Monday, April 11, 2016

Biri beni gözlüyor (1988)

... aka: I Was Watching
... aka: Someone's Watching Me
... aka: Turkish Shining

Directed by:
Ömer Ugur

The Turkish film industry, or Yeşilçam as it's called there, began way back in 1914 with the release of the silent documentary Ayastefanos'taki Rus Abidesinin Yıkılışı, which involved the demolition of a Russian monument at San Stefano. Film production would be very sporadic until things finally picked up in the 50s. By the time the 60s rolled around, Turkey was the fifth most prolific country in terms of film production; averaging 300 films per year in their heyday. There was a huge increase in cinemas during this time (over 2000 by 1966) and thus a larger-then-ever demand for domestic product. However, their impoverished film industry suffered from shoddy, primitive film equipment, untrained and (in many cases) untalented filmmakers and just not enough money to keep up with what other countries were doing, especially in the later era of big budget Hollywood blockbusters. By the 70s, TV took a huge chunk of the film-going audience away. Theaters closed, budgets shrank even further, the original film stars downgraded to the small screen and, in a desperate attempt to both compete and capitalize on the lack of copyright laws in the country, a series of plagiarized rip-offs emerged. These films not only stole complete plots, but also camera shots, music scores and pretty much anything else they wanted; including editing special effects scenes from the original films into the new films as a cost-saving measure.

Not surprisingly, most of these rip-offs didn't get released outside of the country for fear of a lawsuit, but many are now available to stunned contemporary moviegoers worldwide. Turkey had their own home grown versions of Tarzan, Zorro, James Bond, Superman, Dirty Harry, E.T., Star Wars, Star Trek, Spiderman, Rambo, Laurel and Hardy and even a similarly-dressed equivalent of Captain America. There were also a good number of horror films, starting with an unsanctioned Bram Stoker adaptation Dracula in Istanbul in 1953. Other later rip-offs included versions of such famous films as Psycho (1960), The Bad Seed (1963), Straw Dogs (1971), Deliverance (1972), The Last House on the Left (1972), The Exorcist (1973), Young Frankenstein (1974), Jaws (1975), I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and others. Sometimes the source material was fairly obscure as was the case with THIRSTY FOR LOVE, SEX AND MURDER (1972); a copy of the Italian giallo THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (1971), or BRUTAL STORM (1985), a copy of the Spanish chiller A Candle for the Devil aka  IT HAPPENED AT NIGHTMARE INN (1973). Biri beni gözlüyor (or “Someone Is Watching Me”), is another odd one. Heavily, a-hem, “inspired” by the 1980 Stephen King adaptation The Shining (1980), this was made in the late 80s during a time in Turkish film production where sometimes there were as few as a half dozen movies being made per year.

At a seaside hotel on a remote island, a seemingly-normal man snapped and strangled both his wife and son before hanging himself. The incident was enough to pretty much kill the tourism business in the area but this strip of land already had a bad reputation before then. Prior to the hotel even being built, the land was the tomb of a saintly fisherman that other fisherman passing through the area would stop and pay tribute to for good luck. The tomb was bulldozed down and ever since one bad thing after another has occurred, starting with the first attempt at building the hotel resulting in disaster when it fell down. Fish in the area mysterious turn up dead and there's even a rumor that the wind in those parts has the power to drive people mad. It's all rather appealing to Hulki Kalkinç (Tarik Tarcan), a crime / horror novelist desperately in need of inspiration as he hasn't written a thing in two years. Hulki decides to bring his model wife Leman (Silen Dilmen) and whiny young son Ufuk (Erhan Keçeci) to the island for an extended vacation so he can work on what he hopes is his next successful book.

Upon arriving, they're greeted by Mahmut (Ali Ates), a bearded, dirty, creepy and always-smiling sailor who usually looks after the place. While the family stays there, he plans on heading to the mainland for a few days but first clues them in to the history of the place and how all of the bad things seem to occur there on the 15th of the month. The wife is not only leery of him but also becomes increasingly more paranoid about... well... pretty much everything. She thinks someone is peeking in through her bedroom window. She thinks someone is watching her while she's on a swing. She thinks her husband and Mahmut actually knew each other before they came to the island and wonders why the caretaker put them up in Room 213, which is right next door to where the man killed his family. Hulki's increasingly odd behavior certainly doesn't help her state of mind any. He pretends to hang himself just like the previous killer had to see what it feels like. Then he attempts to seduce Leman only to start strangling her just to see her reaction. He then admits he wants to kill her and says it would be super cool to have sex right where the murders took place.

Even with the appropriately dreary surroundings, Hulki can't seen to get over his writer's block, so he decides to tell the sordid tale from the killer's perspective and wants to “feel him to the bone.” He soon becomes obsessed and unhinged and starts lurking around everywhere in a wide-eyed daze. He won't let anyone read what he's typing, ignores his wife and son's requests to leave, scares them with sudden crazy outbursts and slings blood all over the wife waving a piece of raw meat around. The boy finds a bloody axe outside and, since the caretaker gave them false contact information, they think he may have used it to chop up his family and could possibly still be on the island. When Leman tries to leave and take their son away, hubby throws the boat key away and destroys the radio equipment, stranding them there with his crazy ass. He knocks the son unconscious for trying to look at his papers and eventually goes after both of them with an axe.

I'm not one of those people who thinks of The Shining as this deep, flawless masterpiece. I've always viewed it as being a sporadically brilliant / powerful / scary movie with a lot of unnecessary elements needlessly stuffed in that muck the whole thing up. However, watching this cheap, awful, inept rip-off really makes me want to rethink my stance on Kubrick's film. This goes right down the line ripping off The Shining (at least the parts they could afford to copy); only this time the film is done by a director who appears to have no clue how to build suspense, generate scares or even entertain... and I'm not talking about Mick Garris!

There are no pre-hotel scenes here to introduce us to the characters. Since they couldn't afford a helicopter to shoot the family car drive scene, here they just sit the family in a boat where they have a very similar conversation. The grand tour the caretaker gives the mom of the massive hotel / kitchen in The Shining is reduced here to the caretaker showing the mom where the gas tanks to light the stove are. The surreal horror visuals that highlight Kubrick's film are all gone and instead we just get repetitive talky scenes of the wife and son (who doesn't have psychic abilities in this version) having to deal with the husband's odd behavior. Hulki mentions feeling like he's been at the hotel before and all of his writings turn out to be the same sentence typed out over and over again. Instead of a blizzard, there's a bad rainstorm. Instead of knocking Hulki out with a baseball bat, dragging his body to the kitchen and sticking the him in a walk-in freezer, Leman knocks him out with the axe, drags his body to the kitchen and sticks him in a refrigerated glass deli cabinet (!) that he easily breaks out of when the time comes. The caretaker comes back long enough to get axed, though he gets decapitated in this one. Apparently destroying a door didn't fit into their budget, so they don't include a “Here's Hulki!” scene here. Instead, there are a few changes made at the very end, though none to the betterment of the story.

While the leads are certainly nicer to look at than Nicholson and Duvall (the wife bears a striking resemblance to the gorgeous Jennifer Connelly) neither is very good where it really counts: giving a believable performance. However, to their defense, this was shot without sound and they were dubbed in later by others. The dialogue and editing are both awful and this is rather poorly lit and shot to boot. Scenes are frequently blurry and many of the night scenes, including much of the climax, are difficult to make out because it's so dark. This does however boast an excellent, creepy, elegant and sometimes beautiful music score. It was composed by some guy named Jerry Goldsmith but unfortunately had already been used to much better effect in Psycho II. Unlike many other Turkish turkeys, this isn't deliriously awful and unintentionally hilarious, it's simply poorly made and bland.

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