Sunday, September 18, 2022

Ölüm Savasçisi (1984)

Turkish bizarro cinema is a gift that keeps on giving. Sure, there may only be a finite number of these films, but there's more than enough to keep fans satisfied, and Turks embarrassed. Today's film isn't one of the famous knock-offs, though it does take inspiration from more than a few areas, delivering what has to be the craziest ninja film to ever come out of Turkey!...

Murat is a by-the-books ex-cop, who is brought out of retirement after a series of deadly ninja attacks rock the country. He battles them at every turn, but nothing seems to stop them. Their fanaticism is so extreme, and their powers so great that it seems they can keep fighting after death itself. Can Murat save Turkey from this ninja menace?...

Ölüm Savasçisi (Death Warrior) is a weird one! Even those used to these kinds of movies may be surprised at what goes on here. It's an 'everything but the kitchen sink' film, moving at a mile a minute, rarely stopping to breathe.

The film opens with a training session by an intensely enthusiastic ninja master, who tells his students how they can turn anything into deadly weapons. Afterwards we get a montage of assassinations, showing their skills in action, before being introduced to our hero in what feels like the middle of the story.

What sets Death Warrior apart from other ninja movies, in and out of Turkey, is how much of a horror focus it takes. The assassinations feel like they're from a slasher film, and the violence and bodycount gets quite high for your average action flick. The ninjas have a supernatural power, attacking like demons from The Evil Dead, using killer vines to strangle their victims, and one scene even sees a corpse coming back to life as a clawed monster. Don't ask me to make sense of it!

When not focusing on action, much of the film is made up of the heroes discussing things. At times it gets borderline surreal, like when Murat meets a hypnotised girl, and looking into her eye shows a frog/lizard, which then jumps out and tries strangling him to death!

As is typical for such films, Death Warrior has no ending. It's hilariously abrupt the way Murat finally kills the baddie, then walks off in the most casual "I don't give a fuck" kind of way! The End. In under 5 seconds. Granted, the film didn't exactly have much to wrap up, but still, give us something! Thankfully other cuts of the movie do have a quick coda.

The hero is a lot of things. Ex-cop, karate expert (and ninja?), and a biker. He's also a charming boyfriend who hangs around on the beach a lot, dressing as an Aussie would. Lead actor Cüneyt Arkın pulls all these things off with a straight face, and is ridiculous in all the right ways.

The supporting cast is made up predominately of men in suits, most of whom get killed. Murat really doesn't do a good job protecting people! He also has a faithful girlfriend, whose hair colour seems to change along with her actress from scene to scene.

The villains are nameless and often faceless ninjas. Their vicious streak makes them tough enemies. Their leader is the only one who speaks, and he gets carried away a lot. Speaking as fast as he can, getting more and more dramatic and breathless with each word. His training scenes are a highlight. In one particular scene, he's demonstrating karate moves on a guy whose body has been carefully trained to withstand any force...then uses him as target practice! Dude, come on, they surely can't come cheap!

The action is a lot of fun here. These Z-grade Turkish filmmakers may have been lacking in some areas, but fighting wasn't one of them, nor creativity. Here we get to say the hero catching knives mid-air and throwing them back, and using a multi-shot bow and arrow to mow down a dozen ninjas at a time. There's also the expected trampoline jumping (they're sometimes even visible!). And one part of the film becomes Turkish motorcross GP.

The most impressive sequence is the (seemingly endless) final fight, which manages to continue despite the main villain being set on fire!...No, hold your horses, I don't mean they really set the actor alight ("Fireproof gel? What's that?" asks a Turkish director), instead it's a very fake mannequin. But it's a fake mannequin that won't stop moving! How they managed that, as many times as they do before it must have totally disintegrated, is nothing short of a miracle. And accomplishing the scene without the lead actor going up in flames equally so.

The effects here can be pretty fake, always in a funny way. The biggest effect is the briefly-appearing monster, and it's difficult to tell what you're even looking at. But it does look unique, and I really like the bleeding effect they managed! Little touches like that can bring life to a costume, even if the rest isn't convincing.

The direction in Death Warrior is fairly standard Turkish action. Where it gets different is its inspiration from The Evil Dead, with a handheld POV cam. I'm not sure how a Turkish action vehicle came to mine that particular film, but it makes for one of the more distinct ninja flicks of the time.

The soundtrack is an eclectic mix of Flash Gordon, James Bond, and Enter the Dragon. The sound design is predictably cheesy. There are funny ninja screams, and unique but repetitive sword sounds. We also get a nicely tense chase sound in one moment.

Something I didn't know until fairly recently was that there's actually a reason Death Warrior is so jumbled and confusing! Yeah, who'd have thought. It's a Frankenstein picture cobbled together by re-editing an existing movie, and shooting new footage, resulting in the incomprehensible product we have. The original film was called Holy Sword (for some reason, when its title actually translates to Last Warrior), and it's a fairly straightforward Cüneyt Arkın flick. Ridiculous, with copious amounts of jumping, and fake swords. It's mixed all through Death Warrior, with the final fight taking place 10 minutes in. The new footage consists of the entire evil ninja story, the horror elements, and who knows what else. It wouldn't be fair to say the new footage is all the weird bits, but it certainly does contribute! One wonders what made Arkın want to do a 'film' like this. Were his other 300 films not enough to pay the bills?

Ölüm Savasçisi is a crazy film even by Turkish standards. If you like that sort of thing, you can't find much worse/better than this! And if you don't like them? Well, this won't do anything to change your mind...

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