Friday, July 24, 2020

Balta (1986)

... aka: Ax
... aka: Hatchet

Directed by:
Cevat Okçugil

Two decades before Adam Green ho-hummed the horror world with his over-hyped comic slasher "throwback" and troika of equally underwhelming sequels, another slasher flick hit video stores by the name of Balta (aka: "Hatchet"). Strangely enough, this one happens to have a nearly-identical plot about a group of obnoxious tourists stranded out in the middle of nowhere running afoul of a disfigured, axe-wielding madman. In case you're wondering how you could have possibly missed this the first time around, it's because this was only released in Turkish video stores and doesn't appear to have ever been exported elsewhere. What also doesn't help the film's current plight is that it's never been released in English and all that's currently available online is a really awful, degraded, overexposed copy of the original Ikiz Video VHS release. My screen caps should give you a good idea of the quality level here and I can fully understand how some viewers have mistaken this for being shot-on-video when it's not. But, hey, when I saw that the plot description was "Turkish Kung Fu Slasher," I knew I just had to watch this, anyway.

Our hero is Murat (Nihat Yiğit), a kind-of handsome, gap-toothed Turkish lad who walks around everywhere with a forced, stick-up-his-ass faux masculine gait, does random flips just cause he can, works as a street vendor pushing around a vegetable cart and seems to be loved by everyone in town. Well, except for maybe his boss who seems like a dick. Otherwise, men wave and want to shake his hand and girls gush when he stops by to get some flatbread. He goes to talk to the chief constable (Talat Gözbak) about something or other (likely a rash of disappearances / murders in the area) and demonstrates a kung fu kick as if to say, "I got this" before going on his way. Murat makes secret trips into the woods by some waterfalls, marked by a warning sign that says Yasak Bölge ("Restricted Area"), where he trains with a crippled, mustachioed kung fu master (Kudret Karadağ). His teacher hobbles around with a stick, dresses in long robes, seems to possess psychic abilities and usually looks extremely bored watching Murat kick and punch wooden poles. Oh yeah, and there's something else lurking around in the woods that's even stranger...

While the locals seem to understand that they need to stay out of the Yasak Bölge, a tourist bus arrives in town full of vapid, obnoxious folks who don't seem to understand or care. As they venture into the woods for a long hike, they run across Murat, who gives them ample warning to turn around and go back to town. Instead of taking his advice, they laugh and one of the male tourists wearing a pink sweatshirt, jeans cut off below the knee and striped tube socks pulled up to make up for the missing jean legs (!!) tries to fight him but is roundhouse kicked in the head. The eight tourists (four male, four female) continue on and end up basically getting exactly what they deserve.

Lurking around the forest is Balta (Yadigar Ejder), a feral, filthy, scar-faced maniac missing his front teeth, dressed in ripped rags and wearing hilarious knee-high yeti boots. He screams, moans, grunts and makes some weird noise that sounds like a shrieking baby. His weapon of choice? You guessed it: A hatchet. Well, actually, it's more like a regular, full-sized axe by American standards, but that doesn't matter much. What really matters is that we have to spend over an hour watching Murat strut around town and a bunch of dull, undefined characters walking through the woods, camping, getting drunk and dancing around a fire before Balta finally decides to kill someone. Until then we get gratuitous POV shots, gratuitous close ups of feet walking around and gratuitous shots of him spying from the brush while making ridiculous faces. If you're a fan of scenery-chewing overacting, you'll probably enjoy what Ejder brings to the table here.

A miracle occurs during the last 20 minutes in that this finally becomes pretty entertaining. It's not good, mind you. It's actually terrible and incompetent but it's fast-paced, frequently hilarious and not boring. During the first murder, the killer surprises a couple by a tree, swings the axe once and then they both just fall over dead. Our leading lady Nadya (Sevim Özün) wakes up and finds their bodies, shrieks and is chased around by the killer until she ends up at Murat's and her savior punches and kicks the psycho until he runs off. Balta then sneaks into Murat's shack and murders the teacher while he's sleeping. From then on out we get one ineptly directed and edited axe murder after another with the psycho running around the woods, chopping up most of the remaining cast members and then jumping up and down swinging his weapon in glee after each killing. There's no real gore and barely even any blood but the scenes are staged so poorly they're quite funny. The sole variety in the murders is when he strangles one of the women in a stream.

The climactic showdown, where the star gets to show off his martial arts skills yet again as the killer keeps coming at him with his trusty axe accompanied by horrible sound effects and looped in cliché "Wahhhhh!"s probably stolen from some Asian kung fu movie, manages to finally put this over-the-top into adequately enjoyable SBIG territory. Still, can't really recommend this as a good bad movie because of the near totally worthless first hour. Balta was shot on 16mm without sound (which was dubbed in later) and apparently did play in some Turkish theaters. The opening credits feature "Call Me" by Blondie. I'm sure with Debbie Harry's approval.

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