(a.k.a. KARANLIK SULAR)
A lengthy spoken intro opens proceedings, offering some insight into the background of the author, explaining the Turkish mythology that it concerns itself with and warning us that - as this production concerns itself with supernatural themes - the film may not always seem entirely logical ...
And then it gets weird.
THE SERPENT'S TALE starts proper with a group of people gathered in a quiet cinema to watch a sad black-and-white movie. Several female patrons are sobbing in their seats. One midde-aged man becomes distracted by the smiles of a young girl and follows her into the foyer.
Hunter (Daniel Chace, EAST OF HOPE STREET), an American working in Turkey, witnesses this and follows the pair out. He watches as the older man catches up with the girl and places his hand upon her head. She looks up and smiles at him ... then Hunter is distracted by the appearance of Haldun (Metin Uygun) behind him. When Hunter turns back around, the older man is lying on the floor dead - and the little girl has gone.
Hunter and the mysterious Haldun go for a walk outside. Haldun informs Hunter that he must seduce him in order to protect him, and that the little girl they'd just seen is an evil princess - he should certainly not set about following her like he had been.
Confused, Hunter challenges Haldun - but Haldun simply passes an old compass on to Hunter and says he should ask his mother about him ... then disappears into the darkness.
The following morning, Hunter goes to see Haldun's mother, Lamia (Gonen Bozbey, HOSCAKAL YARIN). She lets him in her house, but is disturbed when he tells her that he met her son the previous night, who had nudged him in her direction. Hunter passes the compass on to her as proof. Lamia is disturbed because, she tells Hunter, Haldun drowned several years earlier.
Later that day, Lamia visits her local fortune teller for information on Haldun, and to see if he really has returned. The fortune teller responds by telling a cautionary tale against ever wishing the dead to come back.
Lamia is understandably vexed by the day's events so far, and gets even more to contend with when she returns home and her boyfriend announces plans to burn her house down. He wants to use the home insurance payout towards funding a massive business deal he's been negotiating. Initially against the idea, Lamia gives in and signs over her home insurance to the boyfriend - but warns him she'll never give him what he truly wants: a child. She then retires to her bedroom and writes a love letter to someone else!
Lamia then visits a lecturer friend of hers, in the hope of deciphering some inscriptions she's found on the compass. The first part of the inscription leads them to an ancient building where they travel together to search for further clues. Clues about what? I don't know - Haldun's whereabouts, perhaps?
That evening, Lamia meets Hunter for a meal and discusses the inscriptions with him - there is still more translating to do, but Lamia is convinced Haldun has used Hunter to pass the compass to her for a very specific reason.
At this point, THE SERPENT'S TALE becomes increasingly surreal - it's already confused plot introducing more characters, sub-plots and set-pieces to a storyline already bucking under the weight of it's unbalanced narration.
But what THE SERPENT'S TALE lacks in narrative focus, it makes up for with sheer panache and visual style. It's use of coloured lighting filters and imaginative camera angles recalls vintage Argento on frequent occasion. And the dreamlike imagery - scenes of runs through graveyards, flame-lit caverns, the decrepit building that Lamia is drawn to - is all breathtaking and nightmarish in equal turns.
So, while you may be scratching your head at the plot, THE SERPENT'S TALE is at the very least a triumph of interesting visuals, successful variations on worn horror clichés and innovative sound design.
Some reviews have proclaimed THE SERPENT'S TALE as Turkey's most accomplished horror movie. On a technical level, per above, I'd be inclined to agree. It's also thankfully a lot less dependent on humour as most other Turkish films tend to be. The result is bizarrely haunting and well worth a look.
Onar's disc is limited to only 1200 copies, each of which is individually numbered.
The film is presented uncut in it's original 1.85: aspect ratio. It isn't enhanced for 16x9 TV sets, but the picture is relatively sharp and clear. There is some grain and darker scenes don't cope so well, but overall it's decent enough transfer.
The Turkish mono audio (actually quite a bit of the dialogue is English too) holds up well. English subtitles are burned-in over the Turkish dialogue, and Greek subtitles are optional in addition.
Attractive animated menus include a scene-selection menu allowing access to the main feature via 8 chapters.
Bonus features begin with a revealing 20-minute with director E Kutlug Ataman (LOLA AND BILLY THE KID). He speaks in near-fluent English about the making of his movie, and displays both a fondness and good memory towards the project. Optional Greek subtitles are available.
An attractively produced photo gallery of 35 stills follows.
Next, we have biographies and filmographies. These are very brief to say the least, with only Ataman getting more than a couple of lines of text (in English).
Press reviews follow - 4 pages of text relating to European reviews, and 5 pages of text relating to Turkish clippings. Again, these are presented in English text.
Finally, we get trailers for THE SERPENT'S TALE, TARZAN ISTANBUL'DA, CASUS KIRAN' KAMCILI SUVARI, KIZIL TUG CANGIZ HAN and ASKA SUSAYANLAR SEKS VE CINAYET. Trying saying that when you're pissed.
All in all, Onar have provided a perfectly serviceable disc for a well-regarded but undeniably obscure Turkish gem. THE SERPENT'S TALE will delight those in search of atmospheric, corny horror that manages to stun and baffle in equal measures.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Onar Films|
|Region All - NTSC|
|see main review|