A Brand-New Horror Film Experience with the Turkish Cinema

When I was a little kid, I always envied seeing people my age in costumes knocking on doors for candy and cash and wondered why I couldn’t do the same. Unfortunately, Halloween is not a widely celebrated day in Turkey except for some Halloween parties in large cities, since my childhood dreams have been crushed to complete annihilation, here’s a list of Turkish horror films in case you’d like to try something different for a horror film.

Before I start with the actual list though, I am going to rant about something I dislike in the Turkish film industry. When it comes to Turkish horror films, most of them are examples of the horror-comedy genre, it is as if one cannot exist without the other, which I believe restricts to horror genre in Turkey to its satire-centric corner. They end up making either very low budget YouTube films or very shallow, jump scare dependent films with weak plots. There are some decent ones, but they’re vastly outnumbered. This list will include both kinds to give a better account of the spectrum.

Ada: Zombilerin Düğünü – Island: Wedding of the Zombies (2010) | Written and directed by: Talip Ertürk and Murat Emir Eren

This is an example of the horror-comedy genre, especially during its first act, but it’s also the first example of a found footage film in Turkish as far as I know and its second and third acts are definitely more horror focused, thus it deserves making the list.

As a fan of the zombie subgenre, I was excited to see this promoted on the newspaper as the first Turkish zombie film (it still is the only one) but I had my doubts since it was going to have a lighter, humour-heavy side and when I first illegally downloa… umm, I mean, bought the original DVD, it was surprisingly satisfying. The comedy wasn’t too extravagant and all set pieces, including the zombies were very well made, acting was convincing and it had an interesting plot. During the first act, we walk through a wedding preparation in the Büyükada, hence the name. The cameraman is a middle-aged guy making “funny” remarks about other guests in the wedding until he meets with his little entourage, who are obviously the main characters of the film. Once the wedding ceremony is finished, the sitcom atmosphere slowly segues into chaos as some deranged guests start biting the guests, regular zombie stuff really or regular wedding stuff perhaps, who am I to judge. 

Essentially, if you’re looking for a zombie film taking place in a different cultural setting, I am certain you’ll have an entertaining experience with this one.

Baskin (2013) | Directed by: Can Evrenol; Screenplay by: Can Evrenol

This one has two versions, the original short film and the feature film that came after to milk more money from a successful original product. Alright, just kidding this time, I’ve only seen the short film so maybe the feature length is also well-made, and I heard Can Evrenol did the short to pave the way to the feature film, so it was already on his mind.

I will, however, only be able to focus on the short film, which had a unique feeling to it, unique amongst other Turkish horror films at least. It tells the story of a police team responding to an emergency call, and of course, they end up finding something far more sinister, the remnants of a satanic ritual. I’m not well versed in satanism but the way it was represented in the film sort of reminded me of something a bit Lovecraftian, and since cosmic horror is a completely untouched territory with Turkish horror films, that alone makes the film one of a kind. The dialogues were a bit weird sometimes, with all due respect to the actors, it kind of felt like it wasn’t the way it was written but the way it was performed that made them seem unnatural, if you plan on watching it with subtitles though, it was well translated. Other than that, it was a good watching experience, it had a consistent plot, aesthetically pleasing visuals, and an adequate cinematography, so I highly recommend it, it’s likely that you’ll watch the first example of Turkish cosmic horror.

One more thing which is not entirely related to the film itself, but I found interesting was that they filmed this during the Gezi Protests in 2013, it must have been odd to shoot a film with so much gore and actors in police uniforms during a time the police and protestors were clashing in several Turkish cities.

Siccin & Dabbe Cinematic Universe (2006-2019) | Siccin Directed by: Alper Mestçi; Written by: Ersan Özer, Alper Mestçi, Bekir Acar – Dabbe Written and Directed by: Hasan Karacadağ

The reason these two are examined under a single headline is simple, they have a total of 12 movies, 6 in each title and I’m not sure which ones I watched -I’ll come back to this in a moment- because although Siccin and Dabbe are two different film series made by different production companies, they are remarkably similar. They both focus on the subgenre of Islamic horror, which gets old really quick, especially after 12 films. Now, like I said, I haven’t seen all these films, but the ones I’ve seen follow the same patterns, use the same or very similar motives and in some cases have the same characters (hence a cinematic universe)

Obviously, I didn’t include these films here just to reprimand them. I’ll give credit where it’s due, they often had decent make-up and prosthetics, actors mostly gave their full to their performances and these films are the pioneers of the Islamic horror genre. But I’m afraid they heavily suffer from being repetitive in too many aspects, which leads me to think that they are not creative works, but rather industrial products. This is not to say that they are only in this for making money, most of these films can be watched on YouTube for free. Like I said, I haven’t seen all of them, hence I might have missed the better parts, but you don’t have to take my commentary as a fully accurate reading of these films, if this genre sounds interesting to you, like I said, you can find them on YouTube. The English subtitles on the ones I watched were a bit poorly translated, but it’ll get the message through and you can decide for yourselves, maybe they were brilliant masterpieces and I wasn’t bright enough to see that.

Okul – The School (2004) | Directed by: Durul and Yağmur Taylan; Screenplay by: Doğu Yücel

This was one of the first horror films I watched as a kid, probably because it was often on a random TV channel whenever they needed a midnight horror film, and my parents were asleep by then, so nobody could stop me. Admittedly, it’s been more than 15 years since I watched it but if my memories deceive me not, this was a well-made, Hollywood quality B-Movie.

The film was based on a novel by Doğu Yücel called “Ghost Book” and in the novel events take place in a college campus, the film version changed the setting into a high-school building, probably due to budget concerns which is fine, they are equally scary to me. The main characters consisted of bratty high schoolers preparing for the university entrance exam, which is itself an element of horror for Turkish people. The plot revolved around a former student who committed suicide preparing for the exam some years ago and she was haunting the students and faculty members for a revenge related reason, not to spoil too much, but it had to do something with former students and teachers putting her under too much stress during the exam period. Beyond its low budget CGI and often unrealistic dialogues, the film was pretty scary for the 8-year-old me, probably because it had a very relatable character in it, not the students or teachers, but the ghost, having spent years trying to find my way through in the Turkish education system, I can definitely relate to the amount of pressure that could have led someone to end up in such a mental state.

To wrap this up on a more positive note, please remember that no exam can truly evaluate your true potential; don’t get this wrong, stay in school and always try to learn as much as you can, but don’t let a couple of bad grades turn you into a vengeful spirit.

Honourable Mentions:

These were recommended to me by reliable film lovers, but I didn’t watch them cause I’m a coward, I am adding them here in case you’re braver than I am.

Küçük Kıyamet – The Little Apocalypse (2006) | Directed by: Durul and Yağmur Taylan; Screenplay by: Doğu Yücel

Musallat – Haunted (2007) | Directed by: Alper Mestçi; Screenplay by: Alper Mestçi and Güray Ölgü