Saturday, June 12, 2010

Drakula Istanbul’da – review

Director: Mehmet Muhtar

First Released: 1953

Contains spoilers

This is a film that you can find ghosting around the internet, in a less than copyright compliant manner, but it is probably the only way you’d ever find it currently. I have had this for some time but the file was in Turkish language only (and the quality of the film, taken from TV, leaves a great deal to be desired). Recently a subtitle file appeared, the subtitles are not perfect but it made the film watchable for me. I have to say this is the prime example of a film that needs restoring, subtitling and sticking out there on DVD – it might not be the best filmic version of Dracula but it is historically fascinating.

Atif Kaptan as Drakula
Now, I suggested that it is based on Dracula but the opening titles inform us that it is based on a novel by Ali Riza Seyfi. In 1928 Seyfi wrote a novel entitled Kaziki Voyvoda – the fan subtitles suggest this is Voyvoda the Poker, whilst wonderfully literal it is actually the Impaling Voivode. This was essentially a translation of Dracula, into Turkish, however the destination of Dracula was Turkey rather than England and a great play was made on the historical connection to Vlad Tepes. This, of course, makes a logical sense in that the historical voivode was in conflict with the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. More than that, however, it also might mark one of the earliest examples of definitively tying the fictional Dracula and the historical Tepes together. In film, the look that Drakula (Atif Kaptan) was given owed much to the Lugosi standard.

side fangs
The film was also updated in respect to timeframe – being set in 1953. As it begins we see Drakula’s face and we notice that Drakula has side fangs. Now this is important as it was the first time that Dracula had been portrayed on screen with side fangs. Previously Nosferatu had shown the Dracula equivalent with front fangs and Valkoinen Peura had shown a vampire with side fangs. However the ‘side fanged look’ had not been fundamentally established at this point in vampire cinema history.

Azmi in the inn
We then follow the journey of Azmi Bugrun (Bülent Oran), a solicitor, who departs from a train as he journeys from Istanbul to Romania to see his client Drakula. He stops at the Hotel Bistric where a letter suggests that the innkeeper will get him a car and he will be met at a certain point at 2 AM. The driver who collects him wants to set off early (so as to arrive before nightfall), but Azmi makes him wait so that he will be on time for his rendezvous. The locals are nervous of Drakula and, interestingly, they cross themselves. Azmi, on the other hand, has some form of pendant – possibly an Allah charm.

vampire bride (singular)
Clearly Azmi has taken on the Harker role and he is met by coach at the rendezvous and then delivered to the castle. The film follows pretty much the Stoker model to a point but there are one or two differences. Firstly Drakula makes direct reference to being descended from the Voivode Drakula (though he probably is the self same man). Another change is that Harker does have his Mina equivalent – in this case Güzin (Annie Ball) – but they are married already. Next we should mention that the brides have become the bride singular – though other than that the scene remains true to Stoker.

A much bigger change was the fact that Drakula has a hunchbacked manservant, whose name we never catch. He is shown kindness by Azmi, who gives him a cigarette case. When Azmi has found Drakula in his coffin he belts the vampire with a spade and, as the vampire's eyes open, legs it back to his room and starts packing. He is knocked out by fumes the vampire releases into his room. The manservant betrays his master by opening a window and then putting a protective garlic garland around Azmi’s neck. He is killed for his trouble and this general new story area pre-empts the Klove storyline in Scars of Dracula by almost 20 years. Azmi actually goes back to Drakula’s resting place (who has fled with the rooster) and bashes him soundly with a spade before emptying a revolver into the vampire – of course he is not au fait with vampire slaying techniques – before making his escape. The film has no Renfield equivalent but to a degree the manservant fulfills a tad of the climax of that role, betraying the vampire for the hero(es).

Annie Ball as Güzin
Güzin is a dancer, waiting for her theatre contract to expire, and the attempted seduction of her, by one of her fans, and the subsequent rebuff allows us to know that she is a good and faithful wife. It appeared that the Lucy equivalent, Sadan (Ayfer Feray), is probably a cousin – Güzin refers to her mother as aunt. Sadan, unbeknownst to her fiancé Turan (Cahit Irgat), is sleepwalking and thus comes into contact with Drakula.

a trully crap bat momment
We get some vague crap-bat moments and – for just a moment – a Papier-mâché (or equivalent thereof) head that is really blooming awful (and I supposed was meant to be a bat!). A doctor is brought in and he quickly gets his mentor Dr Nuri involved. Nuri is, of course, the Van Helsing equivalent. Worringly a transfusion is given without, given the date the film is set, blood typing Sadan and Turan. Sadan’s mother dies of a heart attack – though it is a bat rather than a wolf at the window and Güzin and Azmi have returned before Sadan dies and thus are present at her death. Azmi suffers much less, psychologically, than Harker did and actually seems rather well adjusted despite his ordeal.

staking Sadan
Though Turan takes some persuasion to the truth of his fiancée's diabolic resurrection, in the first instance it is actually Azmi who makes the connection between the beautiful woman with the injured children and Sadan's return. In Castle Drakula he had read Nuri’s book on vampirism, which was in the castle library though Drakula had ripped out the vampire killing technique pages. They take Turan to the graveyard and he is finally convinced when he sees Sadan walking. She is actually carrying a baby which she callously drops when she sees him. She is soon staked.

Drakula in box of earth
Güzin is next on Drakula’s hit list but in this he doesn’t get to bite her. He does eye mojo her into a dress that she is instantaneously, mystically wearing; his mojo then causes a piano to play itself and makes her dance for him. The lack of a bite and giving her his blood was possibly down to the fact that Güzin stated she was one month pregnant to her husband and the filmmakers' sensibilities would not let the film wander down that road. Azmi saves her twice and the second time takes the vampire’s cloak. This prevents Drakula changing shape (Azmi read in Nuri’s book that a vampire's cloak allows them to shapeshift) and he chases the vampire, on foot, through the streets before catching him and despatching him single-handedly.

feeding on Sadan
Most of the lore has been given in my description of the film, Drakula avoids sunlight, vampires must be staked and then beheaded, garlic holds them off (the men in the cemetery wield garlic bulbs at Sadan as there are no crosses involved – being Muslim). They are allegedly as strong as twenty men.

Ayfer Feray as Sadan
The film itself isn’t necessarily the best adaptation of Dracula but it is certainly one of the most interesting. The music was odd in the film, being almost that of a silent movie and feeling rather antiquated as such. It was great to finally see this with subs and the plea is for a company to release a properly subtitled, restored version. 6 out of 10. The imdb page is here.


Bill Dan Courtney said...

I love these foreign (from an American perspective) b/w vampire films. all the Mexican ones. I jsut got Invasion of the Vampires and will be watching it soon.

As always great stuff.

Bill @ The UCafe

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Bill, it is fascinating to see how other countries interpret the vampire - be it the local myth, the Western (borrowed from East Europe and media tweaked) standard or a hybrid of the two.

Let us know what you think of Invasion.