Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Baskin


Baskin (2015)
Dir Can Evrenol
Written by Can Evrenol, Cem Özüduru, Erçin Sadıkoğlu, Eren Akay
Starring Mehmet Cerrahoğlu, Ergun Kuyucu

This is the official poster for this film....


BASKIN opens with a child wakened from sleep by the sounds of a woman having sex. He wanders into the living room, where an abandoned TV is blanketing the darkened room with an eerie static. When he turns off the TV, he notices a strange red light emanating from the bedroom he just left. As he tentatively approaches the door, suddenly a robed arm reaches out and grabs him.

We cut from there to a dingy diner, where five police officers are sitting around a table enjoying themselves. They’re crass and loud, shouting at the staff and discussing their first sexual experiences in the filthiest possible way (one implies he lost his virginity to a chicken). When a young waiter laughs at a tale of a mistaken transvestite hooker, the furious storyteller gets in his face and punches him. But they’ll pay for their macho redneck dickishness many times over by the end of the night, because they’re about to answer a routine call which will send them into a hallucinogenic nightmare from which there is no escape.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, this is it: The movie that Rob Zombie has spent his whole career trying unsuccessfully to make. Profane, bizarre, laden with sumptuously filmed decay, and filled with crazy crap and interesting actors with weird faces playing amusing but indefensible assholes. This is the movie HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES wants to be when it grows up. And amazingly, it’s the full-length debut of Turkish co-writer/director Can Evrenol, based on his 2013 short film of the same name.

...But this one is far, far more revealing about what you're in for.

We talked glancingly about Turkish horror last year, when I watched DJINN (2013) and JINN (2014) in an effort to watch some Islamic horror movies as penance for all the explicitly Christian imagery and motifs which dominate a huge portion of the Western horror tradition. As you’ll recall, I found that --outside of Indonesia, which I’m invoking my right as an American to forget is Muslim-- there just really aren’t a ton of horror movies from Islamic countries, even Turkey, which boasts a long and boisterous history of genre cinema. The only one I could locate at the time was a 2008 Turkish horror film unfortunately titled SEMUN. But an article from the (English-language?) Turkish newspaper Hurriyetdailynews.com lists a few more, including Hasan Karacadağ’s D@BBE from 2006 (the first in a series which it claims is now up to 6 installments?!), Biray Dalkıran’s “ARAF (Purgatory) from the same year*, and Cem Akyoldaş’s KONAK (Old Mansion) from 2009.

Author Emrah Güler writes that “An overbearing conservativeness is felt in almost all of the films, with punishment being the driving force, and those who are punished is almost always predictable.” -- the protagonist in ARAF is punished for having an abortion, for example. Hardly a rare charge in horror cinema writ large --after all, many American horror films (and slashers in particular) have been accused of draconian conservative moral schemas-- but interesting to see the same impulse put to a slightly different set of ethical priorities. Mostly, though, Güler seems to accuse Turkish horror of merely imitating the Western model, charging the genre with,

“The appropriation of traditional and Islamic horror motifs to classic examples from Hollywood, or more recent Asian horror cinema, has become the defining characteristic of these films...The string of recent Turkish horror films take haunted houses, teen-slashers and other-worldly entities and tailor them to Turkish and Islamic culture. Ghosts and zombies become jinns, exorcism is done by hodjas and the apocalypse takes its own version from the Quran. Historic Ottoman manors become haunted houses, and ancient spirits of Islamic folklore haunt sinners.”

He goes on, though, to make one exception:

“BASKIN is a genre-bending breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale genre of Turkish cinema.”  



Indeed, although BASKIN is a 100% Turkish production, I’m not even certain it belongs in the category of “Islamic horror,” because I can’t confirm if Evrenol himself is actually Muslim. In several interviews he speaks extensively about his influences (in a March 2016 Fangoria Q & A, they’re mostly Western -- he name checks Hammer, Lovecraft and Clive Barker, along with HELLRAISER, THE DESCENT, FRONTIER(S) and a few more unexpected things: the Belgian film CALVAIRE, the obscure 2008 European film VINYAN, ONLY GOD FORGIVES, CONAN, THE DARK CRYSTAL, and Iron Maiden)** but there’s no discussion of any kind about religion. If BASKIN has any distinct link to a Muslim perspective or Turkish/Islamic folklore or culture, it’s completely lost on me.

And that’s not really a huge surprise, because BASKIN is a profoundly weird movie all around. It’s not a movie which can be meaningfully described with a plot synopsis, since that would just be “there are these cops who go to this old building, and then everything gets weird and crazy and they get killed by cultists or demons or something.” And that doesn’t really capture the experience very well. Maybe a closer synopsis would be “A bunch of asshole cops gradually end up in a Turkish cenobite love nest with a raft of demonic perversity and weird, inscrutable symbolism (i.e. lots of locks and keys[?]).” That’s getting closer, but I think the best thing would probably be to eschew the plot altogether and just say: “Feels like what would happen if Turkey got HELLRAISER and SUSPIRIA the same year and some young horror nut got inspired to smash them together, complete with a vaguely Goblin-esque score and a bunch of primary colored lights.”

If you would like a movie like that, you will like this one. The low budget does show itself occasionally (mostly, perhaps, in the limited action and single location of the climax), but Evrenol mostly does a masterful job controlling the look and feel of the film and conveying an appropriate sense of surreal Caligulan overkill. And he has an ace in the hole in actor Mehmet Cerrahoglu, who plays the demonic “Father.” Cerrahoglu, who suffers from an incredibly rare genetic deformity, was certainly cast because of his startling appearance,*** but the actor (a car park attendant with no prior acting experience) commits to the role with a lugubrious malevolence which is absolutely riveting to behold. He might have been hired to save money on the makeup budget, but he absolutely walks away with the movie. As inscrutable as the character and the scenario is, I feel certain he could sustain a dozen or so direct-to-video sequels purely on the strength of his weirdo moxie. And I can certainly think of no stronger endorsement than that for a horror movie icon.



BASKIN isn’t perfect; the latter half is hobbled somewhat by the lack of meaningfully active protagonists (they’re chained up and only able to observe the debauchery), which blunts the movie’s momentum pretty significant. Without the kinetic force of an advancing plot, it gets bogged down in some typical torture porn tedium as characters get exotically brutalized but the tension gradually seeps away. It still looks great and packs in plenty of gothic weirdness, but there’s no getting around the fundamental problem with the torture porn paradigm: when characters have no means to resist danger, their plight becomes pitiable instead of exciting. But it’s weird and sick enough to get by, mostly; if it sinks into a morass of sadism instead of adrenaline, at least it does it in a fairly exotic and memorable way. Less forgivable is the final twist (SPOILER) -- yet another fucking indie horror time-loop. Just like (spoilers for all the following films) DEAD END and MINE GAMES and THE REEDS and THE ABANDONED, TRIANGLE, LET’S BE EVIL, THE HOUSE AT THE END OF TIME, YELLOWBRICKROAD, TIME CRIMES, SALVAGE, DARK COUNTRY, THE DEVIL’S PASS, THE DIABOLICAL, BLOOD PUNCH, etc, etc, etc. I think it’s time we all came together as a society and agreed to retire this stupid fucking twist for awhile, maybe pack it into a time capsule and send it a hundred years into the future when it might seem fresh again for a few minutes, or at least before every fucking indie horror hack hoping to blow your mind has to throw it in at the last minute and ruin everything.

Fortunately, though, that’s really the only part of BASKIN that feels boring and derivative, and it’s only about 2 minutes of screen time. Well, that and the title; BASKIN apparently translates as “Raid.” But the rest of the runtime, it’s a rare movie which wears its influences openly, and yet still feels like a thoroughly cohesive, uniquely idiosyncratic work. I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece, or even the best new horror movie I watched recently; I watch a lot of indie horror movies, and they’re mostly pretty good (certainly, they’ve recently had a vastly better track record than studio horror flicks). But it’s definitely one of the most exciting new horror finds I’ve come across in ages. It's not just a pastiche or a clever riff on an old classic; it's beholden to those things, but also enthusiastically inventive, brazen, and ambitious to an extent which is virtually unheard of in a film this cheap, and especially from a first feature. If Evrenol can bring this level of fervor and raw talent to a project with some real budget behind it, I think we can start looking forward to a real classic, maybe something genuinely iconic.

Ah, who am I kidding? They’ll probably just rope him into directing a Silver Surfer reboot and that’ll be that. Hollywood is far more venal and seductive than any coven of demonic freaks could ever aspire to be.

* Not to be confused with Yeşim Ustaoğlu’s 2012 film of the same name.

** Here is a man who’s life will someday be changed forever when he discovers Ken Russell.

*** I know people today are a little uneasy about hiring actors with deformities (comparisons with exploitative and dehumanizing freak shows are inevitable) but reading Evrenol’s Q & A makes it clear how much he respected Cerrahoglu and worked with him to create the character. And ask yourself -- would Cerrahoglu really have been better off if Evrenol decided it would be more sensitive to just leave him to his life as a car park attendant?



CHAINSAWNUKAH 2016 CHECKLIST!
Good Kill Hunting

TAGLINE
Enter A World Of Suffering And Madness
TITLE ACCURACY
BASKIN translates as “Raid,” which has now been a completely terrible name for three terrific movies which deserve better.
LITERARY ADAPTATION?
No
SEQUEL?
None
REMAKE?
None
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Turkey
HORROR SUB-GENRE
Uhhhh… demons? Surrealism?
SLUMMING A-LISTER?
None
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
None, although hopefully Mehmet Cerrahoglu is headed in that direction now.
NUDITY?
Some kind of topless cow demon lady
SEXUAL ASSAULT?
Man made to have sex against his will. Unclear what his demonic partner’s consent status is.
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
Lots of frogs, though they don’t do much more than the frogs in FROGS http://wearecursedtoliveininterestingtimes.blogspot.com/2017/01/frogs.html.
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
I guess the building is some sort of portal to hell? Also, there’s a story told about (presumably) a ghost, though I think we’re to assume most of the problems here are demonic in nature.
POSSESSION?
None explicit, though maybe that’s what is being attempted by our antagonists?
CREEPY DOLLS?
None
EVIL CULT?
Oh yeah
MADNESS?
Looks like our hero has his mind done broke by the end
TRANSMOGRIFICATION?
None
VOYEURISM?
None
MORAL OF THE STORY
It is possible to entirely avoid ice cream jokes in a review for a movie called BASKIN.


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