1983 | Turkey
Director: Çetin İnanç
AKA: Wild Blood
The first ten minutes of Vahsi Kan are perhaps the purest and most potent distillation in existence of the Turkish action film as interpreted by exploitation kingpin Çetin İnanç. They are also ten of the seediest, sleaziest, most hilariously lascivious, and violent minutes you’re likely to see. It’s made even sleazier by the fact that, due to a crackdown on nudity by Turkish film censors in the 1980s (who had previously tolerated a surprisingly vast amount of perversion and decadence in the 1970s), there’s no actual nudity on display. Somehow, the simple honesty of a bit of gratuitous nudity would have made the opening minutes of Vahsi Kan substantially less dirty, which is the glorious blowback that often results from censors mucking up the works.
Turkish cinema in the 1970s was no less insane than it was in the 1980s. The big differentiator between the two is the fact that, in the 1970s, Turkish filmmakers could get away with showing full-frontal nudity. Exploitation filmmakers didn’t miss many opportunities to flash audiences with bared breasts and pubic hair. When the ’80s rolled around though, censors decided that Turkish films had reveled in filth long enough. They started putting censorship laws in place or, at the very least, applied substantial pressure on filmmakers to put some clothes on the ladies. Fundamentalist religious movements were gaining momentum elsewhere in the world, and while Turkey was a monument to more relaxed and liberal interpretations of the Islamic faith and its rules, nothing makes politicians happier than pandering to moral indignation. Thank God we’ve moved beyond that.
Predictably, efforts to sanitize films by making it more difficult to get away with outright nudity resulted in filmmakers getting creative with their sleaze rather than eliminating it. It was pretty much no different than what happened when nearby(ish) Pakistan tried the same thing and ended up with Haseena Atom Bomb. People want to see the naughty bits, and come hell or high water, filmmakers will always find a way to violate the spirit of censorship laws while technically sticking to the letter of those laws. Oftentimes, as is the case with Vahsi Kan, compliance with the tsk-tsking of nudity results in scenes that are far raunchier and more sexually explicit than they would have been if the director had been allowed to show nakedness — since most of the time, the mere presence of a naked person, even just lying around doing nothing, was more than enough to satisfy viewers. Deprived of that, filmmakers went overboard, partially to sate their audience, but probably even more so to flip off censors, who I assume reacted to movies like Vahsi Kan with the exaggerated finger-wagging and arm-flailing outrage one sees from the censor boards in your finer 1980s heavy metal music videos.
In short order, we are introduced to a gang of murderous thugs led by the murderous Osman (Osman Betin, who played “the murderous” someone or other in more films than a supercomputer could tally), who are doing what murderous thugs do best — murderin’ people. So begins a rapid succession of scenes in which they kick down a door and shoot or karate chop whoever is behind it. From time to time, their target will be accompanied by a woman in a bikini, and at no point does director İnanç fail to start the shot with the camera leering at the woman’s crotch. Frankly, I’m surprised he didn’t shoot at least one murder with the camera spending the entire time looking out from between a woman’s spread legs. Other than that one oversight, however, İnanç and his cameraman are thorough cinematographers, being sure to shoot the woman’s mid-section from front and back, both at eye level and from the floor, being sure not to neglect cleavage despite the director’s primary interest obviously being below the navel.
Most of these killings are quick hits, until we get to a family driving down a country road and meet the eventual heroine of the film, played by Emel Tümer. Incidentally, our introduction to her is via yet another crotch shot from a camera placed on the floorboard of the car, staring up her dress — though to be fair, “staring up her dress” only takes about half an inch to accomplish, as it’s a very short dress. Emel and her family are on their way to the city to testify against big-time criminal Hasmet (perennial Turkish villain Hüseyin Peyda), and Osman and his gang are killing off all the witnesses. Because Çetin İnanç felt that his movie wasn’t violent or sleazy enough in the first few minutes, he tries to make up for it with so many panty-clad groin shots in this sequence that even the makers of Haseena Atom Bomb might tell him to tone it down a bit.
For no reason at all other than “why the fuck not,” Osman’s men make themselves up to look like zombies and all lie in the middle of the road, waiting for Emel, her father, and her little brother to drive by. When the car is forced to stop by the pile of shirtless men lying in the road, the thugs leap up and stagger around, doing their best George Romero zombie impersonations while Osman beats the little kid and breaks the lad’s neck. He kills the old man, too, but that barely even registers after we’ve watched Osman relish snapping the neck of an eight-year-old. While this is happening — Osman even sets the dead little kid on fire, just to be a super dick — the “zombies” are chasing Emel, whose dress is so short that it can’t even qualify as a belt. Naturally, this entire sequence is shot from a low angle in order to maximize the star power of Emel’s bright red underwear.
This is the point where, quite frankly, you expect a tasteless rape scene that gives a lascivious director a chance to show some gratuitous nudity. Miraculously, İnanç resists that urge and somehow comes up with a scene that is even more tasteless, as the thugs pretend to “eat” Emel. This mostly consists of them grunting like feral pigs and mashing their faces against Emel’s bare flesh, underwear, and cleavage while the camera focuses intently on her nethers. Things look pretty bad for poor Emel, who is in danger of being face-smeared to death by shirtless grown men — hey, unnamed extra, I saw you steal that cheap breast grab! — pretending to be zombies. Somehow, though, she escape her tormentors and runs into the forest, the camera being sure to follow the bouncing, bobbing trail of her red panties for as long as possible.
And then Cüneyt Arkin strides proudly into the movie.
Like I said, all that murder, gore, sleaze, karate, and partial nudity that is somehow far more pornographic than actual pornography, happens in the mere ten-minute opening of this film. Çetin İnanç’s commitment not just to every lurid glory of the exploitation film, but also to wasting no time getting there, is truly a lesson in no-nonsense movie making. He knows what trash film fans want, and he sees no reason not to charge with gusto into those things from the very first second. This isn’t all that uncommon among trash film directors — after all, you want to front-load your movie to get people interested. The big difference between İnanç and many other directors, however, is that many other directors let their films lapse into fifty minutes of mind-numbing tedium after their glorious opening salvo. İnanç, on the other hand, tends to regard the no-holds-barred insanity of his opening scene as nothing but a warm-up. Rather than leading you on with a tease that never delivers on its promise, İnanç maintains and often exceeds the breakneck pace and lunacy of his opening ten minutes. There is no sleight of hand here — if you are thrilled, entertained, or grossly offended by the first ten minutes ofVahsi Kan, you will maintain that reaction for the entirety of the film.
Cüneyt, gray in hair but still possessed of a commanding presence and steely glower that makes him believable as an ass-kicker supreme, plays Riza, a former commando and current matchstick-chewing aficionado who was framed by the dastardly Hasmet and is apparently being walked to prison across Turkey by two guards. When they stumble upon the remnants of Osman’s handiwork, the guards try to rescue the old man and the little kid from the fire, unaware that the two are already dead. In the process, they get exploded, which leaves Riza more or less a free man. But he’s also an honorable man, determined to see that the gravely wounded guards are delivered to a hospital for medical treatment. Unfortunately, the nearest town is lorded over by Hasmet, and he has instructed Osman and his goons to let no one enter or leave.
When Osman confronts Riza walking into town, the movie begins to earn its unofficial American title: “Turkish First Blood.” At first, Osman’s goons are happy to taunt Riza and simply deny him access to the town. But when Riza decides to recreate the scene in First Blood (with music from First Blood!) where Brian Dennehy’s small-town sheriff drops Rambo off at the edge of town only to see, in his rear view mirror, Rambo turn around and start walking back into town, Osman decides to be less charitable. They string up and beat the tar out of Riza for a few minutes, which Riza accepts for some reason. I assume because he wants to show how he can take a beating. Then he decides to yell and whip out the kungfu and his big-ass knife, which he had strapped under his suit jacket even though he was presumably being taken to prison when first we met him. Riza then recreates the “jumping off a cliff and breaking your fall by hitting the branches of a tree” scene from First Blood, but really, who can blame him? My elementary school friend Larry did the same thing by jumping off the roof of his house and into the waiting arms of a tree in his backyard. That was not the first time, nor the last, that Larry would visit the hospital. Kid managed to get a go-cart onto the roof at some point. How does a nine-year-old get a go-cart onto the roof of a house???
While a battered Riza stalks through the woods in survival mode, looking for a spacious hideout cave, Hasmet and Osman try to convince the local cops that Riza killed the guards accompanying him, and probably everyone else, too. In a departure from the tone of First Blood, however, the cops think Hasmet is full of shit. This is Turkey in the 1980s, after all, and casting cops and soldiers as dim-witted or evil was frowned upon. With the cops not buying their shtick, and at least one of them obviously serving as Riza’s Colonel Troutman (someone has to give the “this guy’s good” speech, after all), Hasmet sends Osman into the woods to track down and kill the wily ex-commando. Oh, and it turns out that Hasmet and Riza have a past, and that Riza was somehow responsible for turning Hasmet’s murderous son into an armless, legless psychopath — because this movie wasn’t batshit enough without the addition of a cackling quadruple amputee screaming insanely about slaughtering people.
Oh, and also, Hasmet lounges around drinking Johnnie Walker Red while accompanied by a bored bikini girl (a cameo by Arzu Aytun, yet another Turkish cult film regular), because Çetin İnanç realized it had been like five minutes since he shoved his camera into a woman’s vagina.
From here, it’s pretty much First Blood, right down to the “They drew first blood” line, except with the added bonus of some more partial nudity and ass shots courtesy of Emel, who Riza stumbles across in the forest and for whom he sews a lovely red “Jane of the Jungle” loin cloth out of some brand new cloth that was buried in a pile of leaves. Not surprisingly, there are no speeches about American disrespect for Vietnam vets and no serious anti-war message, although there is the usual “Riza only commits violence in pursuit of peace” qualifier.
After getting to know each other for a minute or two, they fall in love because they are both wearing awesome headbands. Emel thus outfitted in a sexy mini-toga to compliment Riza’s Rambo brand burlap sack shirt, the hero sets to stalking around the forest, stabbing the hell out of Osman and company while Emel bathes in the river and crawls up ass-shot augmenting hills. Eventually, Osman’s goons are so decimated that Hasmet himself has to take to the woods with an even larger assault force of guys with even bigger mustaches.
A movie that’s been this action-packed and over-the-top demands an even more absurdly overblown finale, preferably with shitloads of mustachioed dudes getting impaled on punji sticks. If you think Çetin İnanç is going to disappoint you, you don’t know much about Çetin İnanç. Riza spin kicks, shoots, and slashes his way through a seemingly endless procession of bad guys in windbreakers. Recognizing that this is hardly enough, İnanç also gives us bulldozers, dynamite, machine guns, laughing guys with bad teeth, lonesome horn music, production assistants throwing styrofoam boulders at Emel, smoldering looks of vengeance, a rip-off of the desert truck chase from Raiders of the Lost Ark (complete with Cüneyt clinging to a truck while the same music from the scene in Raiders plays), dummies thrown off of cliffs, a flashback featuring a fight over what looks to be a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and really just more awesomeness than the average human brain can process. The final knife and kungfu fight between Risa and Osman is also pretty good, and Jesus — we haven’t even gotten to the part where Cüneyt blows up a quadriplegic.
Throughout the history of film, there have been certain combinations of writer and director or director and star that click. Separately, they may both make good movies, but together the game is elevated to a whole different level. Çetin İnanç and Cüneyt Arkin are definitely two creators that, when put together, produce entertainment far beyond the boundaries of awesomeness. İnanç made at least one other First Blood/Rambo cash-in, 1986’s Korkusuz, aka Rampage. It even stars most of the same people as Vahsi Kan in basically the same roles, except for Cüneyt Arkin. The combination of Arkin and İnanç just elevates Vahsi Kan to mind-boggling levels of madness. Korkusuz is good, but it can’t hold a candle to what happens when İnanç gets to work with Arkin. The already hyperactive pace of the standard Çetin İnanç film seems to do a bunch of speed, and the style that results is best described as “the screamin’ bug-eyed school” of filmmaking.
As is always the case with Turkish pop cinema, there are a lot of rough edges around Vahsi Kan, but the script is more or less sensical, at least when compared to most Turkish action films, largely because minus the loony opening sequence, they basically stick to copying First Blood. There’s really no good explanation for why those two guards were marching a hand-cuffed Riza to prison on foot through the scenic countryside, but who knows? Maybe one of the benefits of doing time in a Turkish prison is you get to preface it with a leisurely stroll through idyllic countryside. And why Osman’s gang pretends for one scene to be zombies is completely beyond me, but all in all, the logical missteps are minor in comparison, and the movie never stays standing still long enough to give you time to wonder.
By most accounts, Cüneyt Arkin was experiencing the same sort of deep blue career funk in the early 1980s as plagued Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan at the same time. Both were men who ruled the 1960s and ’70s, with abundant charisma and a smoldering edge. By the time the 1980s rolled around, things were changing faster than the aging leading men could keep pace with, even though both were still capable of cutting an impressive presence. Both men found themselves working in increasingly cheap, shoddy action films. The notable difference is that Amitabh, with a few exceptions, appeared in movies like Toofan, from which very little joy can be mined despite the outlandish premise, while Cüneyt kept the company of Çetin İnanç, who put the aging actor in films that, if not polished, were still bursting with energy and a willingness to just go absolutely fucking nuts. Arkin’s career in the 1980s under the guidance of İnanç was basically what would have happened if Bachchan spent the entire 1980s appearing in Mard.
For his part, even if Cüneyt was depressed and drinking a lot during this part of his career, he never let it show on screen by giving a listless or disinterested performance. No matter what crazy scenario Çetin İnanç puts his leading man in, Arkin gives it his all, throwing his best steely-eyed glares and putting everything into his screams of rage and stuntwork. In the latter half of his forties by the time Vahsi Kan was made, Arkin still throws down believably with villains half his age — and he managed to sustain that level of energy in many other İnanç films during the decade.
Matching him glower for glower is İnanç’s go-to villain, the Vincent Price-esque Hüseyin Peyda. I’m going to assume this guy has played at least one role in his career other than hammy, eye-bulging, whisky-sipping villain, but I’ve never seen it and am not interested. Every time I see him in a movie, he’s sitting in a living room with a half-naked woman, drinking scotch, and grimacing in disbelief that his treachery is being challenged by some uppity hero. If I ever got a chance to travel through time and recruit my own Legion of Doom, Peyda would be at the top of the list of recruits, right alongside Vic Diaz, Billy Drago, Richard Lynch, Amrish Puri, Shing Fui-on, and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa. Instead of a floating skull in the swamp, I’d probably headquarter them in a Quality Inn, albeit a nice one, with a heated whirlpool.
Filling out the main cast is the gorgeous damsel in distress, Emel Tümer, who I think gets lower billing in the credits than her panties. As an actress, she’s game for whatever squirmy idea and camera angle İnanç throws at her, and her esprit de corp makes up somewhat for the fact that she’s a pretty terrible actress in this outing, looking vacant and confused most of the time. Well, in whatever scenes where we can see her facial expressions instead of just her underwear. And it’s not entirely a mystery why someone would look confused in this movie. When she dons her Cüneyt-fashioned combat bikini, I thought we were going to get some nice “foot-to-ass chick” action, but unfortunately, she spends the second half of the film doing little more than biting her knuckles and falling down.
İnanç would make up for Emel’s uselessness in later films, where he balanced sleazy crotch shots of his leading lady with scenes of her kungfu-ing the hell out of bad guys. I doubt this has much to do with any sense of feminist liberation on the part of Çetin İnanç, and has a lot more to do with him realizing one day that a woman in a bikini doing a stretched-out karate high kick is really just one more way to film her from his favorite angle.
Vahsi Kan is ’80s action cinema stripped of its fat and delivering only the basest, most essential elements of action exploitation. It’s crude and violent, overblown and insane, sexist and macho and morally indefensible. The pace is frantic from the first shot, and it doesn’t take many breaks. Çetin İnanç has no time, at roughly 70 minutes, to focus on anything but the core of what makes people love trashy action. He and Cüneyt Arkin hit every note perfectly. Of course, they hit them with a sledgehammer, but it’s a well-brandished sledgehammer. The only reason I can’t call Vahsi Kan the quintessential İnanç-Arkin action film is because pretty much every film they made together was the quintessential İnanç-Arkin action film.