Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tarkan vs. the Vikings (1971): A Visual Review

Look, folks, I'm no historian. There's lots I don't know about The Past, and I'm particularly shaky on what life was like at the height of the Ancient Turkish and Norse cultures. It's a failing, I realize.

For instance, I don't know whether, as Attila the Hun's army rampaged across Asia, the Emperor of China sent his daughter and a small squadron of warriors to forge an alliance with the Vikings in order to kidnap Attila's daughter from her home village in Turkey. I don't know whether the Vikings of that era built huge castles on the Mediterranean, complete with iron-barred dungeons, spring-loaded portcullises, and Roman-style marble baths. I don't know if Vikings had the knowledge of marine biology necessary to domesticate a giant octopus and use it to get rid of their enemies. I don't know whether the Vikings invented the bikini brief. And I've got no idea whether ancient Norway had a huge population of wild Muppets, the skins of which the Vikings used to decorate their armor, drums, weaponry, and just about everything else.

But I'll tell you this: after watching Tarkan vs. the Vikings, one of the grand historical epics of 1970s Turkish cinema--I WANT TO BELIEVE.

Franzetta the Hun

Tarkan (Kartal Tibet) is a loner hero in the Conan the Barbarian mold, a near-invincible Hun Turk who for some reason was left behind in Turkey when his lord Attila left to conquer the known world. Along with his two German Shepherds wolves, Kurt and Kurt Jr., he serves as the bodyguard of Yonca (Fatma Belgen), Attila's daughter, accompanying her to at a Hun village/stone fortress (?) on the banks of the Mediterranean. The early part of the movie is spent establishing Tarkan's extremely close relationship with his dogs, demanding that they be served at the same table and with the same food he is. He's particularly proud of the elder Kurt, who has seen many battles with him and "is raising his son like a good Turk!" Which apparently involves mastering some very complicated rules for table etiquette. Who knew the Huns were such sticklers?

Unbeknownst to the Turks, renegade Viking general Toro (Bilal Inci) is en route, bringing Hell with him in the form of a few dozen galley slaves, several badly wigged Viking warriors, and Dragon-Lady extraordinaire Lotus (Seher Seniz), the daughter of the Chinese Emperor. Apparently His Earthly Godhead has decided to hit Attila where it hurts by kidnapping Yonca and holding her ransom, and further figures the best way to do that is to utilize the military might of the Norsemen. Beating their oarsmen like dusty carpets, the Vikings pull into the harbor and set the fur a'flying! And when I use that term, I mean it more literally than you can imagine.

Once Sesame Street: Mongolia was cancelled, Cookie Monster and Elmo were never seen again.

Vikings: Hard as Nails, Furry as Fuck

To the victor go the shag toilet covers

A fierce battle follows, as the Vikings show why you can't judge a warrior by his hilariously fluffy shield:

Split ends used to be a much bigger problem

One of at least two babies gutted in this scene

In a surprising turn of events, Tarkan the Hero is brought down Boromir-style by a hail of Viking arrows, leaving his faithful dogs to carry on the battle. Kurt and Kurt fight bravely, but unfortunately the elder wolf is skewered by Toro's pom-pommed spear. With Tarkan out of the fight, the rest of the Hun Turks fall like dominoes, and the Viking/Chinese alliance heads back to Norway with all their gold, their surviving women, and Yonca the Hunette lashed to the mast.

It takes more than a couple of arrows to put Tarkan down for good, however, and with the help of Kurt Jr. he's soon bandaging his wounds and burying his fallen lupine brother. At Kurt Sr.'s grave, Tarkan swears eternal vengeance on every Viking unfortunate enough to cross his path. Showing the soul of a poet, the fierce man of war says goodbye to his friend:
Farewell, Kurt--
We are together no more.
No more will you run
beside my horse across the steppes!
You were my everything;
No human being could be as kind,
as loyal and true as you were.
You were dearer to me than anything
And now you are no more.

But I will avenge you--
I will live for revenge!
As long as this spear stands here,
May the whole world know:
Blood will flow and no Viking head
will be safe from my sword
Until the blood of my brother Kurt
is avenged.
It's such a moving extemporaneous work of art, even Kurt Jr. is moved to tears:

"If you prick me, do I not bleed?"

Tarkan says nothing about the dozens of Hun babies and women the Vikings also left steaming on a bed of their own coiled entrails, but hey, some folks is just dog people.

Meanwhile, back at Viking HQ, King Gero is wondering WTF Toro was thinking picking a fight with the Huns. ("Dude, have you SEEN those guys? You don't wear a mouth-corner moustache and topknot like that and NOT be a badass!") Thoroughly disgruntled, Toro and his men quickly usurp the Viking throne, and feed the deposed monarch to their pet sea-monster and totem, a GIANT FUCKING OCTOPUS. In a scene that clearly influenced the Kraken sequence in Ray Harryhausen's Clash of the Titans, watery tentacled death comes for the king.




You'd think a rubber sea monster with a poorly-inflated head would not be that terrible of harbinger of doom, but nonetheless he gets the job done:




Inside the Vikings get rapey on the Turk women while New King Toro relaxes in his marble hot tub--which I'm sure came standard in all Viking fortresses, right?

It's good to be Vi-King

Lotus seduces the new monarch into a little Oriental lovin', then drugs his mead and steals a ship, taking the Hun Princess right out from under his nose! Though since it seemed like the Emperor getting Yonca was part of the original deal anyway, this was kind of unnecessary. Still, Toro is kind of a jerk, so I guess he deserved it.

The Chinese sail back to Turkey, for some reason, and hole up at an inn where it just so happens Tarkan is also spending the night. When the Viking pursuit catches up to Lotus, Tarkan's intense hatred for anything in a horny cap comes to the fore, and he quickly destroys them all, gaining Lotus's thanks and respect. Of course he doesn't know that Yonca is right upstairs, struggling against sexy, sexy bonds.

This is the way all my dates end.

Lotus of course remembers Tarkan from the previous battle, but upon learning about his blood-oath against the Norsemen, shrewdly figures it's better to let him slaughter as many of them as he can while she and her dwindling supply of guards make good their escape. So she does her best to keep the warrior happy, which of course can only mean one thing.

"Ooh, baby, you give good hilt!"

Unfortunately another group of Vikings shows up, and since Tarkan has been drugged by Lotus as well (as well as the Princess of China, she's also the Queen of Roofia, apparently), both the putative Empress and Yonca are taken back to Norway. Once he recovers, he rents a rowboat from a local fisherman and gives chase.

Yes, he's rowing from Turkey to Norwary, in a DINGHY. And don't think he can't do it either!

Except that he can't.

Dog Tired

The Vikings spot him adrift and pick him up, thinking they need a little more horsepower in the slave galley. They leave Kurt adrift, but the canny canine swims after them, somehow jumps from the water to the boat, sneaks past all the Vikings and frees Tarkan, who then leads a slave revolt and commandeers the ship. The slaves all swear fealty and want to be his army, but since Tarkan always rides alone, he instead dives into the water and swims the rest of the way to Norway.

Kurt goes along, but doesn't seem too happy about it.

Meanwhile, back at the Viking castle, King Gero's daughter Ursula (Eva Bender) and her ARMY OF FUCKING VALKYRIES have shown up, wondering what (the fuck) happened to dear old dad. Ursula rejected Toro at some time in the past, and he's still steamed about it. To gain closure, he drives Ursula's army back to their ships, captures Ursula herself, and tries to feed her to the octopus as well.

What does a Turkish version of a Norse Warrior Woman look like? I'm so glad you asked.

A Norsewoman's Sternum Never Gets Cold

It looks like Ursula's done for, but lucky for her she's always been kind to the Keeper of the Inflatable Octopus, Orso (or as I like to call him, EEGAH), who rescues her at the last moment and takes her back to her army. On the beach she meets Tarkan, convinces him that they have the same enemy, and before you know it it's time for an all-out castle attack!

A detailed synopsis of what happens next would take pages upon pages. Instead, I'll sum up: Tarkan is captured at least twice, but since the Vikings apparently also invented Dr. Evil-style super-villainy, they never put him to the sword--instead they put him in incredibly ornate traps from which he's unfailingly rescued by Kurt, who seems at this point to be the real brains of the operation. There's a mead-hall orgy complete with blade-throwing-for-accuracy, Viking Trampoline Torture, and wine served from a different kind of juggz. There's a huge battle, Kurt rescues Tarkan from the octopus, and then is himself rescued by his master, the Valkyries storm the castle, and the final boss battle occurs, ending with Tarkan diving off the wall of the castle into the water after the man what killed his doggie.

Please enjoy the following scenes from the aforementioned plot happenings.

He doesn't know yet, but the hawk pissed in his skull-cup.

"If you mention Arch Hall Jr. again, I'm feeding you your nutsack."

Maybe He's Born With It

Their relationship was perfect: torture the innocents, have wild sex, then sip Mochacinos and swap tips on wiggery.

Corey Feldman: He Hates Vikings

"Tell me the truth: does this Muppet pelt make my butt look big?"

"I have to push the pram a loooooooot!"

"...in the Name of Love!"

Ancinet Bikini Briefs

Yonca is not amused

Kurt the Wonder Dog to the Rescue

The rock formations in the lagoon were surprisingly regular

Anachronistic? Probably. ZANG? Definitely.

The first day of the post-Easter Fur Sale was always a madhouse.


So Tarkan vs. the Vikings is NOT a good movie. The acting is terrible, the shadow of the crew is a constant companion, the sets and costumes are absolutely antagonistic toward historical propriety, and the plot makes little if any sense.

However, as my good friend Samuel Wilson of the excellent blog MONDO 70: A WILD WORLD OF CINEMA pointed out on the comments of this review, "Insofar as it's possible, the law for enjoyable bad movies is 'more!' " And by that standard, it's hard to imagine a more enjoyable bad movie than this one. The fight scenes are poorly choreographed but incredibly energetic, the plot machinations just keep getting nuttier the longer it goes on, and there's a rather endearing macho earnestness to the whole thing that I found charming. (To say nothing of the amazing wigs on those Viking warriors.) And let's face it--any movie that has three characters AND A DOG going all Bela Lugosi on a rubber octopus in a shallow lagoon is going to please any bad movie fan worth his salt.

So there you have it. Most people will hate this movie or else shut it off after 15 minutes in a state of befuddled blankness. But for those who like this sort of thing, there's nothing not to like. 3 thumbs for the most fun I've had watching a movie in a while. If you get a chance to grab the Mondo Macabro release, do yourself a favor and call some friends over. I predict you'll have a blast.

"By Odin's Beard, Vicar! IT'S HUGE!"

Many thanks to dfordoom of Cult Movie Reviews for the most excellent movie-watching suggestion!


Samuel Wilson said...

Vicar, I have this as the B-side of THE DEATHLESS DEVIL (and there's a piece of work!) but haven't looked at it yet. You've shown me the error of my ways. This one looks like it has lots of "What's in your wallet?" moments alongside the mayhem and flayed muppetry. But to call this a turkey is surely no insult, for once. There are more Tarkan films online, and their lack of English subtitles may well enhance the experience.

Knarf Black XIV said...

Makes a great double feature with Turkish Star Wars.

Cunningham said...

You've written a lot here, but I don't think you mention this is based on a long-running turkish comic book series...


This movie has so much energy (as do most turkish genre movies) that it really is hard to find fault with it.

Mark Hodgson said...

I'm speechless. Those wigs look knitted.

The Duke of DVD said...

Truly a movie for the senses. Particularly the sense of "vomiting in fear of muppet pelts". A fantastic review, Vicar, and one that brings us once again to the forefront of "so awful it is better than 99% from Hollywood blockbusters of the last 3 decades".

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Samuel Wilson--I've clearly neglected my evangelical duties when it comes to MAD movies by hitherto not focusing more on Turkish cinema. It's a failing I mean to rectify, perhaps next with THE DEATHLESS DEVIL! After all, you've not steered us wrong yet! :)

@Knarf Black XIV--I've seen only clips from TURKISH STAR WARS, but it definitely merits further study.

@Cunningham--I didn't mention the comic book, I admit, because I didn't know about it! Thanks for the added info--and you're right about the energy of this particular Turkish film. It sweeps a viewer along--this viewer, anyway!

@Mark Hodgson--I'm willing to bet those wigs still exist in a film studio vault or storage shed somewhere in Turkey. Crafstmanship like that is impervious to decay!

@The Duke--from your lips to Odin's ears!

dfordoom said...

The most fun you'll ever have watching a movie. Unfortunately the Mondo Macabro double Turkish Pop Cinema double-movie pack (which includes this movie) is now out of print. Copies are still about. Get them now while you can.


Another great review for a movie I have never heard of but which sounds a lot like a dramatization of every D&D game I played in back in high school.

I have to try and track this movie.

Good work as always.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@dfordoom--a bold statement, but one I can't immediately refute. ;) It's hard to imagine any right-thinking person sitting down to TARKAN and *not* having a great time. Thanks again for suggesting the flick!
And yes, snap up those DVDs!

@Al Bruno III--I played D&D in high school as well, and I don't think our levels of imagination and energy even approached TARKAN.

Jose Cruz said...

Ahh, I knew there was a reason I had fallen in love with this blog. So many bad movies, but you make them sound so damned GOOD. I really enjoyed this review. This film looks all types of epic and your caption commentaries made me LOL like a 13-year-old Myspace girl. Keep up the good work and bring on the filth!

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