Color, 1993, 91m. / Directed by Kutlug Ataman / Starring Gonen Bozbey, Metin Uygun, Daniel Chace / Onar (Greek R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) / DD2.0

While most international viewers tend to associate Turkish horror and fantasy cinema with cheap, insane knockoffs of box office hits, 1993's Karanlik Sular (The Serpent's Tale) offers something a bit different. Part art film, part atmospheric horror, and part mindbender, it's an ambitious if not entirely successful attempt at a literate, distinctive chiller. Shot in a mixture of English and Turkish, the film begins in a movie theater where visiting American Hunter (Chace) sees a strange young girl lure an older man outside, where he soon turns up dead. A mysterious stranger, Haldun (Uygun), informs him that the girl is a member of supernatural royalty and sends Hunter with an ancient compass to see to his mother (Bozbey), who informs him that her son died years ago. The engraved compass proves a key to leading both of them to uncover a mystical sect prone to putting on theatrical performances and sacrificing newcomers over ancient texts. Then things get strange.

Sort of an atmospheric cross between Apartment Zero and The Saragossa Manuscript, this odd and stylish outing doesn't really go for outright scares as much as gothic surrealism, be it a ghostly little girl with sharp choppers or a collected theater audience (used in the effective bookend sequences) silently weeping at something we never see. The story basically ties itself in knots as it spins from one level to the next, but director Kutlug Ataman still holds interest with a grab bag of visual tricks including vivid color filters straight out of an Argento film, sparse but surprising bursts of bloodshed, and goofy moments of black comedy. The little girl imagery has been around since the days of Mario Bava, but this film gives the device a novel cinematic spin by keeping the viewer unsure about her true nature and appearance from one scene to the next.

Completely unknown to most English-speaking viewers, The Serpent's Tale gets a welcome chance at recognition with Onar's lovingly assembled DVD. The flat letterboxed presentation looks very colorful but a bit on the soft side; the occasional burned-in English subtitles are positioned within the film frame, so you can zoom it in on a widescreen TV without losing anything. Labeled as 2.0 on the packaging, the soundtrack sounds fine but appears to be mono, which is fine; it's a fairly quiet, dialogue-centered film anyway. As for extras, you get plenty of context with a 20-minute, English language interview with the director who talks about his aspirations and influences for the film, a stills gallery, very succinct bios and filmographies, a collection of reviews and articles about the film, the original trailer, and bonus previews for other Onar titles including Tarzan Istanbul'Da, Casus Kiran' Kamcili Suvari and more. As usual, it's strictly limited to 1200 numbered copies, so snag one while you can.

Color, 1979, 80m. / Directed by Kunt Tolgar / Starring Tayfun Demir, Güngör Bayrak, Esref Kolçak

B&W, 1973, 64m. / Directed by Tunç Basaran / Starring Enver Özer, Feri Cansel / Onar (Greek R0 PAL)

Hot on the heels of Richard Donner's smash 1978 superhero film, Superman: The Movie, the awkwardly-named and industrious actor-turned-director Kunt Tolgar (best known for The Deathless Devil) decided to helm his own version of the Man of the Steel saga, apparently on a budget of about five dollars. In this version, our hero (Demir) comes from Krypton, represented by Christmas ornaments hanging in front of black cloth (all introduced, naturally, after construction paper credits arranged to a tinny variation on John Williams' familiar theme music). The story follows the familiar pattern, albeit with a distinct Turkish twist, as Demir passes himself off as a human by posing as a mild-mannered reporter, all to the confusion of pretty Lois Lane -- I mean, pretty Alev, who works in his office. Bad guy Erken is devising a way to develop kryptonite, or at least something like it, and Superman fights with lots and lots of people. Furniture gets smashed, firearms get smacked out of villains' flailing hands, and things blow up real small. A blast from start to finish, this is inventive, trademark-smashing fun all the way, right down to the rear-projection doll on a string representing our hero in flight.

One of the most often-cited Turkish films (along with its fellow imitations of Star Wars and Star Trek), this title has been widely available on bootleg video for years but never in anything resembling a watchable form. Onar's version still obviously looks a bit ragged and bleached out, but it's light years ahead in terms of quality and a thankfully adequate presentation. Presented in full frame and looking fine that way, the film is in Turkish only with optional English or Greek subtitles.

The co-feature offered here has only a marginal Superman connection, but it's still a doozy. Demir Yumruk: Devler Geliyor (translated here as Iron Fist: The Giants Are Coming) is a madcap and surprisingly perverse superhero outing, with heroic Enver -- sort of a Superman/Batman mash-up with fewer abilities than either -- squaring off against one of the most memorable villains you'll ever see, a black-haired, cackling, razor-nailed Fu Manchu transvestite in a wheelchair. There's some story nonsense about finding a sacred dagger that leads to treasure and whatnot, but mostly the film hops from one goofy action sequence to another with some light bondage, laughably artifical fights, and florid dialogue providing tons of entertainment.

Shot in black and white (despite its reputed production year of 1973, this looks like something from the late '60s), this one is taken from a preexisting video master and looks like it. Picture quality is okay but on the soft side, at least avoiding the pitfalls of VHS bootlegs from ages past. Once again the Turkish audio can be played with optional English or Greek subtitles. Extras include a new video interview with Tolgar (who seems to fluctuate in his opinion about his contribution to Superman cinema, though he certainly produced a more enduring and intelligent work than Superman III), bios and filmographies for the key players, photo galleries, and a slew of Turkish trailers including the Kilink cycle and one-offs featuring familiar characters like Zorro and Tarzan. Only 1200 copies are in circulation, so grab one fast!

Color, 1973, 80m. / Directed by T. Fikret Uçak / Starring Aytekin Akkaya, Yavuz Selekman, Dogan Tamer, Deniz Erkanat / Onar (Greek R0 PAL)

One of the most outrageous Turkish superhero bashes imaginable, 3 Dev Adam (3 Mighty Men, but better known in grey market circles as Captain America and Santa vs. Spider-Man) manages to throw no less than three well-known action figures into a mad stew of a plot that barely makes sense but delivers non-stop thrills all the same. However, this Spider-Man isn't the heroic webslinger most people know and love; here he's a crazy, misogynist bastard who cooks up wild criminal schemes when he isn't busy killing lovely women in the most gruesome manner possible. First seen driving a motorboat's rudder into the face of a woman buried up to the neck on a beach, he doesn't seem to have any particular superhero powers; instead he offs his opponents using any means available, whether it be stabbing, karate squads, strangulation with a showerhead hose, or in the funniest scene, pinning a big tube against a man's face and dumping a hungry guinea pig inside. Fortunately two leaders in the fight for truth and justice, Captain America (Akkaya) and Santo (Selekman), are hot on Spidey's trail with the aid of the police chief (Tamer), following both his penchant for using antiques for nefarious purposes and tailing his equally unscrupulous girlfriend, fashion model Nadia (Erkanat). Much fighting ensues, with a mind-bending finale in which the arch-villain reveals a nasty trick up his sleeve that sends the blood flying wall-to-wall.

Whew! To say this movie is out of its mind really doesn't come close to conveying the sheer, giddy madness of watching Turkish actors in superhero outfits gouging people to death, swinging around in the air, and karate-chopping the supporting cast. Though it looks like it was shot for about five dollars, 3 Dev Adam packs in non-stop entertainment during its compact running time, and Spidey makes a truly unique villian bordering on sheer blasphemy for American comic book fans. (His wild eyebrows are a nice touch, too.)

Omar Films had a tough act to follow with its marvelous Kilink releases, but they've certainly raised the bar with this very welcome release. A disclaimer at the beginning notes that the opening 16 seconds only survive courtesy of a dupey-looking Greek VHS tape, but otherwise the film is sourced from a superior tape source that looks a couple of generations ahead of the bootlegs floating around. It's nothing close to pristine, of course, but at least this puppy still survives in any condition whatsoever. Better yet, this marks the first official release with optional English subtitles! (Greek subtitles are included as well.) Now all the crazy plot twists at least come within the remote vicinity of making sense, though viewers may still want to switch 'em off and make up their own dialogue just for kicks.

As for extras, director Uçak (who bowed out after this film, apparently realizing there was nowhere left to go) pops up for an entertaining half-hour video interview in which he talks about the making of the film and the '70s Turkish film industry. Then actors Akkaya and Tamer get their own interviews, in which they cover the basics of their careers and reflect on the golden age of copyright-puncturing Turkish cinema. Also included are some static extras, namely bios for Uçak and Akkaya and a still gallery, but the real joy here is a batch of trailers; apart from two previously-released Kilink previews, you get the appetizing Superman romp, Demir Yumruk, Devler Geliyor, and two staggering horror titles due for an Omar double bill, the B&W gothic Oluler Konusmaz Ki and the astounding Turkish giallo homage, Aska Susayanlar Seks Ve Cinayet. Grab it now while you can; there's only 1200 of these puppies in circulation!

B&W, 1967, 70m. / Directed by Yilmaz Atadeniz / Starring Yildirim Gencer, Pervin Par, Irfan Atasoy, Feridun Colgecen

B&W, 1967, 71m. / Directed by Yilmaz Atadeniz / Starring Yildirim Gencer, Irfan Atasoy, Pervin Par

B&W, 1967, 50m. / Directed by Yilmaz Atadeniz / Starring Yildirim Gencer, Sevda Nur, Suzan Avci / Onar (Greek R0 PAL)

A perfect introduction to the utterly mad world of Turkish pulp cinema, the three-film Kilink series from 1967 smashes together every Western comic book superhero device into a delirious, budget-impaired cornucopia of sex and violence that must be seen to be believed. The first entry, Kilink Istanbul'da ("Kilink in Istanbul"), opens with the skeleton-costumed archvillain, Kilink (Gencer), raised from the dead in an elaborate ceremony by his followers. As good as new, he embarks on a rampage of death and destruction to achieve his ultimate goal: utter world domination! Meanwhile Professor Maxwell (Colgecen) and his son-in-law, Orhan (Atasoy), are embroiled in the mastermind's plans when Kilink kills Orhan's father. Luckily Orhan is visited at dad's grave by a Norse-looking god who endows him with magical powers; namely, if the young man says "Shazam," he turns into Superman ("Uçan Adam"), complete with a license-defying costume. Keeping his identity a secret, our hero faces off against the bullet-defying Kilink, who kidnaps and torments every woman in sight and, with the aid of his assistants (who wear big K's on their shirts to keep things clear), arranges a big showdown in his secret seaside lair.

In classic serial style, the next two films, Kilink Uçan Adama Karsi ("Kilink vs. Superman") and Kilink Soy Ve Oldür ("Kilink Strip & Kill"), pick up in true serial fashion with elabroate recaps of the first film, as Kilink and Superman continue their rivalry in mostly nonsensical fashion. Unleashing a massive flamethrower, vicious pistol-whippings, and other pandemonium on the poor citizens of Turkey. The third film pretty much jettisons the Superman angle and tries to give Kilink some redeeming qualities, as he reenacts Yojimbo by getting in between two rival gangs and avenges the death of a young woman's husband.

Gleefully defying anything resembling copyright restrictions, the Kilink films somehow manage to make something new and exciting from successful action films and comics from the past decades, right down to the library music score which liberally quotes from John Barry's most familiar James Bond themes. Everything moves so fast and furious that most viewers won't care when the plot doesn't make sense, and even the loss of some crucial footage near the end of the second film is adequately smoothed-over by some handy stills and narration to make sense of it all (years before Series 7!).

Unfortunately film preservation isn't a high priority for Turkish films, many of which now exist only in antiquated video masters after the original elements were chucked out. The first Kilink film (released on its own DVD) fares the worst of the bunch, with efforts made to preserve the surviving Betacam master as well as possible. The print is scratched to hell and back, but the ragged condition doesn't really detract from the immense joy of the feature itself. The first film features optional English and Greek subtitles, plus filmographies (including mouth-watering descriptions of eight more genre-bending films in which Kilink goes up against characters like Django and Frankenstein!), a photo gallery, and trailers for the amazing-looking 3 Dev Adam, Super Adam, and Supermen Donuyor. Someone get these out on DVD, please!

The next two features are paired up on another DVD, with Superman faring the best of the bunch thanks to a fresh transfer from much better elements. The hit-and-miss photography tends to blow out the white levels in a few scenes, but otherwise it looks great. The third film suffers from lots of scuffs and scratches, but again, it's a miracle the thing even exists now at all. Extras are more plentiful here, including two great video interviews in Turkish with optional English or Greek subtitles. Director Yilmaz Atadeniz talks for half an hour about the vagaries of Turkish filmmaking, the execution of the series' more ridiculous stunts, and the growing international popularity of Turkish superhero films, while Atasoy (now a theater owner) talks about his various roles through the years and his opinion of the moviegoing public. Also included is the trailer for Kilink Istanbul'da, plus the three Superman trailers from the previous DVD. The set is rounded out with a photo gallery, an Atasoy filmography, an Atadeniz bio, and an additional text interview with the director.

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