B-movie mavens are a passionate, peripatetic lot; ever eager for that next fix, that frisson that comes from finding the truly unusual (in the literal sense of that word) cinematic experience. The hunt is part of the thrill; anybody can go to Blockwood to find the latest punchcard production from the starmaker machinery behind the popular songs... but we ... we must go beyond the wooly mammoth herds and find the truly unusual meats.
But after awhile, one can find the favorite fields hunted out, or worse, filled with Hostel and Saw manques. You love Phil Tucker, but how many times can you watch Robot Monster and Cape Canaveral Monsters? Well, quite a lot, really, but the thirst sets in, the need for something new, something different. Thus begins the walkabout, casting one's nets in faraway waters, hoping for new joys, new perspectives. Bollywood? Horror movies with musical production numbers? Gimme! Indonesia, with homegrown horrors unheard-of in Hollywood? Gimme! Turkish super hero movies? GIMME!
Ah, Turkey. Interesting country, which I will allow smarter people than myself to explain. The most cogent point here is that due to their geographical location, Turkey's culture is an amazing, spicy mix of influences both eastern and western, a combination which makes the the familiar exotic, comfortable yet at the same time alien, off-kilter and exciting.
In a story that would be repeated over and over again worldwide, the Turkish movie business was born. Much as in Indonesia, the early 60s brought a new generation of affordable technology and film stock. A local trade once dominated by American imports was soon awash in more domestic product, and was fabulously successful for a couple of decades, before cratering completely. Sadly, as products created strictly for business reasons, most of these films are now irretrievably lost, destroyed to save on storage cost or to harvest silver in the older, black-and-white cases - and there are great swaths of world cinema history that no one will ever be able to experience again.
I fear I would dreadfully misuse time travel technology. Besides winning big at the lottery to fund the machine (of course) I would be shuttling back and forth with cans of film. This would cause the mandatory time paradox, because the films would be lost because I had them in the intervening years, but hey - eggs, omelettes, you know the drill.
Um, where was I? Oh yes, Turkish movies. Even if there were pristine copies of these movies sitting around, virgin sprockets having never seen a projector's teeth in their life, copies you would only have to wave at a blank DVD to produce a spotless copy... still, there would be problems. Problems with, um, borrowing.
The crap cineaste knows precisely of what I speak; imports often had uncredited soundtrack steals, and if you found the goings-on boring at any time, you could pass the time 'till the next kung fu fight by trying to identify the music that was playing. Off the top of my head, Master of the Flying Guillotine used Kraftwerk and Neu, Magnificent Bodyguards sampled Star Wars, and Exit the Dragon Enter the Tiger made use of "Shine on, You Crazy Diamond".
Well, it gets even more extreme with Turkish product. The most infamous example is The Man Who Saves the World, though nobody calls it that. It is more popularly known as "Turkish Star Wars" because its impressive special effects sequences are kyped from a certain movie that begins with an "S" and ends with "tar wars". I don't think there's ever going to be a DVD release of The Man Who Saves the World. Just a feeling I have.
Oh, there's more. Let us not forget 3 Dev Adam, which translates as "Three Mighty Men", in which Captain America (!) and El Santo (!!!) team up against the villainous, switchblade-wielding Spider-Man (no amount of exclamation points will do the job). My God, why didn't I think of that? Why can't we make incredible movies like this?
Oh, wait. Yeah. Copyright laws. (I just thought of another use for time travel, but refuse to incriminate myself further)
Which brings us... now that I have taken the most baroque and roundabout path possible to our subject... to The Deathless Devil aka Yilmayan Seytan, director Yilmaz Atadeniz' ode to the superhero serials of yesteryear, popular on Turkish TV. By which we mean it's a fullbody cast of an old American serial, The Mysterious Doctor Satan. While doing research for this review (yes, smartass, I actually do), I found most reviewers missed this; I certainly did when I reviewedMondo Macabro's disc for Attack of the 50 Foot DVD. We can be forgiven, I think, since it must be admitted that Dr. Satan was a fairly minor star in the serial firmament - as far as I know, its hero, the Copperhead, never made another movie.
Which rather begs the question... how does one take a 12 chapter serial an boil it down to an 84 minute movie. Yes, I know, they did that for TV all the time, but those were largely incomprehensible... oh, wait....
Okay, so. The movie begins with a rich guy handing a scientist guy (hence, the Professor) a check to, I guess, develop his new invention. They are joined by the Professor's daughter, Sevgi (Mine Mutlu) and, God help us, the film's Odious Comic Relief, Bitik (Erol Gunaydin). The two new arrivals are asked if they know the location of the rich man's son, Tekin, and Bitik answers, "Oh, you know Tekin..." and then begins to mime a comedy fight scene. Instead of knocking the man to ground and forcing a stick between his teeth, everyone instead laughs, feeling this is a fine jest, and, dammit, encouraging Bitik to carry on for the rest of the movie.
It is exposited that a scientist is coming from America to talk about the invention, and in the next scene we see a foreign-looking gentlemen ... yes, I suppose a Yank in a Turkish movie should look foreign ... is killed with a thrown knife. Arriving on the scene too late is Tekin (the unfortunately-named Kunt Tulgar), who finds out that the cops know nothing. He then goes to tell his dad, who is a hell of a sleuth, since he realizes that the murder must be the handiwork of...DOK-TOR SEY-TAN! He then reveals that Tekin is only his adopted son. He is actually the son of a masked crimefighter called The Copperhead, who was killed by ... DOK-TOR SEY-TAN. He hands Tekin his father's mask and a copper snake figurine, and tells him to fight for justice. Truly, this is THE EASIEST ORIGIN STORY OF ALL TIME.
In something of a daze, Tekin leaves the office, and the knifethrower from the earlier scene sneaks in and stabs the unsuspecting (and oblivious) secretary. He then enters the rich man's office to deliver a letter from DOK-TOR SEY-TAN, basically saying, "You've crossed me too many times, PS, Look out behind you." Stabbity stab stab, in an excellent piece of ham actor death-scene technique.
Entering the office is Tekin, who apparently missed the secretary in the outer room lying in a pool of her own blood. Following is a thrilling fight scene... you remember how, in the serials, it always looked like the actors were making up the fight on the spot, the action was barely controlled and looked a little dangerous? That was likely the case, and the same modus operandi is followed here... in fact, Tekin apparently punches the guy through a wall at one point, because suddenly they're fighting on the roof. Tekin threatens to drop the thug off the edge if he doesn't confess, then (I guess) throws him back through that hole, because we're in the office again.
Rich guy's high-tech reel-to-reel recorder was on the whole time, so the thug's confession is soon played to the police. The thug also reveals that he is forced to wear a device around his chest by DOK-TOR SEY-TAN, which allows the villain to monitor his every move, and kill him if need be. It also has a speaker, since DOK-TOR SEY-TAN's voice rings through the office, "You have said too much!" and throws a switch in his lair, setting off a flash pot behind the thug's chair, killing him instantly.
Now, it must be admitted that DOK-TOR SEY-TAN is a great villain. I can't find the actor's name with any reliability, but he is obviously relishing this role. He's a large, imposing fellow, moves well, and has a good, hearty I'm-a-bad-guy-and-enjoy-my-work laugh. During most of the movie he seems to be wearing Dr. Strange's tunic... although often with a plain black jacket over it. Perhaps this is symbolic of the evil pall he casts over all in his domain, or it was just cold on the set that day. To top it all off, he has Josef Stalin's moustache, so you know he's really, really evil. Really.
The inspector puts Tekin and Bitik on the case. One of the many things that must be taken on faith in Deathless Devil is whatever the hell Tekin does for a living. I think he is a policeman, but l what sort of police department would knowingly employ Bitik? Especially when he announces he is going to put on his Sherlock Holmes costume to aid in solving the case. Yes, Bitik will be wearing a floppy komedy deerstalker the rest of the picture. If you weren't rooting for DOK-TOR SEY-TAN before....
I need to point out that all this is in the first seven minutes of the movie. The rest of the picture will play out at this breakneck speed... it is breathlessly determined to be entertaining.
The Professor demonstrates his invention to a military guy; it's a "Control bulb" that allows him to control any machinery - in this case, an aeroplane - at a great distance. He even causes the plane to bomb an abandoned shed by remote control. Then another plane starts following the test plane - observed by the Professor on his TV monitor, which must be connected to a truly impressive array of cameras... and a guy is lowered onto the test plane, and breaks in to steal the control bulb. Fortunately, the new Copperhead stowed away on the test plane, and defeats him handily.
Alright, let's face facts - the whole test sequence on the Professor's (conveniently) black-and-white monitor was lifted wholesale from the original Mysterious Doctor Satan, explaining why the Professor's remote cameras had their own DP and editor. If Roger Corman were to watch The Deathless Devil, for whatever reason, this sequence alone would have him nodding in approval.
And so it goes, setup after setup. You can practically tell where the chapter breaks would have been; Bitik gets captured by the bad guys, and though they do not listen to us and blow his brains out (well, admittedly, that might have improved his mugging), they drug him and use him as a zombie (wearing one of the Death Belts) to convince the Professor to surrender himself and his notes. Given that this shuts Bitik up for nearly ten minutes, I am still solidly on the side of DOK-TOR SEY-TAN.
The captive Professor convinces one of the thugs to help him by a) offering him a pay raise and b) deactivating his Death Belt. All very well and good, until DOK-TOR SEY-TAN uses his KEELER ROBUT to crush the turncoat. The Professor's control bulb, we are told, will be used to control an army of KEELER ROBUTS to - yes, that is correct - RULE THE WORLD!
We will now pause for some evil laughter.
There are some goofy death traps and a few setpieces the picture doesn't quite have the budget to pull off; things come treacherously close to unraveling in the last five minutes, in which raiding police are magically captured offscreen and Copperhead and the Professor must rescue them by doing... something. (The characters seem to be as mystified as me about what happened). But what the heck - this is not Indiana Jones, and I doubt this flick even had the budget of the original Dr. Satan. It moves like a dangerously rickety freight train headed downhill with no brakes, disaster always threatening but never quite arriving. Until the very end, which is stunningly bizarre, made no less so by the use of the proto-electronica song Popcorn, which I had not seen misused since Shriek of the Mutilated. I have spent worst hour-and-a-halfs recently.
There is a contagious can-do attitude about The Deathless Devil. There is a sort of enthusiasm, a "let's put on a show" vibe going on here. Director Atadeniz bewails the Cardboard Robot (not really cardboard, but you know what I mean) in the Mondo Macabro documentary, but really: compare it to the one in the original Dr. Satan trailer. It holds up well, even if it is surprisingly svelte - I mean, the oval body looks more like an enormous car muffler than anything. Interesting design choice. A more, um.... realistic, I suppose... robot would have spoiled the fun.
And I tell you this: Silent Running and Star Wars may have advanced celluloid robot technology notably, but that is not necessarily a good thing. There hasn't been a good Cardboard Robot in years... decades, even. And that, my friends, is far more injurious to me than a dozen Bitiks.
Add another Bitik, though, and there's gonna be trouble.
Family Fun ... except for that topless scene, of course.
- February 29, 2008