Turkish horror film Baskin would make an interesting double bill with Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon. In a Venn diagram of influences both share common ground especially in Italian horror (Fulci, Bava, Argento) but the resulting films could not be more different in style.
In a bleak roadside diner a group of cops trade insults and exaggerate their war stories. The more boorish of the men try to intimidate a fresh recruit (Gorkem Kasal) but the chief (Ergun Kuyucu) is looking out for him. Frustrated, the group’s bully (Muharrem Bayrak) turns to picking a fight with a waiter to assuage his boredom.
It’s a scene which references both Reservoir Dogs and Goodfellas, but Turkish film Baskin is no crime drama. The uncanny creeps into the scene gradually. In the background, a mysterious figure slops a bucket of what looks like offal around. One of the policemen becomes suddenly ill. While this could be the result of the dubious looking meat sizzling on skewers in the grubby kitchen when he runs to the outside toilet to throw up there is a sudden inexplicable influx of toads.
Just as the altercation with the waiter is in danger of becoming very nasty indeed, there is a scrambled distress call over the radio. Backup is being called to assist a potrol car send to investigate a disturbance at a derelict building. The chief decides to respond.
Baskin is director Can Evrenol’s first feature, although he has been working for some years producing a series of striking, bizarre, violent and disturbing shorts. I first came across his work at the 2008 London Frightfest horror movie festival where his short Sandik/The Chest was a highlight of the short film programme. An ultra-gory affair that captured the smeary look of a fifth generation VHS bootleg video nasty, Sandik effectively conjured up an apocalypse for peanuts. Evrenol made the significantly more ambitious To My Mother and Father in the UK in 2010. This sent a heady stew of Oedipal rage and Lovecraftian horror soaking into the shagpile carpets of middle class English suburbia. In 2013 Evrenol had taken his short film career about as far as it could go with the short from which Baskin has been developed played major genre festivals to acclaim (SITGES, Fantasticfest, Boston Underground Film Festival, and Frightfest, Mayhem and Celluloid Screams in the UK).
Baskin the short was a sudden hammer blow to the head, showing a group of cops finding unspeakable horror when investigating a derelict building. The feature length version played the festival circuit in 2015 to a more mixed response. While clearly the template for his future debut, Evrenol did not produce the blood splattered horror version of Gareth Evan’s The Raid that many people anticipated. This film is clearly a mutation and development of that short, but instead of opting to pursue relentless action and gore, Evrenol and his co-writers Ogulcan Eren Akay, Cem Ozuduru, and Ercin Sadikoglu take their characters on a long detour down a very twisty road before they reach the destination shown in the short. They then go beyond, dropping the characters into a vision of hell that, while it does not spare the audience graphic imagery, is more about creeping dread than jump scares.
From his shorts Evrenol’s genre influences are clear. In particular a love of the Italian horror of the 70s and 80s. Baskin shares surrealist imagery and striking primary colour design with Dario Argento classics Suspiria and Inferno. But also a gateway to hell trope and approach to narrative logic with Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond. Given that Fulci is so clearly an influence on this and Evrenol’s previous work that it is surprising that so many people appear to have been wrong-footed by this film’s leisurely pace and disregard for conventional logical storytelling. None of Fulci’s classic gore films are what anyone would call ‘fast paced’.
Baskin develops a palpable feeling of unease that finally resolves in a final 30 minutes that are genuinely disturbing when the cops disturb what seems to be a satanic apocalypse cult led by Baba (Mehmet Cerrahoglu). Avoiding digital trickery, the film’s practical effects and makeup also evoke films of the 70s and have a fetid presence which you can almost smell.
However, the most disturbing presence in the film is Cerrahoglu, a non-professional actor with extraordinary looks and delivery. Diminutive and compact, Baba is physically very different from the hulking menaces that usually lead satanic apocalypse cults in horror movies. His bald pate and features have a quality of looking both cherub-like and ancient simultaneously.
Baskin is not without issues. The cops’ early dialogue in the diner should be darkly comic but often comes over as just crass. To be fair, this could be due to something being lost in the translation of the Turkish dialogue. However, the characters are conventional cop movie types for whom it is difficult to engage much sympathy when the film turns weird. This is especially true of the central rookie/seasoned cop relationship.
Those who call Baskin slow moving also have a point regarding the middle section of the film, which drags slightly. Nonetheless, whenever the film seems to be slowing to a halt, Evrenol will suddenly produce an unexpected surrealist image. One such when the cops crash their car into a shallow river, is really beautiful. Much like the hallucination sequence in The Evil Dead demonstrated that Sam Raimi had a truly artistic sensibility, these scenes and images show that Evrenol is more than just another shock jockey director (and the dark lord knows we have more than enough of those right now). The director is greatly aided in this by his cinematographer Alp Korfali – who also shot the short.
A putrid dish made by shoving Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, Italian video nasties, and some Chris Cunningham Aphex Twin videos into a meat grinder, Baskin is a steak tartar movie. You really have to have the taste for it.
Evrenol’s short films (including Sandik and To My Mother and Father) are available to view on his website. Sensitive viewers beware, there is graphic content http://canevrenol.com/showreel/
Baskin will be released in UK cinemas and VOD on Friday 15th July by Vertigo films.