When the term “mockbuster” is mentioned, contemporary American audiences will certainly think first of Asylum Studios, an entire company dependent on the continuingly worsening eyesight of grandparents who go to video stores to buy the latest three-hundred-million dollar blockbuster their grandkids keep blabbing on about, only to end up with an Asylum rip-off with an extremely similar title and poster art. Made over a weekend with a budget of about a hundred bucks and change, these cynically produced quick cash grabs attempt to lure confused audiences, and stoners looking to watch any cheap trash “ironically”, into their trap. That’s how Transformers becomes Transmorphers, The Fast and the Furious becomes The Fast and the Fierce, Ghostbusters becomes Ghosthunters, etc…
However, mockbusters didn’t begin with Asylum, and every kid who grew up on the home video craze of the ’80s, like yours truly, can regale you with endless tales of Italian rip-offs of post-apocalyptic sci-fi—there must be hundreds of cheap remakes of The Road Warrior from this period—and sword-and-sorcery movies produced solely because the director got his hands on a bunch of prop swords, a couple of women willing to bare all, and a weekend pass to a national park full of tall trees. Of course, because of strict copyright laws, these movies always perform a delicate dance at the edge of the copyright infringement border, changing just enough of the original material to avoid getting sued while exploiting the crap out of whatever made their source material make so much cash in the first place.
But what if I told you, fellow aficionados of “so bad it’s good” fare and uncut, unfiltered schlock, that there’s a kind of mockbuster out there in the annals of bad movie history, that didn’t even have to give half a crap about copyright laws? These glorious pieces of cheap trash not only shamelessly copy-pasted entire sections of the Hollywood blockbusters they ripped off (sometimes even repeating the entire script almost word-by-word), but liberally used music and even footage from those films, without, mind you, giving the original copyright holders one red cent in the process.
Welcome to the wonderful world of Turkish mockbusters, an era in Turkish cinema, mostly spanning the ’70s and the ’80s, where producers took complete advantage of the country’s nonexistent enforcement of international copyright laws, and combined that with the fact that many Hollywood blockbusters were taking a long time, sometimes even years, to reach the country’s theaters. Audiences at the time could either wait months or even years to lay eyes on the expensive and polished originals, or immediately be able to watch their favorite local stars make complete fools of themselves as they attempted to recreate a $50 million Spielberg behemoth with loose change and a Bolex camera.
As a movie nerd growing up in Turkey, I watched my fair share of these mockbusters on TV. They weren’t even shown as part of a self-aware midnight movie marathon that focused on the cheapness and weirdness of these films; they were broadcast as legitimate examples of Turkish cinema. This lack of ironic detachment made the experience that much more hilarious for me. The Turkish mockbuster period came to a screeching halt during the latter part of the ’80s, when big U.S. releases began to come out earlier and earlier, and the home video boom allowed Turks to rent the very movies that their local counterparts were aping. In a way, my love for bad movies began with my discovery of Turkish mockbusters during the ’90s. I had already seen all of the original movies they were copying, so it was always a blast to chortle at the cheaply rendered and shamelessly ripped-off takes on some of my favorite films. So without further ado, I’d like to share some Turkish mockbusters with you. Some of them will feel familiar to fans of bad movies, some of them should hopefully be new discoveries, but all of them will be weird as hell.
(Special thanks to Murat Tolga Sen, an invaluable film critic who runs Oteki Sinema, Turkey’s premier source for everything related to genre cinema, for suggesting some important titles that I missed.)
Easily the most famous Turkish mockbuster in this list, Turkish Star Wars is a “so bad it’s good” classic. Written by and starring Cuneyt Arkin, an action star who was at the height of his career at the time, this 1982 attempt at a sprawling space opera technically tells an original story, but not only borrows heavily from the original Star Wars, it also uses direct footage from the film to pad out around thirty percent of its runtime. One of the most hilarious developments in Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam occurs when the filmmakers directly transfer the anamorphic film print of Star Wars to a 4:3 frame, resulting in the awkward stretching of the footage. Hence, The Death Star becomes “The Death Egg.”
The incoherent Islam-based plot of the evil “Magician” (Darth Vader with a pornstache), Arkin’s heroic space pilot mowing through poor lanky stuntmen wearing makeshift plush alien costumes, and the stunningly poor execution of a special effect that was supposed to imply the bad guy being split in half, are some of the countless highlights of this classic. The film was directed by Cetin Inanc, whose name will pop up many times before the end of this list. Inanc was as much of a leading figurehead in the Turkish mockbuster era as Jean-Luc Godard was to The French New Wave. You can also watch the entire movie, with English subtitles, here.
It’s understandable for mockbuster fans to expect Turkish Star Trek to be similar in sheer ineptitude and craziness to Turkish Star Wars. However, this one’s a different beast. First of all, it’s meant to be more of a parody of Star Trek than a direct ripoff. Of course that doesn’t stop the filmmakers from presenting an almost shot-by-shot remake of the original series episode “The Man Trap.” The only major difference to the story this time around is the inclusion of Tourist Omar, a famous comedy character played by legendary actor Sadri Alisik across a series of films that depict a goofy, abrasive, yet warm-hearted working-class idiot somehow traveling to various different countries and getting into outrageous adventures.
The original Star Trek series was a big hit on Turkish television during the early ’70s. Since Turks only had a single, government-controlled channel available to them at the time, they had to swallow any crap that the programmers threw their way. Unsurprisingly, a smart and exciting sci-fi show like Star Trek stood out in terms of quality among the dreck. As an attempt to capitalize on the series’ local success, the producers of the Tourist Omar series decides to beam this Turkish version of Inspector Clouseau to the Enterprise. Even though Omar pretty much randomly finds himself in the middle of the classic episode, he doesn’t really do anything to alter the plot.
The remake of “The Man Trap” develops almost with the same beats as the original, with Omar merely making simple jokes about Spock’s ears and the female crew members’ short skirts, a la a much less sophisticated version of MST3K. Most of the “comedy” in Tourist Omar in Star Trek derives from jokes that require the audience to not only speak Turkish, but to be privy of many working class slang terms from the period, so the film’s international allure is a bit limited. Of course that shouldn’t stop anyone from laughing at the ridiculously cheap special effects that include, but not limited to, white paint on film stock to simulate phaser fire and beaming. You can watch it in full here (no English subtitles).
With the Turkish Exorcist, we move onto scene-by-scene, almost shot-by-shot remake territory. The 1974 Turkish version, released almost immediately after the original was a major hit, follows the story of The Exorcist almost religiously. The Turkish Exorcist pretty much proves that there really isn’t that much of a difference between Christianity and Islam, at least in terms of religious text and supernatural mythology, since the entire original script, including the long exorcism scenes in their entirety, were transferred to this remake with very minor changes in dialogue. The priests become imams, the Bible becomes the Quran, and that’s where the changes pretty much end.
As a whole, Seytan isn’t actually half bad, and can be enjoyed in an un-ironic way as a grimy and borderline exploitation version of Friedkin’s classic. One of the reasons for the film’s surprising competency, despite its obvious tiny budget and technical limitations, lies with director Metin Erksan, who was a respectable helmer of dramas at the time. (For proof, check out his masterwork Dry Summer, release by Criterion as part of Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project.) Erksan infuses his version with oodles of tension and suspense as a way to cover up some of the dodgy special effects. Seytan also works because the film’s use of the academy ratio and grainy, unpolished look inadvertently gives it a ’70s grindhouse feel, as if we’re watching an early work by Wes Craven. Seytan is certainly rough around the edges, and has its share of unintentional comedy, but it stands out as a halfway worthy counterpart to the original. You can watch the film in its entirety, with English subtitles, here.
As far as cheap ripoffs of Spielberg’s family/sci-fi hit is concerned, we get two for the price of one. First at the bat is Badi (Turkish phonetic spelling of the English word “buddy”), which is inexplicably shot much more like a dark horror flick then a family-friendly sci-fi adventure. This might be an attempt to cover the horrific costume the filmmakers put together for the friendly alien. It didn’t work. One of the many joys of watching Badi is coming up with as many disgusting descriptions for the costume as possible: Is it two overgrown testicles in a deep-fried burlap sack? A melted Danny DeVito action figure come to life? One of the deformed Ripley clones from Alien Resurrection? I have more, but don’t let me stop you from coming up with your own upon watching the linked clip. In a way, Badi works as an unintentional surreal horror classic that can be interpreted as a fever nightmare suffered by this film’s version of Elliot. You can watch Badi in its entirety, without subtitles, here.
Homoti, on the other hand, is a stunningly cheap and shoddy E.T. parody that attempts to extract some chuckles out of the mere coupling of legendary comedian Mujdat Gezen and a rubber E.T. costume from a ghetto Halloween store. Shot on video, with half the footage taken from early CGI test videos, Homoti is a chore to sit through, whether or not you speak Turkish. You should feel lucky that all I could find was a short clip. You can check it out here.
Take the 1939 classic, strip the musical numbers, gorgeous color cinematography, and all inherent charm and wonder, and you’ll get the Turkish Wizard of Oz. (Take a deep breath before reading the Turkish title out loud.) This 1971 ripoff attempts to insert Aysecik, a recurring character in a series of children’s films, always played by beloved child star Zeynep Degirmencioglu, into the wonderful world of Oz (i.e., whatever public park was available on the day of shooting).
Aysecik was sort of the kids’ version of Tourist Omar, finding herself in various (public domain) fantasy lands and infusing a bit of Turkish ingenuity and charm into them. One of the most distinct changes that the Turkish version applies to the original is in the way it turns the iconic munchkins into the seven dwarves, awkwardly inserting one fantasy tale into another. Otherwise, it’s a fairly loyal remake that’s not really worth your time, unless you’ve ever wondered how The Wizard of Oz would have looked after a no-budget production. You can watch all of it, without subtitles, here.
This quickly assembled 1979 mockbuster is nowhere near as technically impressive as Bryan Singer’s later misfire, even though it’s a hell of a lot more entertaining. In this version, Superman/Tayfun (Clark Kent’s infinitely less interesting Turkish identity) is played with nary a modicum of emotion by Tayfun Demir, an unholy offspring of Christopher Reeve and Lurch from the original Addams Family. The cheap knock-off goes around the many expensive requirements of the special effects from the original by cutting out those sequences entirely, and putting clunky exposition dialogue in its place, such as the scene where Superman’s devout Muslim adoptive parents tell him about his alien origin.
To pull off Superman’s flight, director Kunt Tulgar unceremoniously hung his lead actor to the ceiling and let random footage of Istanbul play behind him on the rear projection. With its use of cheap props, like rubber guns and knives, to visually depict Superman’s superhuman strength, this mockbuster plays out more like a sendoff to the 1950s Superman serials than Richard Donner’s game changer, even though it liberally uses John Williams’ iconic score (and the James Bond theme for some reason). The shoddy paper maché credits sequence that was supposed to substitute the original’s still spectacular opening alone is worth a peek. You can watch it, with subtitles, here.
Mockbuster extraordinaire Cetin Inanc returns with the Turkish Rambo, and he brings to the table his Middle Eastern version of Sly Stallone: Serdar, a semi-hunk with the acting ability, personality, and charisma of a wet blanket combined with a deer caught in headlights. You thought Sly was clunky? Wait until you lay eyes on Serdar’s half-asleep performance as a commando who infiltrates a terrorist group that’s settled in eastern Turkish mountains.
The film takes some inspiration from the still-prevalent Turkish-Kurdish conflict, but the main focus here is to show off Serdar’s awesome (by Turkish standards) pecks and deliver one giant action set piece after the other. How does one recreate the multi-million dollar explosions and gunfire of the original Rambo flicks, you might ask? Well, this is Cetin Inanc we’re talking about. The man has never seen a special effect he couldn’t recreate using a bunch of plastic and a duct tape laying around. In this case, he gets ample mileage out of good old-fashioned fishing lines and attaching them to what look like repurposed plungers to simulate rocket fire.
The “rockets” literally plop out of their launchers (complete with an unintentionally cartoonish sound effect), only to deliver an explosion that’s equivalent to five firecrackers being set off at once. Of course, this lack of fireworks does not stop the bad guys from flailing all over the place as if a nuke was detonated five feet away. Korkusuz isn’t as consistently hilarious as Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam, but the sheer insanity of the final ten minutes makes it completely worth a watch. You can watch the final scene here. There was also an English-dubbed version called Rampage that was released a couple of years ago, but it looks like it’s no longer available.
We could have tried to find a better image, but really, this seems appropriate.
Another Cetin Inanc joint, Turkish Jaws is more of a loose throwback to Spielberg’s masterpiece than an out-and-out remake. Cuneyt Arkin stars as a man who’s left to die in the sea by a bunch of criminals, and he has to fight against a deadly shark, or, in the case of this film, a filthy buoy with cardboard teeth, in order to make it back to land. The bare bones story structure makes it feel more like a decades-earlier version of Open Water or The Shallows. It’s actually a rather dull experience, and even Arkin’s effortless badassery can’t save it. You can watch a clip here.
Hey kids, after the success of Deadpool and Logan, do you want more hyperviolent superhero movies? Well, let’s go back four decades and check out this depraved 1973 actioner that tells the rip-roaring story of Captain America and El Santo going after your neighborhood psychotic rapist criminal mastermind Spider-Man! You heard that right, not only is Spider-Man the bad guy here, but he is one sick puppy, as evidenced by the pre-credits sequence that shows him burying a woman and decapitating her with a boat propeller. Thankfully, the movie spares us from finding out what he did to aunt May.
Taking full advantage of the sexploitation craze of ’70s Turkish cinema, 3 Dev Adam should work as a permanently scarring experience for Marvel fanboys, watching their beloved heroes engage in horrific and horrifically blocked violence, only to stop every once in a while to watch gaudy striptease shows. I have a feeling that this is what Deadpool would imagine an Avengers movie to look like. You can watch the whole film, with subtitles, here.
So, there you have it. I hope I gave bad movie fans enough to chew on for now. There are, of course, many other titles within the Turkish mockbuster canon. I didn’t include extended blurbs about each one for a variety of reasons, from a lack of clips to showcase, to films themselves not being interesting enough, or honestly, films that I haven’t seen and don’t have a current ability to watch. Some of those are: Turkish Shining (Biri Beni Gozluyor), a cheap take on Kubrick’s masterpiece, shot on VHS of all things. Turkish Rocky (Kara Simsek), Cetin Inanc’s take on another Stallone franchise (trailer), and Turkish James Bond (Altin Cocuk), a fairly competent 1964 spy flick that borrows heavily from Connery’s Bond up to that time.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a screenwriter, script coach and film critic. He works as a reader for some of the leading screenplay coverage companies in Hollywood, and is also a film critic for The Playlist, DVD Talk and Beyazperde. He has a BA in Film Theory and an MFA in Screenwriting. He lives near Portland, Ore., with his wife, daughter, and two King Charles Spaniels.