Last week, a Facebook film-appreciation group that I’m in directed me to a Turkish knock-off of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973). I was shocked at first to discover this almost frame-for-frame remake, called Seytan, made a year after Friedkin’s fright classic. Then a friend from Twitch pointed out that there was a huge market of Turkish knock-offs back in the 70s and 80s, and there is also a recent documentary about it, Cem Kaya’s Remake, Remix, Rip-Off (2014). By the looks of the trailer, it seems extremely funny and interesting.
Being a huge fan of The Exorcist and horror in general, I had to check Seytan out. Fortunately most of the Turkish rip-offs are public domain (could they be anything else??) and are available on YouTube. I soon found an English-subtitled version of Seytan. I was most interested in two things – how the Turkish filmmakers were going to recreate the notorious masturbation scene and the projectile pea-soup vomit.
Remember that this was a time where there were no copyright laws in Turkey, and anything was fair game. The makers of Seytan used this leeway to maximum effect, employing Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells throughout the entire film (the original used it only twice or three brief times, if I recall, but correct me if I’m wrong).
The actress character Chris McNeil is Ayten in the Turkish version, and I have no idea what Ayten does for a living, although she is clearly wealthy and plays tennis in her free time. You can tell the filmmaker did their best to find a Linda Blair lookalike for her daughter Gul. Unfortunately, instead of looking frightful in her possession scenes, Gul just mostly looks like an adolescent chuckling cheekily after a successful prank.
There are, of course, no Catholic priests in this version. Father Karras has been replaced with an author character who wrote the book with a very, VERY long title: Seytan: Soul Abduction and the Exorcism Ceremony in Light of Modern Opinions about Mental Illnesses, a book which conveniently appears in Ayten’s attic.
Father Merrin is also replaced, with a Muslim holy man who uses zamzam water and Quranic verses against the possessed girl. And the demon Pazuzu is now a funky-looking devil with arms raised like Kurt Barlow’s famous pose in Salem’s Lot. The author, of course, is torn by the guilt of neglecting his mother who dies in a mental hospital. He gets his own “Dimmy, why you do dees to me?” scene.
Now, on to my two main concerns. Firstly, they had to tone down all the cussing and swearing, and crotch-grabbing (the hypnotist in this version gets only a hard punch to his jewels). So, no masturbation scene. Instead, we get Gul stabbing herself presumably in her thighs with a knife bearing the symbol of the devil.
And then, there’s the projectile vomit. I suspect the Turkish filmmakers couldn’t figure out how their Hollywood counterparts created the effect, so Gul’s vomit came out as more of a simple spit, but a really big gob of it.
The wonderful thing I find about this version is that all the actors go at it earnestly, as if they thought they could win an Oscar. Watching them, you’d think Friedkin’s version never existed in their universe. But compared to the other Turkish knock-offs, Seytan for whatever minuscule budget it had, looks relatively better than its peers.
If anyone remembers, Malaysia also had its own fair share of knock-offs in the 80s. I remember in particular, our own rip-off of The Karate Kid, called Bujang Selamat and starring Faizal Hussein in the Ralph Macchio role.
But nothing compares to the inventiveness (read: inventive ways of stealing) of Turkish remake cinema. Just check out its version of Star Wars, which strangely uses the music of Battlestar Galactica and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Called The Man Who Saved the World, it is also available on YouTube. It uses stolen negatives from an actual Star Wars print, so you get actual Star Wars footage of X-Wings and Tie-Fighters and the Millennium Falcon spliced into scenes of fighter pilots in motorcycle helmets with back projection that sometimes makes them out to be flying backwards.
And here’s where you can watch Seytan. There’s also an English-subtitled one which is broken into several parts.
If you’re too lazy to watch the entire film, here’s a video comparison of the two versions.
Here’s a really funny review of Seytan.
And the jokers of the Fat Bidin Film Club chime in on the film.