Adventurous film lovers can always rely on Mondo Macabro to expose them to something weird and wonderful like the nutty Indonesian fantasy adventure The Warrior (1981) starring Barry Prima or the diabolically creepy Queens of Evil (1970), an Italian supernatural thriller. Occasionally MM also releases some killer double features such as the twin pairing of the vampire tale Bandh Darwaza (1990) and Purana Mandir (1984) featuring a baby-eating fiend; both of which are featured in Volume 1 of their Bollywood Horror Collection. Still, my favorite double bill from the maverick DVD/Blu-ray outfit is a double dose of Turkish pop cinema that pairs Tarkan vs. the Vikings (1971, aka Tarkan Viking kani), with The Deathless Devil (1973, aka Yilmayan seytan).
The former is a barbarian-filled romp with plenty of gratuitous violence, sex and female nudity, and the latter is a secret agent/superhero actioner. Both films were made at the height of the Turkish film boom in the late sixties/early seventies before a failing economy shut down the studios in the early eighties. Clearly influenced by comic books and Western culture, both films are representative of Turkey’s national cinema at the time which was turning out populist entertainments, not art films.
Of the two films on display here, Tarkan vs. the Vikings is the real wild card. The movie, which was based on a popular Turkish comic strip, was clearly influenced by Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings (1958) right down to a recreation of the famous Kirk Douglas-eye-pecking-by-Falcon scene. It also owes a great debt to Robert E. Howard’s fantasy epic Conan the Barbarian, Italian “Hercules” movies, the pulp novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sax Rohmer and even the films of Rin Tin Tin.
Directed by former-actor-turner director Mehmet Aslan, Tarkan vs. the Vikings follows the exploits of Tarkan (Kartal Tibet), a fearless Hun who travels alone with his two dogs but is ever loyal to his country’s leader Attila. When the evil Viking chieftain Toro (Bilal Inci) and his bloodthirsty hordes invade the land and kidnap Attila’s daughter Yonca (Fatma Belgen), Tarkan rushes to the rescue but is seriously wounded in the attack and his favorite dog/best friend Kurt is killed. Vowing revenge, Tarkan pursues Toro with Kurt junior and along the way encounters a treacherous Chinese seductress, a man-eating giant octopus, and a Viking princess named Ursula (Eva Bender) who wants to avenge Toro’s murder of her father.
The film bounds breathlessly from one cliffhanging sequence to the next while playing up the Vikings’ villainy at every opportunity. In one battle sequence, a Viking holds a Hun baby with one arm while he uses the other to hack at it with a small axe and then tosses it away like a bundle of dirty laundry. In case you don’t get the picture, these guys are real badasses. But not to worry because the violence is so hilariously faked and over the top that it becomes quite endearing in its eagerness to please. Women are dangled over snake pits by their braided hair, hatchets buried in heads become a commonplace sight. It’s hard to decide which is funnier – the blatantly unauthorized music cues from other films (Ennio Morricone spaghetti western scores, Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” from 2001: A Space Odyssey), the pathetic octopus that is showcased in four major scenes (it clearly has inflation issues and looks even less animated than the one Ed Wood used in Bride of the Monster, 1955) or the tacky costumes; the men, in particular, don’t look too menacing in their gaily colored fur boots, winged helmets and bejeweled wrist muffs.
Toro, the chief villain, is easily the most flamboyant of all and appears to be sporting a fake mustache and blond wig while proudly exhibiting the slightly paunchy physique of a middle-aged man. He also gets some of the best lines. Ogling his female prisoner Yonca he promises, “Later I will feast on your splendid body” and after feeding a victim to the sea monster, he turns to his Chinese mistress and says, “Did you enjoy my show?” “Horrible,” she replies, “You are very wild and cruel.” “You’re afraid of me?” he asks. “Not at all. I like it,” she shoots back. He grunts approvingly.
In comparison, Tarkan, the film’s hero played by Kartal Tibet, is not nearly as colorful but he does get his fair share of action scenes – swordfights, acrobatic brawls, leaps from great heights and some underwater wrestling. He briefly pauses for a romantic interlude too but is clearly more devoted to his dogs as evidenced by his funeral for Kurt: “You were my everything. No human being could be as kind, as loyal and true as you were.” Tibet was so popular in the role that he appeared in several Tarkan adventures (this one is supposedly the fourth installment).
The second feature, The Deathless Devil, is directed by Yilmaz Atadeniz and introduces us to the daring Tekin (Kunt Tulgar), who was as equally popular as Tarkan but in an entirely different genre. Like some ultra-low-budget rip-off of a James Bond adventure, the plot features a dastardly villain – Dr. Seytan (Erol Tas) – who plans to rule the world with an army of robots. First he has to outwit and subdue Tekin, who discovers early in the film that his real father was the famous “Copperhead,” the silver-masked avenger who fought crime and left little snake emblems beside his dead enemies as calling cards. Unfortunately, Tekin is often accompanied by his sidekick Bitik (Erol Gunaydin) who functions as the comic relief and likes to dress up as Sherlock Holmes, complete with deerstalker hat, pipe and plaid overcoat.
The scenes with Bitik are truly painful to endure. If Jerry Lewis’s imbecilic sense of humor drives you insane, wait till you get a load of this guy. What is hilarious is Dr. Seytan who looks like Saddam Hussein with extra bushy eyebrows and a Fu Manchu mustache. Erol Tas specialized in larger-than-life villains like Dr. Seytan for much of his career but he also appeared in serious dramas like Dry Summer (aka Susuz Yaz, 1964), which was restored through the efforts of The Film Foundation World Cinema Project and distributed by The Criterion Collection.
The real scene-stealer in The Deathless Devil though is not Tekin in his “Copperhead” mask but an incredibly clunky robot that looks like it wandered in out of a 1940s serial. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it the goofiest, most inept-looking robot in the history of cinema. But it all makes sense when you read the DVD production notes on The Deathless Devil which state that the 1940 serial, The Mysterious Dr. Satan, was indeed an inspiration and as serial buffs know the robots in that picture were the gold standard until Robby came along in Forbidden Planet in 1956. Even the hero of The Mysterious Dr. Satan is a masked avenger known as Copperhead!
While The Deathless Devil has moments of inspired lunacy, it suffers in comparison to Tarkan vs. the Vikings. There are far too many interior scenes shot on cheap, makeshift sets, and the general ineptness of the entire enterprise, amusing at first can become tiresome. It’s actually better to watch this one in 20-minute installments like an old movie serial.
As for the visual quality of both films, they both look much better than you’d expect after reading Mondo Macabro’s disclaimer or having seen any of the more famous Turkish bootleg titles on VHS such as the Star Wars rip-off, Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam (1982). The transfers are not half bad considering the original condition of the films and, actually, we’re lucky to see them at all since so many Turkish films negatives were destroyed for their silver.
Other than the well-researched background notes on both films, the only other significant extra on Mondo Macabro’s DVD is a highly entertaining featurette, “Turkish Pop Cinema,” which provides a brief overview of the Turkish film industry. Interviews with actors such as Behcet Nacar, Aytekin Ajjaya, Daniela Giordano and George Arkin (the biggest star in Turkey, comparable to Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn) are interspersed with wild clips from Karamurat, the Sultan’s Warrior (1973), the fantasy epic, Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam (1982) and scenes of a skeleton-like costumed avenger named Kilink in a series of fantasy films (based on the Italian comic Satanik). Maybe Mondo Macabro will honor us with a release of Kilink Istanbul ‘Da (1967) or Kizil Maske (1968) in the near future.
Unfortunately, the Tarkan/Devil double feature, which was originally released on DVD in October 2005, is now out of print and has been discontinued by the manufacturer. Perhaps you can still find used copies of it from online sellers if you want a crash course in Turkish pop cinema.
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