Saturday, 29 March 2014

Seytan (1974)

Taking pity on Turkish cinemagoers in the 1970s that wanted to see William Friedkins's The Exorcist, but were unable, due to the unavailability of any prints, some enterprising producers dashed off a largely identical work to fill the gap. Unfortunately, Seytan dilutes the elements that make the original work, while adding little new, leaving an end product that is not horrifying, thought provoking, disgusting, or even that much fun to watch certainly compared to other rip-offs from that country.

The filmmakers stick rigidly to the plot and characters of the original, giving us not just a scene-for-scene remake, but in places shot-for-shot and word-for-word (and note for note, as Tubular Bells crops up several times, albeit wonky and badly dubbed). However, as 99.8% of the Turkish population identifies as Muslim it is perhaps not surprising that the major change is that the Catholic imagery and rituals have been removed and replaced largely, although not entirely, with Islamic equivalents.

However, the one major change to one of the lead characters comes from removing not replacing the religious element. In The Exorcist, Father Damian Karrass is both a psychiatrist and a priest, losing his faith and wracked with guilt over his inability to do anything to help his mother and her deteriorating health. In Seytan, the Karrass character, Tugrul Bilge, although also guilt ridden over his senile mother (a lifetime of poorly paid academia, rather than a lucrative career in medicine, has left him unable to afford decent health care) is a completely secular person, and without the spiritual crisis, he just comes across as a bit of a loser.

The other major change is that most of the obscene and blasphemous language and imagery has also been removed or altered (the infamous scene with the crucifix is replaced with one involving some sort of Devil shaped knife). This strips out another layer of interest from the source material, where the foul-mouthed demon contrasted with the quiet dignity of the priest.

Beyond the changes, the main problem is that is simply not as well made as the original. It was churned out in a cheap and hurried fashion and it shows, with the flat cinematography lacking the atmospheric touches of The Exorcist. The acting is melodramatic, hammy, scenery chewing stuff, with some, presumably, unintended comedy, such as the scene where the Doctor is hit in the groin being reminiscent of a Benny Hill sketch.

The terrible special effects do not help either, although it is hard to pick a low point with so many to choose. There is the papier-mâché demon, or the bouncing bed, where it is blatantly obvious that it is a group of people underneath the bed pushing it up and down. There are the scenes where the girl is supposed to be having electro shock therapy, which consists of what appear to be mini jack hammers pounding into either side of her skull while she gurns, mugs and rolls her eyes. There is also their take on the 180-degree head spin too, but in fairness, that looked pretty silly in the original, and the one here is not much worse.

These provide some cheap laughs, and much needed sparks of energy, but are too few and far between to save Seytan from being a largely grim and dull watch.