. A fight that becomes mean business when a small army shows up and tries to kill Khan. Khan’s life is saved by Otsukarci and so Genghis Khan gives our hero a job. Otsukarci is asked to go to a king who still ows Khan some money. And so Otsukarci ends up in a castle where the king’s son is about to defend his honour – it’s just that he’s a bit of a wussy. No prizes for guessing what happens next.

Otsukarci looking fierceThat brings me neatly to my next point: some of the fights in Kizil Tug are nicely executed and highly paced, which means the movie doesn’t get a chance to bore you (even though some of the plot is a bit convoluted – wait, who was this again?).
This isn’t helped by the fact that Onar Films only found one remaining copy of this 1952 film and had to restore the movie from that one source, which wasn’t in the best shape by the way. From time to time you’ll see a roll and a scratch and even the audio is far from perfect: sometimes a word falls off the soundtrack (good things the subtitles work just fine) and a couple of times the sound track even seems eager to start a hiphop record (if you’re not into music, that means you’ll hear some scratching). Whereas that is definitely annoying, it’s good to remind yourself you’re watching an old movie restored from one source (if you ever saw the YouTube trailer that was made before the movie was restored, you’ll see the improvement).

Kizil Tug (translated as both “The Red Plume” and “The Red Banner”) is the tenth Onar Films release, which means it’s okay to look at the progress. The DVD menu looks better and more active than big companies like Fox and Universal would use for their releases of older movies. The quality of the subtitles has increased substantially. Kizil Tug is almost flawless when it comes to the English subtitles (I’m not qualified to say anything about the Greek subtitles), which is a more than welcome change compared to the Kilink movies where I had to rewind the disc to try and understand what some of those sentences meant.

And then there’s the extras. There are trailers for upcoming releases, text biographies on two of the film’s actors and a photogallery. But that’s not all… Kizil Tug comes accompanied by part of a Turkish documentary on Turkey’s movie history. The segment about Turkish history movies can be seen on this DVD. Onar Films have bought the entire documentary (92 minutes, allegedly) and will release it in segments (so the sci-fi segment will be on a sci-fi movie release).
And if you’re a discerning viewer and a dozen minutes of documentary aren’t enough, you’re in luck! Kizil Tug also comes with a 40-page booklet on Turkish Fantastic Cinema. Onar’s very own Bill Barounis opens the booklet with a one-page foreword and then it’s cinema history time. Divided into genres, the booklet lists Turkish movies in chronological order. The director and cast are named and, if available, a short synopsis. There’s also a brief introduction for each genre (the genres are horror/mystery, fantasy/fairytales, karate, historical, western, science fiction, (general) fantasy and superheroes). Even if you’ll watch Kizil Tug only once (I know I will: it was okay, but once is enough – yeah, I’m not a big peplum fan), you’ll definitely return to the booklet.

R: Aydin Arakon
Cast: Turan Seyfioglu (Otarkarci), Mesihi Yelda, Atif Kaptan and Cahit Irgat.
Audio language: Turkish (Dolby Digital 2.0)
Subtitles: English / Greek
Original full frame (4:3) presentation
B&W, 73 minutes

Watch out: Onar Films movies are now released on 500 copies only.

I’ll leave you with the trailer:

P.S. Definitely worth mentioning, all summer long Onar Films will be a lot cheaper. Depending on the title, you’ll get a 2 to 6 euro discount if you buy the movie straight from Onar Films. You can also buy the movie from Xploited Cinema.

Tarzan in Istanbul

Granted… “Me Tarzan, you Netzia” does sound a bit odder than the original, but that never stopped the Turks from remaking Tarzan.
In fact, there isn’t much that stops them: we’ve already been treated to Turkish remakes of Superman, ET, Star Trek, Star Wars, Captain America, Santo and Spiderman… there’s always room for another famous ripoff, no?

Anyway, what sets Dracula in Istanbul and Tarzan in Istanbul apart from that lot is that both were made in the fifties and were attempts to make a decent adaptation.
One can debate as to whether that has worked in the case of Tarzan in Istanbul, but at least one can debate about that after seeing the movie.

Onar Films has released this extremely rare movie and – prepare to be surprised – it’s not that bad, really.
Time to review it then…

Granted, I’m not a big fan of Tarzan movies. However, I do own a couple of them as I am a movie collector and because some old Tarzan movies made it to the 50 movies packs we reviewed last year. I always give them a shot, but it doesn’t take too long before I start looking for the remote with that ever-so-handy fast forward button. Nevertheless, I can conclude that the 30s Tarzan movies were better than the 50s Tarzan movies.

In the meantime, the Tarzan movies had made it across the pond and were quite successful in Turkey. I can only imagine this, why else would they consider a Turkish version of these movies?

An expedition in Africa finds the remains of a Turkish man and his diary. It turns out he and his family were attacked and murdered. The expedition notifies the man’s brother in Istanbul and hands him a letter from the deceased. It turns out the letter refers to a location where a treasure can be found and the brother thinks it is time for a new expedition. Of course there is one woman on the crew: it wouldn’t be a real Tarzan movie without a Jane, wouldn’t it? And of course, not the entire family ended up killed… one boy survived and – no surprises there – became the legend that is Tarzan. Tarzan encounters the expedition crew and even manages to save them from a local tribe who are keen to feed them to the crocodiles. That’s our hero!
He also lures Netzia away from the expedition and shows her his life: the wild animals that listen to him, swimming in the river and fresh delicious fruit. Other than Jane, Netzia isn’t immediately wooed by this: no, she asks to be taken back to her friends.

One could complain that the film is full of stock footage and that a lot of scenes don’t look like they were shot in the jungle, but rather somewhere in a Turkish field, but to be honest… can’t we say the same about the original Tarzan movies? (Some stock footage seems so familiar it may have just been taken from older Tarzan movies.)

That Tarzan in Istanbul borrows so much from the 30s movies isn’t a bad thing: I recognized bits of plot from Tarzan and the Green Goddess (1935) and Tarzan’s Revenge (1938). It looks as if director Orhan Atadeniz watched the movies, took the best ideas and made a new version for the Turkish market. The result is a better film than the originals.

All in all, Tarzan in Istanbul wasn’t as silly or awful as I’d anticipated. My big criticism of the American Tarzan movies was that they often felt like one idea stretched out to end up with a feature-length film. Tarzan in Istanbul at least offers more plot in an equally long movie. Sadly, not all the characters get the attention they deserved from the screenwriters: most characters have no depth whatsoever (including the one-dimensional comedian they always seem to smuggle into this sort of movie) and the romance between Tarzan and Netzia is sadly missing from most of the movie (and thus not entirely credible in the last scenes of the film).

So who should buy this? Tarzan enthusiasts of course, but also the sort of movie collection who’d like to have at least one movie of each genre in his or her collection. If there still isn’t a Tarzan movie in your collection, Tarzan’s Revenge or Tarzan in Istanbul are the better options.

Onar Films made sure the DVD was as cleaned up as they could get it: the print looks very good for a Turkish movie that’s more than 50 years old (especially given the state most Turkish movies were kept in), but this does have one negative effect: it is now a bit more obvious to hear that the voices were recorded in a studio. This won’t bother you that much in the end though (and it’s something you’re probably used to if you like watching cheaper genre movies).

The extras should get a mention too. You’re probably used to the extras of Onar Films releases and this movie is no exception: yes, there are a couple of trailers and there is a half-an-hour long conversation with Turkish director Kunt Tulgar. But the real gem is a 30 second clip of archive footage where you can see the director set up a scene. It’s short but sweet and a nice find.

A great release from a movie that deserved to get a bit more attention: Tarzan Istanbul’da will always remain an oddity, but it will give you 90 minutes of escapism. To the Turkish jungle, that is.


P.S. You can buy the movie from Onar Films (http://www.onarfilms.com) or Xploited Cinema (http://www.xploitedcinema.com).

Oh, and let’s not forget the trailer:

Karanlik Sular

Karanlik Sular coverAre 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.