Movie Review: Seytan (Turkey, 1974)

Back in the 70s and 80s, Turkey – or at least the Turkish film industry – didn’t seem to care much for international copyright law. If a movie was successful in the US, they’d quickly churn out their own version, rights be damned. “Turkish Star Trek” dropped a noted comedian into the Star Trek universe for (presumably) comedic effect. “Turkish Star Wars” is really a movie called The Man Who Saved the World, and is not a knock-off of Star Wars – it just ‘borrows’ a couple of space battle scenes for background footage (and steals music from Raiders of the Lost Ark). Seytan is sometimes called “Turkish Exorcist” – with very good reason. It’s practically a scene-for-scene, if not shot-for-shot, remake.

It’s a bit tricky reviewing a remake. There’s always going to be a comparison to the original, even if there are good reasons for remaking a movie. Remaking a foreign film seems to be one of the more acceptable reasons; you have to adapt foreign cultural references to the new country. Remaking The Exorcist in Turkey presents a huge problem – removing all the references to Catholicism (although a nominally secular nation, Turkey is something like 99 44/100% Muslim) without completely destroying the movie. As it happens, I understand that Islam does indeed believe in possession by the devil, so there is that….

Be that as it may, any remake must be judged on its own merits. Just like when a book is made into a movie (e.g. The Exorcist), the movie must stand on its own. You shouldn’t have to refer to the book to understand the movie. I do not have this problem when it comes to Seytan, for I have yet to actually see (or read) The Exorcist. I have read the MAD Magazine parody, so I have some familiarity with the basic plot.

Seytan opens with the desert archaeology scene, and right away we are treated to one of director Metin Erksan’s signature techniques. He uses a zoom lens like he just got one for his birthday, and can’t wait to show it off. Anytime he feels the need for a dramatic closeup, we ZOOM in…..

Presumably, you know enough about the story so I don’t have to recapitulate the plot, and can get right into the differences.

The “Chris MacNeill” character (the mother, played by Meral Taygun) is never given a name. She’s got to be independently wealthy, since there don’t seem to be references to employment. And, even acknowledging that she’s a single mom living in a large house, does she really need a staff of three people to manage the place?

Instead of Father Karras, we get Turgul Bilge (Cihan Ünal), a psychiatrist and writer who just happens to have written a book on the psychology of demonic possession. His last name is pronounced something like “BILL- gheyh”, but I cannot help but chuckle every time I see “bilge” come up in the subtitles.

The daughter is Gül (Canan Perver), who seemed to have enjoyed playing the role. During the scenes where she’s possessed, she’s got this deranged manic expression.

I am EEEvil! RRRAR!

You have to give her a little credit, though, for bearing up in the medical scenes. I really hope that in the shock treatment scene, they didn’t actually put her in the Concuss-O-Matic and instead told her to just shake her head like crazy.

And let’s not forget the awful 1970s interior decorating…..

So picture The Exorcist – but where everyone involved just isn’t talented enough to pull it off. Not just the acting and direction, but the effects (such as they are) and makeup. And Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” gets tossed in every now and then for no apparent reason. And, if you are lucky, you’ll get the version where the subtitles start making snarky comments about the subtitles themselves.

I suppose that a version of The Exorcist adapted for an Islamic country could have worked. But you still need good talent to pull it off. This one doesn’t even have the benefit of being unintentionally funny. It’s just meh.

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