Seytan (1974)

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“Do you believe that your daughter is really the devil?”
“You saw her, too. What is your opinion? Devil – or mental patient?”

 

Director:  Metin Erksan

Starring:  Canan Perver, Cihan Ünal, Meral Taygun, Agâh Hün, Erol Amaç, Ekrem Gökkaya, Ali Taygun, Ergün Rona, Sabahat Isik, I. Hakki Sen

Screenplay:  Yilmaz Tümtürk

 

 

 

Synopsis:  A sheikh (Agâh Hün) oversees an archaeological dig. Amongst the artefacts he finds a small carving that bears a disturbing resemblance to the statue of a demon. In Istanbul, a young mother, Ayten (Meral Taygun), hears strange noises in the attic of her house. She checks on her daughter, Gul (Canan Perver), and finds her sleeping peacefully. Tugrul Bilge (Cihan Ünal), a writer, visits his uncle; the two discuss the difficult situation of Tugrul’s mother, who is elderly and in poor health. The uncle reproves Tugrul gently for writing obscure books, instead of earning a good living practising medicine. Tugrul goes to see his mother, who lives alone in the country. He tries to convince her that moving to a more populated area would be good for her, but she refuses to entertain the idea. Ayten questions Gul about her Ouija board, asking how she plays with it alone. Gul offers to show her, explaining that someone called “Captain Lersen” answers her questions. Gul tries to demonstrate, but her “friend” does not respond. As Ayten is putting Gul to bed, Gul asks her suddenly if she intends to marry Mr Ekrem (Ekrem Gökkaya). Ayten asks why she would think so, and assures her that her father is the only man she will ever love. Later, however, when Ayten tries to contact her estranged husband, she becomes furiously angry over his not meaning to attend Gul’s birthday party. Gul, upstairs, overhears. Ayten wakes to find Gul in her bed; Gul says that she could not sleep, because her own bed was shaking. Even as Ayten is dismissing this as a dream, she hears more noises in the attic and goes to look. The mousetraps placed after the noises were first heard are untouched, but Ayten finds a book called Seytan, written by a man called Tugrul Bilge. Meanwhile, a rapidly failing Mrs Bilge has been incarcerated in a mental institution. When a guilt-wracked Tugrul visits her there, she weeps bitterly, asking how he could have done this to her? Tugrul promises to have her moved, but she dies before he can act. Ayten angrily shows the book Seytan to her staff, but they deny knowing anything about it. At her birthday party, Gul is annoyed by the teasing of Ekrem, her mother’s friend. Ekrem later surprises Ayten by telling her that Tugrul Bilge is a friend of his. That night, after the child guests have left, the party continues for the adults, but is abruptly broken up when Gul appears on the landing of the staircase and urinates there. A horrified Ayten cleans her up and puts her back to bed, but barely has she left her when Gul starts screaming. Ayten rushes back to her room, and stares in disbelief as the terrified Gul is tossed around by the violent heaving of her bed…

Comments:  I have a confession to make: this isn’t a review of the movie Seytan; not really. I knew from the start what film I wanted to take on for this Roundtable, as soon as it was decided that we would spend a month examining Turkish cinema. I had been obsessed with getting a look at Seytan, otherwise known as “the Turkish Exorcist”, ever since I became aware of its existence through Pete Tombs’ inestimable Mondo Macabro – as so many have become aware of so much. Copies of the movie were around, I knew, but if possible I wanted it subtitled; so when last year an outfit called (somewhat ironically, as it turned out) Substance put out an uncut, English-subtitled version of Seytan, I pounced on it so fast I almost gave myself whiplash.

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But—

One of the more perverse pleasures of movie-watching that never really took hold in Australia was that of the really bad subtitle: here we went straight from dubbed and often Americanised versions of films directly, thanks to a television station called SBS and later its cable arm, World Movies, to films that were uncut, widescreen, and correctly subtitled. I was deeply grateful for it, of course, particularly when it became clear that this policy applied to all films shown, not just the ones that “deserved” respectful handling. (They made, in other words, no distinction between Ingmar Bergman and Jess Franco.)

Still…as I listened to my friends elsewhere giggling insanely over the English dialogue supplied on their imported DVDs, I couldn’t help feeling that maybe I was missing out on something. This was brought home to me most forcibly when I reviewed The Seventh Curse: alas, nowhere in my SBS-sourced version of that film did anyone say of Maggie Cheung: “Look out! She goes berserk and is Herculean!”

So there was a certain amount of Schadenfreude involved in my discovery that the Substance version of Seytan had been subtitled by someone who clearly didn’t have English as their second, or even third, language.

But it didn’t stop there. Because as I watched Seytan, it became apparent that at some point during the DVD’s production, someone had subtitled the subtitles.

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And English.

Well— Perhaps “annotated” is a more correct word for it. Who could have been responsible for these additions, and when, and how, is a mystery for the ages, although clearly the individual responsible had better English than the person hired to write the subtitles. It starts innocuously enough, with an occasional bracketed exclamation point or question mark to indicate puzzlement. We then progress to openly questioning the subtitler’s choice of terms; to tossing in the occasional snarky remark (What a linguist! it observes of Tugrul’s “expert”); and finally, most notoriously, to advising during the climactic exorcism that if you don’t know what Zemzem water is, you should do a Google search.

(I did know, so I didn’t have to. Nyah. Although, isn’t it Zamzam water?)

All in all, then, watching this version of Seytan is an experience akin to sitting through the opening credits of Monty Python And The Holy Grail. Only in this case, those responsible for sacking the people who were responsible for sacking the people, weren’t sacked.

Now, I’m not saying that all this doesn’t make for an entertaining evening’s viewing – aw, hell, who am I kidding? it’s hilarious! – but there is a problem: the subtitles, and their subtitles, are burnt on. And that makes assessing Seytan, the movie, almost impossible. Ideally, what I would have done here was turn off the subtitles, judge the film as a film, and then turn the subtitles back on for a whole new viewing, and reviewing, experience. But it was not to be. Try as you might to ignore what’s going on at the bottom of the screen, your response is unavoidably coloured by it. It’s just as they said on Futurama: you watched it; you can’t unwatch it.

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It means “Torgo’s knees sag oddly”.

So while I will be doing my best to review Seytan here, you’ll forgive me if my attention occasionally strays into a more esoteric realm.

The release of The Exorcist in 1973 sent shockwaves around the cinematic world. Inevitably, the film spawned a tidal wave of imitations, and it is a certain measure of its success that so many of them came so very fast. 1974 saw the release of both the Italian Chi Sei? and the German Magdalena, Vom Teufel Besessen; while in America, William Girdler tried simultaneously to exploit William Friedkin’s blockbuster and to jump onto the blaxploitation bandwagon with Abby. This last was too much for Warner Bros., which brought a lawsuit that saw the film yanked from public view and left in limbo for nearly twenty years. (Sadly, the lawsuit was finally settled only weeks before Girdler’s tragically early death.)

But if Abby, with its variety of other influences, was still too close to The Exorcist for Warners’ liking, the mind boggles at what the studio executives would have made of Seytan, which is the most unabashed shot-for-shot re-make of a film since—well, I was going to say since Gus Van Zant’s Psycho; but given the outcome here, I think I’ll say, since ZAZ turned Zero Hour! into Flying High.

While there are plenty of Turkish rip-offs of Hollywood movies – and others – most of them have an ineffably goofy charm that comes from the mixing of their source material with additions that only make sense in the Turkish mind – perhaps – such as is seen in Türist Ömer Uzay Yolunda, which recreates the Star Trek universe and then thrusts into it a local comedian called Ömer the Tourist. Seytan, however, with a few understandable alterations – the excision of all Catholicism, and a severe toning down of the language – is so close to its model that you have to wonder why they bothered.

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Good Gul……………………………………………………………..Bad Gul
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Possessed Gul………………………………………………………70s disco Gul

My initial assumption was that The Exorcist had not been released in Turkey, and that Seytan was made to fill the void for an audience unfamiliar with the original. It seems, however, that this was not the case: The Exorcist did screen in Turkey the year before – and drew heavy criticism for not “warning” or “educating” people about the real dangers of demonic possession, but for being “merely intended to terrify”. Perhaps here, then, we find the real motivation behind the making of Seytan; and if its makers were determined to have a film about demonic possession and exorcism that was incapable of terrifying anyone, well, mission accomplished.

The Exorcist is one of those films that these days suffers from its own reputation. People come to it with their noses in the air, pre-determined not to like or admire it, still less to be frightened by it. Me? Well, I’m an intellectual snob, granted, but not that kind: I’m not ashamed to say that I consider The Exorcist a great film as well as a great horror movie. But if anyone out there does seriously doubt the magnitude of William Friedkin’s accomplishment, they only have to watch Seytan, which presents every scene and every incident from The Exorcist, one after the other – and botches them, one after the other.

On the other hand, Seytan does have something that The Exorcist does not, and that is The Single Funniest Thing I Have Ever Seen Presented Seriously In A Motion Picture…

Seytan opens with a singularly disorientating scene, with an elderly bearded man in a black suit and hat, with boots and a tie, striding across a parched landscape. This looks for all the world like a shot from a Sergio Leone western, but in fact this is our introduction to this film’s stand-in for Father Lankaster Merrin. I may say that this gentleman is never identified within the film, either by name or profession. I called him “a sheikh” up above, which was the most non-specific term I could come up with; but from now on I’ll call him “The Exorcist”, since – duh! – that’s who he’ll eventually turn out to be.

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“Raar! I’m a Mesopotamian wind-demon!”

The Exorcist is, of course, overseeing an archaeological dig; one that, alarmingly, seems to has unearthed a pile of human skeletons along with the artefacts: unless those are simply the predecessors of the current diggers, who dropped where they stood. Certainly, the remaining diggers are swinging their picks with an enthusiasm that suggests that The Exorcist employs some of the same disciplinary tactics as Boss Paul; under the circumstances, the intactness of the vases and skeletons turned up seems something of a miracle. The Exorcist ignores all of these major finds and picks out of the debris a small amulet.

After brushing the dirt from it, The Exorcist wanders a few yards away (far as we can tell), and we get our first look at the Turkish Pazuzu. I really can’t tell you what’s more wonderful about this scene: the papier-mâché monster, or the fact that it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the amulet.

This sequence also gives us an early intimation of one of the favourite directorial choices made by Metin Erksan throughout this film, as he cuts from The Exorcist to Pazuzu and back again. And back again. And back again. And back again… And if this isn’t stylish enough, later on Mr Erksan will treat us to a deployment of the zoom lens that makes Jess Franco look like an amateur.

(I should say, in Metin Erksan’s defence, that evidently he had quite a distinguished career as a director; commentators much wiser in the ways of Turkish cinema than I am have puzzled over his lacklustre work here, and call this a very atypical effort. Perhaps what we have here is a reluctant director-for-hire? And he probably wasn’t responsible for the camera with the jammed mauve filter.)

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Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Cut to Istanbul, and a blonde woman lying reading on a couch, who is interrupted by strange noises coming from the upper levels of her house. (It sounds rather like someone trying to turn over an engine.) It is not only with The Exorcist that Seytan shows a distinct reluctance to reveal its characters’ names. This woman, the Chris MacNeill stand-in, obviously, is eventually called “Ayten” by one of her friends; so I assume that’s her first name, although everyone else tends to call her “Ms Ayten”.

Yes, that’s right: Ms Ayten. It’s more subtle than “Dr Acula”, I guess – but only just.

Anyway, Ayten goes upstairs to investigate the noise, stopping in on the way to check on her sleeping daughter, Gul, and – dum, dum, dummm – to close her bedroom window. The next morning we get the mousetrap exchange, and learn that the film’s stand-in for Sharon Spencer is a young woman called Suzan – pronounced either “Susan” or “Suzanne”, depending on the scene – who is Gul’s tutor (as well as an all-purpose lackey, according to the evidence). After much hugging and kissing and mutual admiration, Gul shows her mother her sculptures (not her painting, despite what the subtitles try to tell us). Ayten is suitably perturbed.

And then we cut to plot thread #2. The de-Catholicisation of Seytan is most felt in the removal of Damien Karras, and his substitution by Tugrul Bilge, a qualified doctor and psychiatrist who nevertheless chooses to scratch a poor living, “Writing the books who are read by no-one”, as his uncle puts it.

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No, but evidently you did. Jerk.

Tugrul’s guilt-trip over his mother is more extreme even than his model’s, who was at least doing what his mother wanted. Tugrul, however, has allowed his mother to impoverish herself completely putting him through medical school – “She even pan-handled!” he cries hysterically after her death – and then declined to practice as a doctor, earning barely enough as a writer to keep himself going, and nowhere near enough to keep his mother in comfort and health.

In truth, we come away from this sequence thinking none too kindly of either of the Bilge men. Tugrul himself, for all that he cries poor, never looks less than entirely comfortable; and while he and his uncle agree that Mrs Bilge’s situation is a worry, they also agree – at least tacitly – that doing anything about it would be too much damn trouble, and might, Allah forbid, require Tugrul to grow up and get a paying job.

Tugrul pays a reluctant visit to his mother out in the country, and while he has a lot to say about his “beautiful mother” and what they will do “some day”, he has less to say about why the hell he went to medical school in the first place if he didn’t want to be a doctor? This sequence also gives us a little bit of Subtle Foreshadowing, with a sudden dramatic close-up of—

A plate of baked beans!! EEK!!!!

Seriously, I’ve got no idea what they were going for here. This is, nevertheless, probably the most disturbing moment in the whole film.

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EEK!!

Except maybe for the next one, where we discover that Gul is a truly dreadful dancer. (I like to think that Linda Blair’s dance recital scene in The Heretic was modelled upon this. I also like Suzan’s ability to get harp music out of a piano.) Ayten interrupts, thankfully, to ask Gul about her Ouija board. Oddly – or does Islam not have such a thing as a Ouija board? – the film seems to think here that the Ouija is an actual board game, like Life or Risk! or Ednakrabopoly.

Ayten asks Gul how she can play alone when it needs at least two players, and Gul replies ominously that she plays with someone called “Captain Lersen”. She tries to demonstrate, but the Captain evidently isn’t in the mood. Or maybe, given the question – “My mom is a beautiful woman, isn’t she?” – he prefers to maintain a tactful silence.

Amidst much girly giggling, Ayten then puts Gul to bed, and Gul asks her, first whether “Mr Ekrem” will be coming to her, Gul’s, birthday party – and whether her mother intends to marry him. Ayten assures her that she only loves Gul’s father, but as soon as she thinks that Gul is asleep, she is on the phone trying to track down her shiftless ex, to demand an explanation for why he isn’t coming to Gul’s party.

Two observations here. First, as with The Exorcist as a whole, to really appreciate Ellen Burstyn’s contribution there, you only have to watch what Meral Taygun serves up here. Once Gul begins to show signs of possession, Ayten’s response to everything and everyone is to get Very, Very Angry Indeed. “One-note” hardly begins to describe it. In fact, I think the only person to come near her and not get shouted at is (understandably) the homicide detective who will shortly be sniffing around. But to be blunt about it, right from the outset Ayten is pretty damn snotty to everyone except Gul. If you wanted to try and sum up her character, you could do it in two short words. One of them is bee, and the other one is yotch.

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Zero to bitch in 2.5 seconds.

The other issue here is – eek! again – the language. There’s a lovely anecdote about Max von Sydow, and the scene in The Exorcist when Father Merrin walks into the room just as possessed Regan is shouting—well, you know. During the first take, in the face of “Regan”’s vile barrage, the impeccably mannered von Sydow froze, turned on his heel and walked off the set, saying helplessly, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I can do this.” One gets the feeling that von Sydow would have been more comfortable on the set of Seytan, which gives us the world’s first ever PG-rated demonic possession.

Even here, where the film implies much less ambiguously than The Exorcist ever did that Gul’s mother is the source of the girl’s later colourful language, the worst it can allow itself is a couple of goddamn-s. We get one of the more delicious subtitling glitches here, though, as Ayten (like Chris MacNeill before her) loses her temper with the long-suffering desk clerk at her husband’s hotel and shouts, “Go to the deepest part of the hell!” – a line I’ve already adopted, and intend to work into casual conversation as much as possible from now on.

Gul’s father does eventually phone back, but in the middle of the night, and Ayten refuses the call. She blinks sleepily at her daughter, in the bed beside her, and Gul explains that her own bed was shaking too much for her to sleep there.

The attic noises then start up again, and Ayten investigates (the “exploding candle” scene), finding, mysteriously, a copy of a book called Seytan, by one Tugrul Bilge. Actually, no, it isn’t: it is called – as far as I can work out from the subtitles – The Devil: Soul Abduction And the Exorcism Ceremony In Light Of Modern Opinions About Mental Illnesses. Soon to be a major motion picture from the producers of The Persecution And Assassination Of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed By The Inmates Of The Asylum Of Charenton Under The Direction Of The Marquis De Sade.

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Catchy.

Then we get an alarming look at the Turkish medical system, circa 1974. Mrs Bilge’s health has deteriorated to the point where her brother has had her incarcerated in a mental institution. Tugrul, guilt-ridden but useless as always, turns up to cry over her. Mrs Bilge has, at least, been given a private room: “private”, that is, inasmuch as it opens directly from a communal ward containing about a dozen female mental patients, all of whom are noticeably overweight. At least they feed them well in this place.

Tugrul makes his way through the Obese Female Mental Patient ward, while the inmates demonstrate their mental illness by doing that arm-waving thing, and looks into his mother’s room. The nurse has just insisted that she’s “having hysterics”, but when we get there she is perfectly quiet, except that – dum, dum, dummm – her arms have been tied to the bedposts.

She inquires – not without a certain justification, I would contend – “Why did you lock me up in here?”, only to have her loving son respond, “Shut up for the name of God!” Yeah, ma! Fancy making your son feel bad, just because he let you get locked up in a mental hospital! Tugrul promises his mother to get her out, but based upon the little we’ve seen of him so far, we hold no great hopes for Mrs Bilge’s future.

Meanwhile, Ayten responds to the finding of the book in the attic by getting Very, Very Angry Indeed. Surprise! Wielding the thing like a priest with a crucifix (if, at the moment, you’ll pardon that comparison), she shoves it in the faces of her three employees, demanding to know who it belongs to. All of them deny all knowledge – and I do mean all knowledge:

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Sadly, the Turkish government’s “Give A Hoot! Read A Book!” program was doomed from the outset…

And then we cut to Tugrul carrying his mother’s coffin – told ya! – and from there to Gul’s birthday party, where we are formally introduced to Mr Ekrem, and come to understand Gul’s objections to the thought of her mother marrying him. The man is, in a word, a jackass, the kind who can tease a little kid and then laugh uproariously at his own wit. He also finds the absence of Gul’s father hilariously funny. Nice guy. Gul is as rude to him as the film allows her to be, which isn’t nearly enough, while her witless mother also seems to find her daughter’s discomfort a suitable subject for laughter.

As Gul leaves them to it, Ayten for no reason at all asks Ekrem who the man with him was when she saw him the other day? Why, who else but Tugrul Bilge? Fancy!

And then it’s time for Gul’s Revenge. The party continues after the children – both of them – have left, with everyone gathering around the piano while Ekrem does a little tinkling on the ivories. But as it turns out, he isn’t the only one here intent on doing a little tinkling…

Um. Yes. I really hope that what we see here is a result of poor colour balance, because if – that – came out of Gul, demonic possession is the least of her worries. Ew. Anyway, it sure breaks up the party. Ayten bathes Gul and puts her back to bed, but has barely gone to check on the cleaning up of the pee stain than Gul starts screaming.

Ayten rushes upstairs and finds Gul being tossed into the air by the convulsions of her bed – so enthusiastically, in fact, that Gul / Canan Perver has to clutch at the blankets for dear life – in what is certainly a first-class special effect and not just someone under the bed shoving the mattress, no sir. Ayten rushes across the room and throws herself onto her daughter, and then both of them get tossed into the air.

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“WHEEE!!! I mean, AAAHHH!!!”

Cut to Uncle’s apartment, where Tugrul is weeping and wailing and generally feeling sorry for himself, while Uncle is all, yeah, yeah, whaddya gunna do, forgeddaboutit. “I have to go,” he announces, which is odd, because I thought it was his apartment. It must be Tugrul’s place, though (I don’t know who let Uncle in before), and he is left dozing in his armchair, where he begins to dream about his mother.

This is another sequence that makes you appreciate the artistry of The Exorcist, where some essentially simple imagery and editing provides one of that film’s most chilling sequences, as Damien Karras dreams of his dead mother. Of course, one reason that Tugrul’s dreams are less disturbing than Damien’s is that Tugrul basically dreams about Tugrul. Oh, sure, mother shows up briefly, but mostly it’s about Tugrul and his new red jumper. Jerk.

And then Gul is off to the doctor.

(Just to whet your appetites, I’ll tell you now that we’re getting awfully close to The Single Funniest Thing I Have Ever Seen Presented Seriously In A Motion Picture.)

Gul struggles and swears – kind of – “God will curse you all!” – as we learn that the area of choice for Turkish injections is the left shoulder. The initial diagnosis is a brain lesion – pretty good considering they haven’t examined her brain yet. They proceed to do so, in the only moment of this film where it almost matches its model.

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Well, obviously.

Regan undergoing a spinal tap is one of the most harrowing scenes in The Exorcist. Here, they are (I presume) injecting Gul with something that will allow them to image her brain; and this, too, is harrowing, not just because of the blood, not just because it looks like a real procedure done not particularly well, but because after all that, they don’t actually image her brain! Instead they take x-rays of her skull, and from that try to diagnose her by flashing the images on screen for about half a second each.

Their consultation is interrupted by a phone-call from Ayten. The two doctors rush to the house, where they find Gul thrashing backwards and forwards on her bed, wailing, “I cannot stop!” The bullfrog throat bit follows, and then the speaking in a strange deep voice. Now officially possessed, Gul’s first action is to call Dr Kasim a bastard, and to slap him in the face. And then she settles down to a nice bout of evil chuckling.

Ayten waits downstairs as the doctors finish their examination. When they continue to try and explain away Gul’s condition in medical terms, she reacts by – surprise! – getting Very, Very Angry and shouting at them. The doctors persist, suggesting a spinal tap and then, if that fails to show anything definitive, shock therapy. I draw your attention to that last sentence. A spinal tap, and then if necessary, shock therapy—except that the next thing we know, Gul is undergoing shock therapy. Evidently they just couldn’t wait.

You people out there may know all about the horrors of Turkish prisons – and, for that matter, of Turkish mental hospitals – but I am here to tell you that you have seen nothing, not until you’ve seen Turkish shock therapy.

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There’s no bee, either.

And yes: we have reached The Single Funniest Thing I have Ever Seen Presented Seriously In A Motion Picture.

I hardly know how to describe this, except by describing my reaction. When I got to this point in the film, I started laughing so hard I honestly thought I was going to rupture something – that, or pay a real tribute by doing as Gul does, and wetting myself. And I couldn’t stop laughing; I spent the rest of the day giggling manically to myself. And then for days afterwards, every time the image came into my head, I’d start laughing all over again, no matter where I was. It made for some embarrassing moments.

Let me be clear about this: Gul isn’t being shocked in the usual sense here; she’s instead having her head slammed back and forth by those…things.

(Which, if not exactly “shock therapy”, would be “a shock”, I guess.)

Other reviewers have compared what they do to Gul here to the girl being attacked with jackhammers, or having her head trapped in one of those paint-can shakers you find in hardware stores. Myself, I think it looks like Gul was sitting somewhere quietly, snacking on a tasty bowtie, when she was suddenly set upon by two muggers wielding pogo-sticks.

And—well, mea culpa for the meanness, but the look of unacted panic in Canan Perver’s eyes is just the icing on the cake.

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Trust me, this captures only a fraction of the magic.

And then— Then they do the spinal tap! You know? – the one that was supposed to come – and fail – before the shock therapy? Well, it does fail. Whoo-hoo! More shock therapy!! No, alas, that “is also a vain”, as Dr Kasim’s subtitles put it. Rats! Dr Kasim recommends a psychiatric assessment.

Ayten arrives home to find the police and paramedics busy at the base of – dum, dum, dummm – the long, steep staircase at the back of her house. She doesn’t realise it, but the corpse being loaded into the ambulance is her friend, Ekrem; and we don’t realise it, but his neck has been broken and his head turned completely around.

The reason we don’t realise it is we’re too busy discovering that Turkish paramedics tend to carry dead bodies with their heads dangling off the end of the stretcher; not desirable at any time, I wouldn’t have thought, but in this situation—

Inside, Ayten discovers that Gul has, apparently, been left alone in the house; and when Suzan arrives minutes later, abuses her for her negligence. Suzan protests that – dum, dum, dummm – she left Ekrem watching Gul. A call notifying Ayten of Ekrem’s death breaks this up.

A psychiatrist (we assume) is called to Gul and puts her under hypnosis. He questions her about the other person inside her, then tries to talk to that person; and we get a re-enactment of one of The Exorcist’s more notorious moments. Regan, of course, puts the squirrel-grip on her hypnotist; Gul goes instead for the short-arm jab. The hypnotist reacts with a cry of agony so intense, it outlasts his scene and continues on right across our next visit with Tugrul, out jogging. Thus:

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“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRR————RRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!”

Tugrul meets up with a man who suggests that around this time, Italian crime thrillers were pretty popular in Turkey. He is “the Superintendent Kadri Erdem for police of homicide”, and he is a lurker: we will see him lurking on the periphery of the action for the rest of the film; not doing much, exactly, but nodding wisely while he puffs on his cigarette holder.

The Superintendent just happens to have a copy of Tugrul’s book – really, I can’t think how that thing isn’t at the top of the best-seller list – and is particularly interested in a section on demonic deaths, where the victim’s head is turned around. Tugrul protests that that is just an old superstition, but is unable to explain the circumstances Ekrem’s death.

Meanwhile, Ayten is consulting a panel of doctors, and getting Very, Very Angry with them, particularly when they suggest institutionalisation. Finally one of the doctors suggests something else

While the Superintendent is lurking out on the stairs behind the house, Ayten checks on Gul. Seytan finds itself in difficulties here, as this is the point at which Chris MacNeill finds a crucifix in Regan’s bed – and then, um, other things happen. Seytan substitutes for the crucifix a wicked looking knife with a Pazuzu head for a handle. (The subtitler’s subtitler objects to the choice of “book opener” for this object, and “letter opener” probably would be more correct.) Ayten gets Very, Very Angry, shouting at her employees and accusing them of bringing “this devil headed filthiness” into the house.

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Superintendent Lurker is…lurking.

This little domestic love-fest is broken up when the Superintendent stops lurking for a minute and comes in to question Ayten about Ekrem. Warily, Ayten insists that Gul was heavily sedated at the time of Ekrem’s death and that she won’t remember anything, and the Superintendent politely takes her word for it. He leaves; but barely has the door closed than screams come from upstairs. Ayten rushes up, and—

Yes, it’s that scene. You wouldn’t think you could film something like that without it being disturbing, would you? – but Seytan manages it. Oh, there’s plenty of screaming and blood; but Gul’s nightie is tucked firmly under her knees the whole time, and there’s no tear anywhere in it; so…

The sickened Ayten tries to wrestle the “book opener” away from her daughter. Gul punches her mother in the face, then starts telekinetically moving the furniture around.

And then

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I have always found the head-turning scene in The Exorcist to be rather silly. This, on the other hand— This is magnificent. No prop head here. Instead, we have a headless prop body, and Canan Perver stands behind it and turns around.

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Magnificent.

Anyway, this little piece of performance art sends Ayten to Tugrul, who to her request for advice on exorcism recommends doctors and psychiatrists, which results in Ayten getting Very, Very Angry with him. Tugrul at length agrees to see Gul, not as “a doctor and a psychologist”, but “as a human”. I suppose, under the circumstances, that’s kind of reassuring.

So Tugrul visits Gul, and the familiar verbal games start. Possessed Gul tags Tugrul as a non-believer, then starts in on him about his mother. And then, as the agitated Tugrul leans a bit too close—vwip-SPLAT!!

Opinions seem to differ on exactly what it is that Tugrul takes in the face here. Mustard seems a popular choice, but I think the consistency is too smooth. My vote is for thickened paint; an opinion in which I am bolstered by the fact that the living-room walls downstairs are just the same colour.

Despite all this, Tugrul persists in recommending institutionalisation, which makes Ayten Very, Very Angry. Tugrul is a little shaken, however, when Ayten continues to express her belief that Gul is possessed, and even more so when she insists that Gul knew nothing about the death of his mother. Tugrul begins recording possessed Gul’s voice, which makes her cross: she wants him to hurry up with the exorcism, so that “we will become one”. “Gul and you?” queries the obtuse Tugrul. “You and I,” corrects possessed Gul – chuckle, chuckle.

Seytan is in some theological trouble here, of course. You can understand Satan targeting an old enemy like Father Merrin and going for a rich bonus prize in the form of Father Karras, a priest of wavering faith; but this weak, secular non-believer? Why would he bother?

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Mustard? Paint? Only the special effects team knows for sure…

Tugrul plays his tapes for his linguist friend – there’s something quite hilarious about a mis-subtitled linguist – and she identifies what Gul is saying as backwards-Turkish. Tugrul is at home playing the tapes over to himself when Suzan summons him to the house and shows him mysterious writing on Gul’s abdomen.

This is translated as “HELP ME”, which is finally enough for Tugrul. He consults a friend, a mufti (who is effectively the film’s Father Dyer substitute), who just happens to know The Exorcist, who just happens to be in Istanbul. (Writing a book: yeesh, another one!)

The Exorcist shows up at Ayten’s house and – without bothering to introduce himself – asks for Tugrul. I was in hopes that possessed Gul might be in a position to help me out by revealing the name of her old adversary, since she seems to know everything else, but no such luck: in place of possessed Regan’s eerie cries of “MERRIN!!”, we just get a non-specific roar: “AAAAARRRRRHHHHH!!”

The Exorcist goes into the game-plan – don’t talk to it, it’s really after us, mixes lies and truth, yada-yada – then he and Tugrul get started. I should mention that The Exorcist particularly emphasises the “don’t talk to it” bit, which explains why Tugrul spends so much time later doing just that. Jerk.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Upstairs, the two old acquaintances greet each other (“This time you will loose!” says possessed Gul), and The Exorcist produces a copy of the Qur’an and some Zemzem [sic.?] water, which he splashes over possessed Gul. Gul reacts by hawking up another loogie, only this one is grey-green instead of mustard yellow. Versatile.

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Eric Bana does what?

The Exorcist calmly wipes his face and tucks his hankie into his pocket (man, I would love to run a DNA test on that!), then gets back to work. Much calling upon Allah follows, with possessed Gul’s bed bouncing around, and then levitating. Mysteriously, there is plenty of light in Gul’s room while the exorcism is being carried out, but as soon as the bed begins to move, it all gets very dark in there. Then, when the bed lands again, the lights come back on. Hmm.

Possessed Gul starts vomiting here. (I’m not sure about this but, as far as I understand it, in an Islamic exorcism this is regarded as representing the literal expulsion of part of the inhabiting spirit. So I’d really like a DNA test on that, too.) The Exorcist catches the mess in his scarf and sends Tugrul off to wash it, which is about all he’s good for.

However, possessed Gul seems to get her second wind here, announcing jeeringly, “I’ve settled down inside this kid!” Much name-calling follows, and possessed Gul tears herself free of the bonds tying her to the bed. She then levitates herself – and again the lights go out. I just can’t understand it…

By the way, those of you who think that the “The power of Christ compels you!” scene in The Exorcist is too dragged out are just going to love the Seytan equivalent, in which the chanting of “God’s grace be upon you!” goes on for so long, even the subtitler gets bored and stops bothering.

(Or forgets, as the subtitler’s evil twin suggests. S/he also adds some real interest to this section of the film by pointing out that the literal translation of a phase interpreted onscreen as “devil with no life” is “devil with no testicles”. Is that what this is about??)

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“We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”

Possessed Gul finally sinks back to the bed – and the lights come on – and Tugrul and The Exorcist rush to tie her up again. Not quickly enough, though, and possessed Gul knocks them both to the ground. As they sit dazed on the floor, Gul turns her head around again – well, she can’t to that too often for me – and then – yayyyy!!! – the Turkish Pazuzu appears!! Gul genuflects enthusiastically, bumping her head on the bed-frame, until Pazuzu goes away again. Awww

The Exorcist tucks Gul back in, and then—

When you reflect upon this section of the film, it becomes rather evident that some of the scenes are out of order. Some of this might have been intentional, and practical: for example, Gul has a nasal tube in – taped to her face, anyway – which disappears without explanation just before she starts levitating, and reappears the same way when she’s finished.

However, here we get a scene where The Exorcist comforts a sorely distressed Tugrul and reminds him that the devil uses lies as a weapon and can take on other personalities, and then a scene where possessed Gul launches into Tugrul about his mother, speaking in her voice and even looking like her.

Surely these scenes should have been the other way around? I mean, even Tugrul isn’t that stupid – is he? Otherwise, this is the dumbest thing I’ve seen since—well, since Event Horizon, where Laurence Fishburne warned everyone against falling into psychological traps laid by the ship, then fifteen seconds later, fell into one himself.

Anyway, the upshot of possessed Gul’s verbal attack upon Tugrul is that The Exorcist sends Tugrul away for a bit. Wrong! Tugrul comes back upstairs to find The Exorcist lying dead on the floor, and possessed Gul looking quite wonderfully pleased with herself.

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“—and I’m available for children’s parties!”

And Tugrul snaps, launching himself onto possessed Gul. The two roll around, struggling and trying to strangle each other; and then Tugrul gets the upper hand, and really starts to whale on Gul. Hilariously, this is presented as a POV shot, with Tugrul launching punch after punch at the camera. The wrestling match goes on for some time, with Gul crying, and then Tugrul pulling a face that, we gather, is meant to indicate the possessor moving from Gul to him. And then, BLAMMO!! – it’s out the window he goes.

And you know something? Bugs Bunny was right about that last step being a lulu. Tugrul hasn’t a single mark on him as he’s rolling down those stairs; but all of a sudden, when he hits that last stair, splat!!

Superintendent Lurker turned up some time earlier, and was lurking downstairs with Ayten while all this was going on (you’d think he’d’ve investigated the racket, wouldn’t you?); and now he hurries out to the dying Tugrul who, via hand-squeezes, assures him that this was suicide, not murder. Meanwhile, upstairs, oblivious to the dead Exorcist lying on the floor, Ayten hugs her weeping daughter.

Cut to Ayten and her household packing up to leave. Superintendent Lurker drops by and is introduced to Gul, who remembers nothing. Or does she? Ayten has finally seen the error of her secular ways and takes Gul to the mosque. Gul instantly runs to Faux-Father Dyer, who as far as we know she’s never seen before, and kisses his hand, while he spends a disturbing amount of time stroking her head. And then it’s – The End. Or rather—

SON

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“An’ zat, little one, iz ‘ow Papa gain ‘iz freedom. Bon nuit!”

***********************************************************************************

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This review was part of THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE STRIKES BACK!, the B-Masters’ examination of Turkish cinema.

This entry was posted in Horror and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Seytan (1974)

  1. Ed says:

    This is one of my favorite reviews, Lyz. Gotta love cash-ins on popular hits, at least hits from the 70’s and 80’s.

    Like

  2. ronald says:

    Eric Bana Is Eden’s Yardman

    >>>”What is your opinion? Devil – or mental patient?”

    Is that really an either/or? Being possessed by the Devil could make anyone end up as a mental patient. That is in fact what people used to assume that mental patients were.

    Like

  3. RogerBW says:

    Well, in a very real sense, Ouija is a board game, as in the name is owned by Hasbro (in those days it would probably have been Parker Brothers). Thus that ghastly 2014 film, before the rights expired. Which is getting a sequel.

    Like

    • lyzmadness says:

      It’s not really a game, though; they’re still sold for their original purpose, albeit from a source that ought to highlight the pointlessness of the exercise. 🙂

      Ah, yes, that’s another on the I-haven’t-seen-it-yet list. And of course it is.

      Like

      • Dawn says:

        We actually had this game, back in the late 60’s (can’t believe my parents actually BOUGHT it, but I don’t know where it came from). My brother and I used to play with it, and we found that if we put our fingers on the moving piece, and concentrated, we could get the piece to move the way we wanted, without consciously moving it with our fingers. So we would compete to see who could concentrate the hardest. As far as I know, neither of us was psychic.

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      • therevdd says:

        The one time I was around one being used, the three people doing it were getting it to move around. They finally got me to join in, whereupon the damn thing wouldn’t budge a millimeter until I finally took my hand off it. I like to think my skepticism makes me a null zone for the supernatural, which may be why the movies that frightened me the most featured biological monsters (Alien, Jaws, Halloween) instead of ghosts and spooks. Even in Poltergeist, which like the first two listed up there I saw as a kid, the only thing that really scared me was (say it with me!) the clown doll. Well, actually the dead bodies did the first time I saw it, but that was because I thought they were animate and actively attacking the girl. I realized that was not the case the next time, and that was that.

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      • lyzmadness says:

        And I’m almost exactly the opposite. The scientific mind combined with the fact that I’m a complete control freak tends to make me react to “real” monsters with either (i) “That wouldn’t happen” or (ii) “I wouldn’t put myself in that situation.” And conversely, I think that’s why supernatural stuff does work on me, because it’s beyond your control. Likewise animate things that shouldn’t be animate. (Yes, killer dolls.) And Alien is terrifying not just because of the Alien, but because of being trapped.

        So I tend to find slasher movies horrifying but not scary. (Which is an important distinction. It doesn’t mean the film didn’t work, it just means it worked on a different level.) And this is why, of all the Halloween movies, only the first one is really scary—because that’s the only one without an explanation.

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      • RogerBW says:

        There’s another axis, which I suppose you could call blameworthiness. Do the threat’s victims bring it on themselves, or are they innocent bystanders? The people who go hunting ghosts or whatnot are inviting trouble in a way that J. Random Suburban Housewife is not, and I find the latter more viscerally frightening if all else is equal.

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      • lyzmadness says:

        Yes, that certainly comes into it—from my perspective, it’s another manifestation of “control”, or not.

        It seems to me there’s, not a missed, but a shunned opportunity here: characters are financially “trapped” not because they actually are, but because they’ve made themselves so. Even in The Amityville Haunting, where “This is all we can afford”, the house is enormous. It doesn’t do much to win the audience’s sympathy. How much more scary if, rather than people bankrupting themselves to buy a spectacular house, financial pressures forced your family into something terrifying that you really couldn’t afford to leave?

        (Have some of the more recent haunting films gone this route? I hope so.)

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      • therevdd says:

        See, it would make more sense if I was like you in this regard; I’m definitely more aligned to scientific reasoning than superstitious belief. I guess, when it comes to it, slashers, killer critters, aliens, and other beasties are more believable to me than ghosts, revenants, and vampires? *shrugs*

        There were a couple of supernatural movies that gave me a good jolt or two, but the only ones I can think of that scared/horrified me were The Evil Dead and The Exorcist.* Offhand, Halloween and The Descent scared me; Return of the Living Dead and Seven horrified me; Jaws and Alien managed to do both, and I have a feeling they still would have had I seen them later in life.

        *Admittedly, I haven’t seen The Haunting or The Changeling.

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      • lyzmadness says:

        Well, my mindset – which I like to think of as “The proper scientific attitude” 🙂 – is, I don’t categorically disbelieve anything. In cinematic terms, that means I can buy into pretty much any premise they want to throw at me, natural or supernatural, as long as it’s presented with regard to internal logic. That’s where most of these films fall down: they violate their own rules in pursuit of a cheap scare.

        I would add The Innocents to The Haunting and The Changeling—brr!!

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      • therevdd says:

        I haven’t seen The Innocents, either, so I’ll put that on The List.

        Given the proper evidence I could be persuaded on the existence of ghosts and such, but I find it very hard to credit their existence until then; this could be due to my own lack of spirituality. (Of course, I don’t really think there are lake monsters and yetis and what not running around, either.) I can’t say I absolutely disbelieve in anything, though; I’m far too aware of human fallibility to go that far.

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    • Grokenstein says:

      Wish Ka-Bala was still around so someone could make a naff horror movie around it. Ka-Bala was a Ouija variant with a board–green glow-in-the-dark plastic simulating an ornate jade design–that was marked with red letters and held “Tarot cards.” The board was seated on a ball, so that two players, treating it like a Ouija planchette, could tilt it in any direction. The board had a circular trench to accommodate a large marble that rumbled around the trench to stop near letters as the board tilted, and a black/glowing-green flame-shrouded “Eye of Zohar” mounted in the center. The Eye of Zohar was weighted so it would turn on its axis and follow the marble. Everything about Ka-Bala was designed for maximum eeriness, but that name probably killed it.

      To be sure, this “game” had almost no play value as a Ouija board but I could enjoy that rumbling marble and following eye for hours. Still have one! Still love it.

      Like

      • lyzmadness says:

        Hi – welcome!

        Wow! I’m not familiar with that particular variant but it sounds like something that could have kept me endlessly amused! 😀

        (Speaking of creepy games, many years ago a friend of mine had one with a Egyptian theme and a scary moaning mummy—anyone know what it might have been called?)

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      • Grokenstein says:

        “Speaking of creepy games, many years ago a friend of mine had one with a Egyptian theme and a scary moaning mummy—anyone know what it might have been called?”

        That would probably be Milton Bradley’s “Voice of the Mummy.” There’s a slew of nice videos of it on YouTube. (Ka-Bala doesn’t have any really demonstrative videos, but lots of nice articles and images pop right up on Google when you specify the game rather than the branch of Judaism.)
        Here’s one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2oPPeN3-yY
        And a full gameplay review! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbx5tnglp3w

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      • lyzmadness says:

        Brilliant, thank you! That thing used to give me nightmares. In a good way, of course. 🙂

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  4. goddessoftransitory says:

    The Persecution And Assassination Of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed By The Inmates Of The Asylum Of Charenton Under The Direction Of The Marquis De Sade.

    Hey, man, it was the sixties!

    Like

  5. Zephyrus says:

    Great review. One amazing thing about this film is how it uses elements from the Exorcist novel that were never used in the film: the book, the line “this time you’re going to lose,” the funeral of Tugrul’s mother, the girl’s difficulties in math, the conversation on the stairs between Tugrul and the old guy. Someone in the Turkis crew read the novel and decided to “improve” on the film. A few of these appeared in the 2000 director’s cut of the Exorcist but would not have been in the original version when Seytan was made in 1974.

    Like

    • lyzmadness says:

      Hi – welcome! Yes, very true and very well observed. I think that indicates that in spite of how the film turned out (or did to our eyes), there were serious intentions behind its production.

      Like

  6. DennisMM says:

    I don’t know if this is still fodder for discussion, but what the heck. I know what a book opener is. I worked in a university library for nearly 20 years, and I’d be a bibliophile if I could afford to be one, so I’ve picked things up.

    While I don’t know quite how mass-market books are printed these days, the common method for hundreds of years was for a number of pages to be printed on both sides of a large sheet of paper. This paper was then folded so that the pages would appear in order, in what is called a signature. The signature was sewn at the inside,where it would eventually be bound with other signatures into the full text block. The edges were then trimmed, to create the leaves we turn as a we read. In some cases, due to a folding or trimming error, the outer edge of two leaves might still be joined. In other cases, the outer edges were left uncut because it was considered more classy to let the reader separate the paper into individual leaves. Either as an affectation, or to avoid sullying the book paper with contaminants, some readers had a knife made specifically for this purpose. That knife is a book opener.

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    • RogerBW says:

      Mass-market books are still printed in signatures, but the machinery has got vastly better, and these days if you have an uncut new book it’s almost always because the publisher made a deliberate choice to have it produced that way (which is itself pretty rare).

      Like

    • lyzmadness says:

      Oh, no, I know that! – in fact, such is the obscurity of my reading taste, I’ve once or twice had to cut the pages of a book myself. It was more a question as to what the item actually was, and what the correct terminology for it should be.

      Like

  7. Dawn says:

    With a new comment on this, of course I had to read the review again.
    I understand your liking of “Go to the deepest parts of Hell”. My favorite is from the Old Testament, when Saul yells at Jonathan for not helping him kill David (sorry, I don’t remember which translation this is). “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman!”
    Imagine if Trump had said THAT this past weekend instead of, well, what he did say.

    Like

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