Saturday, October 30, 2021

Dracula in Turkey and Pakistan (1953 and 1967)

Drakula Istanbul'da/Dracula in Istanbul (1953)

There have been many adaptions of Bram Stoker's classic vampire novel over the years, all with varying degrees of loyalty. Some are at least a little faithful, but few completely so, especially the Universal and Hammer entries, which diverge from the text a fair bit. Partly this is due to the book's length, and long list of characters, but also its epistolary structure, which doesn't lend itself well to film. In a way this is actually a good thing, as it allows for creativity, and always being a little different. One of the more faithful and straightforward adaptions comes from a surprising place, in the heartland of Turkey!

Lawyer Azmi has journeyed to the ancestral home of Count Dracula to conduct a real estate deal. He soon notices odd things, which culminates in a dreamlike attack. Realising the danger he's in, Azmi is able to escape back home to Turkey. But it's too late to stop Dracula from following, and he begins to take roost in Istanbul, claiming new victims. Can he be stopped before he sucks the city dry?...

Dracula in Istanbul is an old-fashioned horror movie at heart. By no means a classic, it does its job well. There's enough scares and thrills present, even if they're not entirely successful. The black and white photography, and decent (if rickety) sets give off a good atmosphere. The movie does run a good 20 minutes longer than it should have, but is never boring at least.

While many viewers, or even filmmakers, would never know for decades (and probably still don't), Dracula in Istanbul did a lot of firsts for Dracula cinema. It was the first to show him with fangs, the first to not jettison Arthur Holmwood, and it even beat Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula to the Vlad the Impaler punch by 5 decades. It also includes the scene of Dracula climbing his castle walls like a lizard, which many adaptions leave out.

It's Dracula's historical connection that makes this a particularly interesting picture. To the English, Vlad the Impaler was just a random historical figure, but to the Turks he was a very real threat, who waged war and fought off their advances to brutal degrees. While I doubt he was exactly a boogeyman to Turkish youths by 1953, there's still a closer connection to the source material than just about anywhere else.

The heroes are straight out of the book. Azmi is Johnathan Harker by another name, while he's aided by Turan (Arthur), and Doctors Nuri and Akif (Van Helsing and Seward). The girls are Güzin and Sadan (Mina and Lucy), and fill their roles well, with the latter becoming a seductive vampire woman. They're all fairly standard, and do alright.

The Renfield equivalent is not in an English asylum here, but Dracula's manservant in Transylvania. He gets a surprisingly juicy role, defying his cruel master to save Azmi's life.

And lastly, 'Drakula' makes for a reasonably effective villain. Suave, cunning, and hypnotic. And given the sheer amount of garlic in his way, it seems he picked the wrong country to attack!

One of the bigger differences from the books, or other films, is 'Mina's' new occupation-She works as a bellydancer! This results in several scenes showcasing her talent (or lack thereof, depending on the viewer).

The acting is decent, and Atıf Kaptan makes for a good Dracula visually, although his voice doesn't sound that distinctive. But I won't criticise him though for not being as commanding a presence as Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee. [And props to the actor for actually trying something with his accent, since Dracula is meant to be Romanian, not Turkish!]

The print I watched had some hilarious subtitles, which manage at least 7 different spellings of Dracula, gut-busting exclamations like "How dare!", and mistranslates impaling as poking, resulting in the unintimidating name of Vlad the Poker.

The effects here are pretty cheap, but done in decent ways. Some look pretty neat, like the Dracula scaling the castle, while others are simple cross-cuts. The direction, meanwhile, is neat, and evokes a decent enough Gothic atmosphere.

There's one amusing bit of behind-the-scenes trivia, showcasing the Turkish know-how spirit. To achieve the effect of a misty graveyard (smoke machines being a luxury for Turkish cinema, I imagine), the crew had to crouch behind out of sight and huff cigarettes to make enough smoke!

Overall, Dracula in Istanbul is a pretty decent horror picture. Nothing amazing or A-list, but it's still an interesting adaption to check out, and it's fun seeing the Turks take a stab at Dracula. It's also neat seeing them tackle the horror genre, which they so rarely did before the turn of the millennium...

Zinda Laash/Dracula in Pakistan

A well-meaning but misguided scientist Dr. Tabani is experimenting to find the elixir of life, and succeeds only in turning himself into a monstrous vampire. Some time later he is visited by the secret vampire hunter Dr. Aqil. This mission ends in failure, and it's soon up to Aqil's brother to uncover the mystery, and stop this vampire before he sucks the life out of Aqil's beautiful fiancee, and her family...

Zinda Laash translates directly to The Living Corpse, but is more commonly known as Dracula in Pakistan (the jumpier title!). It's an enjoyable mix of East and West, in a comfy horror package. And who doesn't wanna see Dracula take a subcontinental vacation!

The plot here is in essence a remake of Hammer's Horror of Dracula, but with elements of the book added back in. It shares many positives of that classic, as well as one glaring issue. Dr. Aqil has both Dracula and his bride there in the coffins. Why doesn't he stake Dracula first?!

Aqil's brother soon comes to replace him as lead protagonist, and comes into conflict with the fiancee's family patriarch, who refuses to believe there's a vampire on the loose, and certainly doesn't want to chop up his daughter's body. Hard to really say he's acting unreasonably, especially as the brother acts increasingly persistent. We do eventually get a Van Helsing analogue, who comes pretty out of nowhere.

The film has enough action to keep interest, and is never as overlong as a Desi film could be. There are tense vampire encounters, such as the Lucy analogue attempts biting her younger sister, and the increasing danger 'Mina' is in. Things culminate in a car chase, and final battle in Tabani's 'castle', which is plenty of fun.

Besides the switch in country of course, the biggest differences from either the literary or cinematic source material is the updated time period. Zinda Laash is set in the then modern day, and has a surprisingly modern feel. I'll say this though. The nightclub scenes aren't as wild as I was expecting. When one hears '1960s nightculb scene' you tend to expect more of a psychedelic acid feel, but really it's more like lounge singing, and fairly traditional.

The film came under immediate scrutiny from authorities in its home country, branded with a dreaded X rating and almost banned. This is pretty unfair, considering it's a fairly tame and bloodless horror film! Obviously it's tame by today's standards, but it's pretty classical even for its time. Not to say it's not impactful or couldn't scare anybody, but you don't exactly see tits galore or buckets of blood. What you do get is a good story about monsters causing trouble and heroes with faith in Allah saving the day. So really I have no idea what these censors took issue with so much, besides hardline fanatics just hating fun. God knows the public liked it!

The cast all do a good job. Habib (just Habib) is a decent hero, Asad Bukhari is likewise as the doomed Dr. Aqil, and the various women all do well. The best performer is Rehan as Dracula, alias Dr. Tabani. He has a good villainous presence, and some amusingly cheesy moments, courtesy of his wild facial expressions.

The direction is quite good, with a few neat touches. We get a mix of classical gothic settings, and modern, and they're shot from cool angles, with nice use of shadows.

The effects in Zinda Laash are minimal, but very good! There's a sense of quality over quantity here. Being a fairly small scale character piece, there aren't a lot of effects heavy scenes, but those that do have impact, from the surprisingly great vampire fangs (especially Shabnam's, which are a far cry from cardboard fangs!), and an impressive vampire disintegration at the end.

The score here is quite varied. There are some classical pieces, including a rescored version of Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, tense mood-setting tracks, and some groovy music! Zinda Laash may be from Pakistan, but who said the age of disco didn't reach their shores? These tunes do ruin the mood in a couple of tense scenes, but otherwise they're a fun addition. Lastly, as a Pakistani film, this is basically Indian, meaning there are a few Bollywood-esque songs. They're nice enough, if a bit superfluous, and fade entirely from the last act.

Pakistan's cinema may not be as impressive as their larger neighbour, but they've still produced some great stuff over the years, and even their smaller horror output proves to be great fun! Zinda Laash is a legitimately good flick, and well worth checking out, both as a companion piece to the book/other adaptions, and as its own film...

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