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The 'Turkish Star Wars'

Turkeys from Turkey: The Best Bad Films on the Globe

Turkey has a rich cultural tradition in film, but lax copyright standards and low budgets led to some very bad rip off films that are funnier than ever today.

Back in 1997 (can you believe that was 20 years ago?) Mike and the ‘bots from Mystery Science Theater 3000 presented their lambasting of a 1988 film called Space Mutiny. Also billed with the vastly different title of (drum roll) Mutiny in Space, the subject of their episode was a terrible joke of a science fiction film notable for featuring space scenes wholly lifted from the ABC TV show, Battlestar Galactica (1978-79).

Obviously, this was not a legal use of the footage but Space Mutiny was released, aired and published anyway and has, largely due to MST3k’s mockery, obtained cult status. It’s possible that Universal’s lawyers were laughing too hard at the film to sue (the pilfering from Battlestar Galactica was far from the only problem with this “movie”). It’s also possible that they simply did not wish to bother suing this South African Z-movie that was unlikely to be seen, anyway. Regardless, the producers seemed to have gotten away with the theft. But where exactly did they get such a cheap and obvious idea for their film in the first place?

My guess is that the producers might have all been absolutely cuckoo for Turkish cinema, where this very thing seems to have happened all the time.

Turkey is an amazing land of wonderful people and a rich history and even a wonderful film tradition (more on that later). Further, Turkey is far from the only country famous for film rip-offs (Italian B-movie entrepreneurs have made careers of unnofficial sequels and stolen plots). That said, it’s no huge surprise that the Turkish film industry would produce more than its fair share of bad movies. The name of the country, after all, is “The Republic of Turkey”, so it’s something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Republic of Turkey might be sued for false advertising if they didn’t churn out their share of “turkeys”.

In this article, we discuss just a few of those turkeys from Turkey. After all, once in a while, nothing beats a terrible film when it comes to comedy. And, whether the makers intended it or not, a large percentage of these movies are terribly hilarious.

The first thing one might notice when becoming a connoisseur of Turkish turkeys is the fact that the filmmakers make a habit of laughing in the face of copyright law. I joked about The Republic of Turkey being sued for false advertising, but it seems very clear that they were not at all worried about being sued for stealing plots, effects sequences or even copyrighted characters to make their films.

For the prime example of this bizarre practice of intellectual property theft, take a good gander at the 1973 disaster piece 3 Dev Adam from “director” T. Fikret Uçak. The title of this miserable experience translates to “Three Mighty Men”, but it’s better known to English speakers (at least, those who give a damn about movies this bad) as Captain America and Santo vs. Spider-Man.

Needless to say, this is not an official Marvel Comics film adaptation. The makers of this Ottoman defeat didn’t care whether or not they had permission to use the characters. They just had a really brilliant story to tell.

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3 Dev Adam — You almost forget you’re watching a movie.

For the “sarcasm impaired”, the story was not brilliant in any way, shape or form. Take note, this is not some proto Batman V. Superman in which the two comic icons have a disagreement before finding out their moms share the same first name (though that was pretty terrible, too). No, the “Spider-Man” in this film is an actual evil, scheming villain. Yes, apparently young Peter Parker had a forgotten chapter in his life that included his expatriation to Istanbul where he became something more akin to the Kingpin of Crime in a bad Halloween knock-off costume that looks worse than his hoody wear from 2002’s Spider-Man — and we all just missed a few issues.

This thoroughly out of shape version of Spider-Man spends most of his time cackling like Snidely Whiplash on downers, killing nude women and barking orders at his Turkish henchmen. Just when you thought he couldn’t get any more hilarious, we get a few close-ups of his eye-holes, revealing some obnoxiously prominent eyebrow hair and a ridiculous amount of drag queen eye shadow. In a perfect world this would have been played for laughs but no, apparently we (or Turkish moviegoers who never read comics) were meant to take it seriously.

Luckily for Turkish moviegoers and the people of Istanbul alike, there actually is a Marvel hero (who remains a hero) who can stop old “Spider” and he happens to be coming to Turkey right about… now. It’s Captain America himself (here played by the thoroughly Turkish Aytekin Akkaya)! Now, I will admit that I am not an expert on Turkish fandom, but why the hell would the makers choose Captain America for this gig? This is the one hero who’s explicitly tied to one nation and is not exactly “international”, especially in his attire. Maybe the only costume they could find was Cap’s? However, the American Hero apparently forgot to bring his signature shield with him. It must have been one heavy carryon.

Why this is especially bad is that this Ottoman celluloid version of the Sentinel of Liberty could not fight his way out of a wet paper bag. Oh, he seems to keep winning his fights, amazingly, but this is less because of his patriotic superhero prowess than it is the fact that the Spider-Turks that Captain Turkey keeps facing off with are worse fighters than he is! At one point a bad guy actually knocks himself out by accidentally walking into Captain America’s ass while the “hero” is hanging upside down.

Lucky for the battle-challenged Captain, he’s not facing the (I still cannot believe this) “villainous” Spider-Man all by himself. No, if the informal English title fails to clue you in enough, the makers of 3 Dev Adam were not content to merely rip off Captain America and Spider-Man, but also Mexican wrestler El Santo. Unfortunately, the filmmakers didn’t care to learn anything about that stolen character, either.

The masked Luchadore was actually Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta in real life (and never removed his mask in public) but Yavuz Selekman’s unauthorized impersonation is out of his mask so often that I had trouble understanding that the guy in the mask and cape was the same guy walking around with the equally unmasked excuse for Captain America.

Even those performances beat the depiction of poor old Spider-Man, whose representation here is almost as offensive to comics fans as 2004’s Catwoman was. In addition to the beer gut, bad eye shadow and huge eyebrows, this sorry excuse for Spider-Man has absolutely no powers. He shoots no webs, he dispatches victims by strangulation, switchblade stabbing and, in one case, even sets a hungry rat on to the eyeballs of a nemisis. He climbs no walls and never fights like Spidey. He’s just some jerk in a bad costume. He is, however, damned hard to kill, especially in the nonsensical finalé during which… you’d have to see it to believe it.

Not that I recommend that you do see it. It’s so bad that only a little kid could take it seriously, but the blood, violence and nudity bar this from any eight-year-old’s watch list.

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Another Turkish film you should avoid like the plague actually does feature a kid as the main character. It’s called Seytan (1974) and the kid in question is a little girl named “Gul” played by Canan Perver. Her mother, painfully in fear that her daughter must be possessed by an evil being, is credited, appropriately, as “Gul’s Mother” and is brought to us by Meral Taygun.

Yes, Seytan is an unauthorized, uninteresting, unflattering and uncontrollably bad rip off of The Exorcist (1973).

If you appreciated the shot-for-shot remake approach in Gus Van Sant’s Psycho (1998), have I got a film for you. From the early mention of “clean rats” in the attic to a silly excuse for a Ouija board to an imaginary friend (“Captain Lersen” instead of “Captain Howdy”) turning out to be an evil demon bent on possession, if it happened in The Exorcist it happens in Seytan only much, much, much worse. It seems that director Metin Erksan had desperately wanted to rip off The Exorcist, but failed to understand it well enough to do so.

The special effects look like silly parlor tricks. The tricks behind the bouncing and floating bed are easily seen, the latter covered the cheapness with horrible lighting. There is even a chain-smoking cop like The Exorcist’s Kinderman. Hilariously melodramatic uses of the zoom lens are all over the film. The music is corny and attempts to be frightening even in the most innocuous of moments (like Gul playing tennis with her mother). At best the movie is cartoonish. At one point, Gul punches a doctor in the testicles and even that manages to be overacted. The Exorcist looks like a homeless Santa Claus and the Pazuzu statue is obviously paper mâché.

Needless to say, I have experienced inpatient surgeries that were less painful than watching this movie.

All of that could be forgiven due to budget limitations, but let’s focus on the real crime: plagiarism. Seytan is most commonly called “Turkish Exorcist” in the West, for obvious reasons. The list of these Turkey turkeys goes on and on and on with movies like “Turkish Wizard of Oz” and “Turkish Star Trek“, but the next movie on our list is the mother lode.

Not content to simply be complicit in the theft of Captain America, Spidey and Santos, actor Aytekin Akkaya came back nine years after 3 Dev Adam to join forces with fellow actor Cüneyt Arkin (who also is credited as having written the — ha, ha — “screenplay”) for a new height in rip-off cinema called Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam (1983). If you haven’t heard it, perhaps you have heard it referred to as “Turkish Star Wars“.

What makes this film, the title of which translates to something like “The Man Who Saved the World”, both the pinnacle and nadir of Turkey cinema? Well, “Turkish Star Wars” is a complete mess, seemingly edited with a Cuisinart, that rips off just about everything from Star Wars to Raiders of the Lost Ark to your local Halloween costume store’s window display.

Much like the aforementioned Space Mutiny, all of the space scenes are stolen, this time from Star Wars. In that Universal created Battlestar Galactica to cash in on Star Wars I would not be surprised if Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam inspired Space Mutiny.

There’s a Death Star that blows up a planet in a dramatic moment (literally the same stolen Alderaan scene from the 1977 flick) but because the planet all of the action takes place on seems to be blissfully unmarked by this tragedy, the destroyed globe seems to be a completely random and remote planet with no bearing on the story. We have Storm troopers firing on Tie Fighters (from indoors) and X-Wings firing on the Millennium Falcon for no apparent reason.

Around this time we are introduced to our two main “characters” played by Arkin and Akkaya. I say we are “introduced” to these clowns but what we actually see is each “actor” in a silly-looking go-cart crash helmet sitting in front of a movie screen which displays the stolen and badly re-edited Star Wars space scenes while mumbling about them. I could have been fooled into thinking I was watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, were it not for the fact that the morons were facing the audience instead of the screen behind them. These guys are supposedly pilots in the space battle, but they look and behave as if they were darted with 78CCs of Novocain each.

Our Emperor/ Vader/ Ming-esque main villain looks like an escapee from a bad Kabuki community theater company wearing a corrugated cardboard mask with spikes all over it. His minions partially consist of a legion of Cylon rip-offs that look like something either out of the worst cosplay convention of all time or a high school production of R.U.R. — Rossums Universal Robots.

Turkish Star Wars seems to have been made with the idea that any costume would be acceptable and might even improve the movie, no matter how bad, how Halloween-cheap, how easy it is to see the seams and zippers in the flesh and fur of the “Aliens”, where the rubber mask ends and the actors neck begins or how incongruous these things might be for a scene. Murat (Arkin) seems to be fighting the legion of cheap cosplay Cylons along with a gaggle of British Red Coats with poorly realized Spanish Conquistador helmets on. These are joined by hairy monster aliens and, you guessed it, zombies, along with toilet paper mummies and chubby guys in “skeleton” costumes with helmets on (which makes zero sense). And then there are the racist caricatures of Japanese Samurais and a devil in a rubber mask, both of which director Çetin Inanç must have picked up in a second-hand costume shop for kids.

BOING!

Each time one of these characters pops out to do battle with our “heroes” they’re accompanied by a loud “BOING” sound to ensure that even blind people can dislike the movie. Often all of these illogically dressed “villains” appear (“BOING”) on screen at the same time, acting like fools and humiliating their family names (even with the bad masks on). It seems that Inanç simply yelled, “Okay, everybody run into frame now and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, would you all PLEASE ACT SILLY!”

And they do. Meanwhile Arkin, as Murat, simply bounces around through the melee (on a trampoline that’s none-too-cleverly hidden) and kills them with careless ease. His methods include breaking them in half, tearing their heads off and kicking his boot or punching his fist through their bodies without significantly messing his hair up more than it already was.

We all love the occasional movie that manages to be so damned bad it becomes funny, but Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam goes from bad to funny to infuriating to mind-numbing to terrible to funny again and then rinses and repeats over and over until the eye-gouging credits roll… over more stolen music.

That music is not only from Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, either. Sounds and music cues can also be heard from Superman, Flash Gordon, Godzilla, Moonraker, Ben-Hur, Planet of the Apes, Silent Running, Moses the Lawgiver, The Black Hole and The Six Million Dollar Man. Keeping time with the Cylon rip-offs, we also hear audio cues from Battlestar Galactica’s Cylon centurions and the disco(!) version of the Battlestar Galactica theme song.

We are also treated to stolen scenes from Sodom and Gomorrah and The Magic Sword (in addition to the copious Star Wars stolen scenes) and even stolen clips from Soviet and US rocket launches recorded directly from the news. These look nothing like the actual ships from Star Wars, but absolutely nothing in this movie matches any other given scene, so if the filmmakers did not care, why should we?

It’s almost cute how Arkin (as “writer”) vainly took stabs at a plot. The story is essentially a series of weak ligaments that tie together silly action scenes in which he can show off his sub-Power Rangers martial arts skills. Murat falls in some tepid, detached parody of “love” with a blonde named Bilgin’in Kizi (Füsun Uçar) who introduces him to a decrepit religious leader who, in turn, shows him around his mosque and gives him a lecture on Islam (in a sci-fi film), then sends Murat to hunt for a hidden Christian Church (because that follows) where he must steal a magic sword. In that the makers of “Turkish Star Wars” had no budget to fabricate (or even steal the footage of) a lightsaber, the “sword” appears to be made of papier-mâché and cardboard, then spray painted gold. It also has large triangular spikes jutting from both sides of the blade, either to lamely simulate the glow of a laser sword or perhaps a lightning bolt frozen in mid-flash.

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That glove packs one helluva punch.

In order to retrieve this silly-looking “artifact” as well as the golden human brain (!!) that goes with it (I wish I was kidding), Murat must also do battle with two golden statues… that are actually a couple of guys in vinyl suits and hoods (also spray-painted gold) with visible zippers up their backs. Possibly because the hoods have no eye-holes they are not terribly hard to defeat.

My favorite part is when (spoiler warning) Murat gets fed up with the entire movie and sets a paper fire in a wastebasket in order to “melt” the sword and the brain (they had to get a “brain” into this film somehow) so that he can… dip his hands into the molten metal and come out with a pair of silly and inflexible plastic gloves (spray-painted gold, of course) which allow him to basically do exactly the same feats he did before. Although we never see him step into the bucket, his boots somehow turn gold, too. That is when the editors use the right footage. Watch (if you dare) how often he loses the gloves and boots in the space of a single minute of screen time.

To put all of this in perspective it’s important to take a look at the history of Turkish Cinema. No, we are not dissing the Turks here. In fact, there have been a number of award-winning and high-quality films to come out of the “Yesilçam” industry. Metin Erksan’s Susuz Yaz AKA: Dry Summer (1964) is just one notable example of the brilliant films that have come from this amazing land.

Just as “Hollywood” (actually a street in Los Angeles) has become a metonym for the American film industry, so has Yesilçam (Turkish for “Green Pine”, a street in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul where many actors, directors, crew members, and studios were based) has become the name for Turkish Cinema in general. For all the “turkeys from Turkey” jokes that are so easy to make, film is taken very seriously in Turkey, with up to 350 films produced per year during the heyday of Yesilçam (from the ’50s to the ’70s). Film and Theater departments thrived in colleges like the State Fine Arts Academy and Ankara University and both The Union of Turkish Film Producers and the State Film Archives were created during this rich time in Turkish culture. However, Turkish film took a number of hits in the ’70s, due to political unrest, the rise of television and, ultimately, the 1980 Turkish coup d’état.

So with such a rich history, how did bizarre and largely stolen films like 3 Dev Adam, Seytan and Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam even get made?

To answer that, we have to take another look at Turkish culture. In Turkey, films are not considered works of expression, per se (although some very good films have come out of Turkey) but merely as consumable goods that are subject to laws only in regard to taxation and censorship. Up until 1986, there were no laws regarding copyright. With no real concept of copyright, virtually everything was in the public domain. Naturally, Turkish people still paid for their movie tickets, which means films from all over the world were exported to Turkey where they were treated much the same as any Yesilçam property.

If a film was shipped to Turkey for exposition, Turkish filmmakers had free footage at their fingertips. If a television show was beamed to Turkey (or South Africa for that matter), recording that show (or borrowing a tape from the television station) would allow for that footage to be similarly pilfered. If a soundtrack was sold in or imported to Turkey, one could mostly legally reuse that music for free. If comic books were available in Turkey (even those featuring American icons), they, too, were fair game. In 1987 the Turkish Ministry of Culture managed to reorganize the film industry and established “The Professional Union of Owners of Turkish Works of Cinema”. This put an end to a lot of this copyright infringement… but not necessarily all of it and 3 Dev Adam, Seytan and Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam remain in the public domain with their borrowed footage intact.

So Turkey is far from the only culprit. Many other countries have followed similar practices in the making of some largely borrowed, but not technically illegal (in their own countries, at least) films. So what happens when an international consortium of varied filmic interests join together to make Turkish film? Well, spoiler warning, you get yet another turkey.

And that is what happened. This last entry is so very international that it practically looks like it was produced by the United Nations.

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Yor, the Hunter From the Future (called Il Mondo di Yor in Italy, Yor le chasseur du futur in France and simply Yor In Turkey) is a 1983 Turkish/ French/ Italian co-production starring an American Football player in the title role, a French model as his love interest, directed by Antonio Margheriti, the Italian filoni maestro who brought us such timeless classics as Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) and the dramatically different (from both films) Hunter of the Apocalypse (also 1980) and, of course, filmed in Turkey.

If that’s not quite international enough for you, the whole shebang was based on the 1974 comic book, Henga el Cazador (by Eugenio Zappietro and Juan Zanotto), first published in Argentina.

To portray the character of Yor, Reb Brown (famous for playing the TV role of Captain America, so we have come full circle back to 3 Dev Adam) developed quite a coif upstairs (making him look like a Canadian hockey player from the neck up) and quite a physique under that (probably to compete with Conan the Barbarian) but absolutely no acting skills were developed to go along with them.

What begins as a seemingly 72-hour depiction of a well-oiled Brown proving to be quite the rock climber from the mountains (Yor does not yet know he is from the future) slowly (around the 73rd hour of screen time) devolves into a story in which Yor kills a plastic dinosaur (really) to save a village housing his new love Ka-Laa (the aforementioned French model Corinne Cléry) just before some rejects from Planet of the Apes roar through to destroy that same village (almost as much as Margheriti destroys the plot here).

To fulfill the foretaste and promise of the title, Yor soon exchanges his cheap dinosaurs and unconvincing ape-men for an army of sci-fi villains led by hooded bad guy, “The Overlord” (John Steiner). Said Overlord possesses superior technology, teleportation powers, a penchant for severe overacting and a large armored strike force made up of guys in Darth Vader rip-off costumes who act like storm troopers.

It could scarcely have been more obvious a rip-off if it had been called “Conan meets Emperor Palpatine and his Storm Troopers from Star Wars”.

It all leads up to a hilariously sanctimonious ending with the approximate emotional weight of a program on Vulcan Public Broadcasting. It’s just as comically painful to watch as the rest of this turkey. From the dud dialogue to the wooden delivery to the anything-but-gratuitous shots of thongs (mostly Reb’s) to the crash and burn special effects to the completely inconsistent technology to the TV movie framing to the change-with-each-cut lighting, this film is an incredibly funny contender for the “Plan 9 From Outer Space” legacy for the ’80s. The fact that this film was only nominated for three 1984 Razzie Awards is as funny as anything in this film.

It is, on the other hand, largely kid-friendly and I loved it when I was nine. Yes, this thing was released in American cinemas, if you can believe that. But regardless of its multi-national pedigree, this Turkish turkey could only truly impress nine-year-olds.

Luckily, Yesilçam has recovered from its creative nadir and the lax laws that helped make its wholesale international thievery possible.

In the new millennium, Yesilçam has experienced quite a resurgence of movies from Turkey that are, most assuredly, not turkeys. Vizontele (2001) went on to receive international acclaim and Yesilçam now enjoys big budget films with large audiences like Kurtlar Vadisi: Irak (2006), Babam ve Oglum (2005), Hokkabaz (2006) and the experimental anthology Anlat Istanbul (2005).

Even so, there’s much to be said (if comically) about those halcyon days of Turkish filmmaking in which characters, plots and even footage were all as easy to obtain and shape into your own film as simply seeing something and deciding you want it. In most other countries rip-off filmmakers were forced to make copies of other movies. In Turkey, if you saw something you liked in a movie, you could find a way to put it in yours.

Until those days return and we finally see a badly dubbed Turkish turkey in which Captain America fights demon-possessed dinosaurs in prehistoric times using a lightsaber he borrowed from spray-painted Cylons only to find that this is all secretly the future and Spider-Man and Darth Vader are now ruling the galaxy with webbed, iron fists, I shall see you true believers in The Next Reel.

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