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.
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.
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--It's such a moving extemporaneous work of art, even Kurt Jr. is moved to tears:
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Many thanks to dfordoom of Cult Movie Reviews for the most excellent movie-watching suggestion!
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010
I had never heard of director/novelist/playwright Mario Mercier before I came across a copy of his 1974 movie La Papesse (aka A Woman Possessed), but what I saw in my initial viewing of this extraordinary film was enough to make me curious enough to go digging. A writer whose work was censored mightily in France upon its publication, Mercier was a spiritualist and eroticist whose tales of witchcraft, necrophilia, and sexual cruelty earned it comparisons to the work of the Marquis de Sade, specifically his infamous magnum opus 120 Days of Sodom (the inspiration for the just-as-infamous film adaptation Salò by Pier Paolo Pasolini). According to this excellent article on Esotika Film's website, the Censure Française thought just as little of Mercier's work in filmmaking, banning La Papesse from the start and calling it “nothing but an uninterrupted succession of scenes of sadism, torture and violence, and a total and permanent disregard for humanity, displayed in a crude and revolting fashion.”
Looking back from our perch on the apex of filmic cruelty here in 2010 such a pronouncement might seem a little quaint--the violence and torture on display is nothing compared to what goes on today, or even in American films of the same era (*cough*Texas Chain Saw Massacre*cough*). What the censorial board missed--and what Mad Movie Fans will appreciate, I hope--is that Mercier's film is a sexy, surrealism-tinged journey into a dark fairy tale that kept me fascinated and thinking about it long after the end credits.
Also: lots of boobs.
Laurent (Jean-François Delacour) is a frustrated artist, and like many artists in the 70s is not averse to wandering off the beaten path in search of inspiration. As it turns out these searchings--as they so often do in cases like this--lead directly to the hairy feet of SATAN. "Somewhere in the world," the narrator tells us, Laurent discovers "a cult whose ancient origins spawned in night." In the opening scene he is being initiated to this cult by Iltra (the gorgeous and enigmatic Geziale) and her henchmen Borg and Steve. The ceremony involves being buried up to his neck in a fire-ringed pit and having a bucket of snakes dumped on his head! Laurent screams like a little girl, which apparently does little to cement his cult-member status.
Back home, Larent gets into a dinnertime squabble with his fed-up red-haired wife Aline (Lisa Livane, I think), who's had it up to here with his pretentions to a "life of magic and spectacle!" Laurent thinks marriage should be "a rubber band, not a chain," a view Aline surprisingly doesn't share. Perhaps still smarting from his serpentine sissiness, Laurent decidees to man up and lay down the law: "Either enter my world, or I'll eliminate you!" Realizing too late that statements of this nature are likely to result in neither sex nor sammiches, Laurent storms off for his next cultish ordeal.
It's here we get our first taste of Mercier's transgressive sexual ideas: in an eerie, dreamlike wastescape, Laurent is strapped to a cross and brutally whipped by Borg till he passes out from the pain. At the same time Aline is plagued by BDSM nightmares, seeing herself similarly crucified (nude, naturally) and flogged by a group of gray-robed Inquisitors. Through the aura of a vaseline-smeared lens, Aline is taunted by her torturers--"Look, doggie, at the exit that awaits you!"--and then inexplicably aged 50 years before she wakes up in a sexy sweat, thankful it was all a horrible (?) dream. The whip-stripes on her back, however, tell a different story.
Witch Queen equal parts Rollin vamp and Meyer babe. "You have a nervous woman--she will make an excellent subject!" the queen tells Laurent, and just like that we've shifted our focus from the crybaby painter to his reserved but much more interesting life partner.
Back home, Aline wanders into the woods and is beseiged by visions of malicious nature spirits and then chased by a couple of mysterious thieves, in a scene that reminded me strongly of the dreamlike imagery in Lemora: a Child's Tale of the Supernatural and Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. She stumbles back to the house where Laurent and Iltra are waiting for her. "I can't stay alone here, in this shack of misfortune!" she cries, and it just so happens Iltra knows a place where she can stay instead...
Aline is installed in the cult's communal living space/haunted curio shop, where heads hang from hooks and random cultists tear strips of raw meat off suspiciously-shaped hams. Iltra and the Witch Queen offer Laurent a bargain--let them have his woman, and he can be one of the gang. The painter is all to happy to take that deal, and so begin Aline's trials. First she's turned out into the woods again, nearly nude, while Borg attacks her clad in gladiatorial armor! She gets the best of the skinhead, whipping him into submission with a cat o'nine tails in a scene to titillate tops and bottoms alike. Steve gets similar treatment, cementing the movie's status as a BDSM-stravaganza.
I've mentioned the dreamlike atmosphere of the piece a couple of times, but it really bears emphasizing again. Mercier expertly creates a world that starts out weird but recognizable, then slowly, inexorably spirals into the the darkest realm of fantasy and fairy tale. The weird craggy landscapes, shadowy forests, and stylized acting all combine to nudge us further and further into the dream/nightmare world in which Aline is trapped, so that by the time the REALLY weird shit starts to happen, we're more or less ready to go along for the ride.
Things go even further into BDSM Fantasy Land in the days that follow, as Aline is kept in the stable like a hog and forced to eat slop from a trough--which one of the male cultists had already pissed in for flavor. To add humiliation to...well...all that previous humiliation, Aline is then tied down, spanked viciously, and branded on the ass with a hot iron! Laurent, showing his first iota of human compassion for another person EVER, starts to feel bad about Aline's treatment, but is reassured by his Culty Mistresses: "Don't worry--she's being reformed!" Holy Story of O, Batman!
I don't know if Mercier was influenced by Vicar-fave director Jean Rollin's visual style, or their both being sex-and-fantastique-centric French directors in the 70s just meant they shared a lot of the same zeitgeist, but the cult ceremony scenes that follow reminded me very much of similar scenes in Rollin movies, specifically The Nude Vampire and Requiem for a Vampire. The cultists come down the rocky terrain bearing torches, all dressed in primary-colored robes (not as diaphanous as those Rollin favors, but still), and then cast Aline into an open grave. "In spite of you, you are our wife now!" the Witch Queen tells her, then sics the Charles Manson-esque Steve on her to consummate their "marriage." While the grave rape goes on, the cultists sacrifice a rooster (WARNING: ACTUAL CHICKEN SNUFF), and squeeze its blood into a golden chalice. Then, on cue, Steve interruptuses his coitus in order to add another kind of cock juice to the brew!
Okay, so maybe the Censure Française had a point after all.
The Witch Queen's plan becomes clear when she preaches to the group: "I have a mission to prepare the women of all races"--to be sexy, sexy overlords, apparently. (And I, for one, welcome them!) Invited to give the Witch Queen "the kiss of submission," Aline instead bites her and runs off, chased by Borg and his dog. Making lemonade out of bloody lips, the Queen orders the Wild Rumpus to start--where "rumpus" here means "Nude Epileptic Seizures and Group Sex!"--and takes Laurent to her altar to impregnate her with the devil's child, or something.
Meanwhile Aline runs through another dreamscape to a dark cave, where Borg walls her in. Lost in the dark, she's visited by a green-winged, Nosferatu-fingered spirit "that eats sexual things"--luckily (?) for her, "eat" here is a euphemism.
After this ordeal we come to an even wilder finishing quarter hour in which Laurent, feeling protective of his former love or else pissy about being left out of all the lesbonic fun, turns on the cult and tries to save Aline at last. But is the Witch Queen too powerful? Will virtue triumph over vice? If you were paying attention to Mercier's literary influences above, you might have an inkling as to the answer.
Also, you get to see the Witch Queen in a gold belt and silver finger extensions--and nothing else--being whipped by her cult as part of a final ceremony to bring about whatever prophecy they've been waiting for the whole time. Or else just because she's into it, which seems a lot more likely.
This is a wild, WILD movie that came out of nowhere and knocked me over. Satanism, witchcraft, BDSM, fairy tale demons and wood sprites, hippie orgies and improbably ornate ceremonial gear (including Iltra's amazing breast-baring gown, complete with black-ringed fuchsia pasties)--this movie just really has it all. Add to that some gorgeous cinematography and even more gorgeous women, and bestowing the 3+ thumb rating on this one is a no-brainer.
If you get a chance to see this one, definitely take it. The version I had sported some occasionally clumsy subtitles (lots of male/female pronoun confusion, and occasional untranslated exchanges) but I could pick most of it up from context, and the visuals were the important thing anyway. Now I'm definitely interested in finding a translation of some of Mercier's novels, if they exist, and seeking out his other two films. If any parishioners have info on Mercier and his work, please let me know!
Some more great images from La Papesse (1974):
"..but then I know you to be a Demonic Priestess bent on sexual domination, so clearly I cannot choose the wine in front of me!"