Genies not genius: Turkey’s low-budget horror flicks boom

Genies not genius: Turkey’s low-budget horror flicks boom

The films often revolve around jinns or genies — potentially mischievous spirits that are a part of Islamic myths and theology.
03 Oct, 2022

Kneeling before a chalk star outside his tumbledown house, an old man performs a ritual to rid himself of evil spirits — which many superstitious Turks believe exist.

Perched behind the camera, director Metin Kuru tries to encourage the actor to convey the sheer agony of being possessed by a genie.

But there won’t be many takes, because Kuru needs to finish his film fast to feed Turkey’s voracious appetite for low-budget horror flicks, with a new supernatural chiller released every week.

“At the end of the day, I try to produce films with as few technical issues as possible,” Kuru told AFP between scenes of Muhr-u Musallat 2 — Yasak Dugun (Sealed Invasion 2 — Forbidden Wedding).

Filming many of the scenes in the dark helps.

“The colour palette of horror movies is not as varied, which allows filmmakers to shoot with cheaper cameras, less light and smaller crews,” Kuru said.

This year alone, 60 new homegrown horror movies will hit screens in Turkey, where demand for entertainment has not waned despite — or maybe because of — the economic crises gripping the country.

Few horror films were made until the 1990s, their growth coinciding with the rise of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted AKP party.


 Photos: AFP
Photos: AFP

Its coming to power in 2002 after decades of more secular governments helped let the genie out of the bottle, with more religious Turks — and plenty of secular ones — lapping up superstitious tales that were previously frowned on.

Film critic Gizem Simsek Kaya believes there may be a link between the horror boom and broader social shifts in Turkey.

“The drive to brush aside superstition and come closer to science (of modern Turkey’s founders) began to regress in the late 1990s,” Kaya said.

Religious-themed horror movies became popular with Buyu (The Spell) in 2004, and reached an even bigger audience with the launch of the big-budget Dabbe series in 2006.

Director Hasan Karacadag made six Dabbe films, the last in 2015, breaking Turkish box office records.

Other blockbusters followed from the equally popular Siccin franchise from director Alper Mestci.

“Some Islamic tendencies and the rising tide of conservatism play a role in this,” Kaya said.

False idols

Turkish horror films mostly revolve around jinns or genies — potentially mischievous spirits that are a part of Islamic myths and theology.

This can be tricky for makeup artists like Yesim Vatansever.

Not only are genies supposed to be invisible, but there are also more than 70 types, making depicting them a challenge.

“It would be much easier to visualise, say, an alien,” Vatansever said.

Film critic Kaya, who teaches at Istanbul’s Kultur University, said vampire movies do not work in Turkey because of religious sensitivities.

The idea of the living dead “in Islam is equal to committing shirk,” or the sin of idolatry, she said.

It may not have helped either the inspiration for the Dracula, the mediaeval Romanian ruler Vlad the Impaler, got his gory nickname from impaling Turks.

Ghosts and zombies also have issues.

“In Islam the dead body is only seen covered in a shroud. When you try to resurrect something, it has to remove the shroud and walk naked,” Kaya said.

In one movie, Kaya recalled, a resurrected man who threw off his shroud put on some trousers he found on the street.

“The moment he did that, the movie turned into a comedy,” she said.

Tiny budgets

These limitations can make Turkish horror movies look dreadful, Kaya lamented.

“They are shot in a few days, the equipment is poor, and the film can come out blurry,” she said.

“I had never seen the words ‘error code’ accidentally appear in a movie” until it turned up in a Turkish horror flick this year, she said.

Screenwriter Ozlem Bolukbasi conceded that the films were not cinematic masterpieces.

“The budgets and production values are not high,” she said.

“But do we still draw audiences? Yes, we do,” she added.

Back on set with the old man possessed by a jinn, local villagers had flocked to see the filming.

“It’s fun. The whole town is here at the moment,” said Huseyin Aydemir, who runs a local restaurant in Buyukorhan, near Bursa in northwestern Turkey.

“A cemetery scene was shot here two days ago. The locals went to the scene hours before the film crew.”