About a week ago, I got a DVD screener for “Hell’s Ground”, a Pakistani zombie movie that was an entry in last year’s Asian Film Festival. Made on a shoestring budget, it borrows shamelessly from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” with a mace-wielding, burqa-clad fiend chasing the movie’s hapless teens through the forest. I happen to love knock-off’s like these that pay homage to Hollywood blockbusters on the cheap. Whatever financial handicaps “peripheral” countries suffer is more than made up for by the director’s sheer enthusiasm and embrace of local color.
Probably no other film embodies these qualities better (or worse, in some eyes) than “The Man Who Saves the World” (“Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam”), a Turkish cult film nicknamed Turkish Star Wars because it weaves Star Wars clips into the film. The soundtrack is also lifted directly from Hollywood films, primarily “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. But it throws in the music of “Moonraker”, “Ben Hur”, “Flash Gordon”, “Battlestar Galactica”, “Planet of the Apes”, “Silent Running” as well. Considering Hollywood intellectual property imperialism, one might regard the movie as payback.
It was directed by Çetin İnanç (pronounced Chetin Inanch) and was written by Cüneyt Arkın (pronounced Junait Arkin), who stars as a karate-chopping Turkish version of Han Solo. I first saw the movie during a Halloween party thrown by the organizers of the New York Turkish film festival about 5 years ago. When the name Cüneyt Arkın comes up, most educated Turks raise their eyebrows since he is sort of their version of Ed Wood of “Plan Nine from Outer Space” fame (infamy?)
The good news is that you can now watch “The Man Who Saves the World”, including subtitles, here. I strongly recommend smoking some pot before watching this movie to enjoy it properly. Here’s an idea of what you will see, as excerpted from the wiki article on the movie:
The film follows the adventures of two comrades, Murat (Arkın) and Ali (Akkaya), whose ships crash on a desert planet following a space battle that apparently inserts footage from the actual Star Wars films as well as newsreel clips of both Soviet and American space rockets. While in the desert one of them says that perhaps it is a planet only populated by women, so the other man begins to do his whistle which he uses to attract women. However, he uses the wrong whistle, and they are then assaulted by skeletons on horseback. The pair then proceed to defeat the skeletons in hand-to-hand combat. The film’s main villain then soon shows up and captures the heroes, bringing them to fight in his gladiatorial arena. The villain mentions that he was actually from Earth and is in reality a 1,000 year old wizard. He tries to defeat the Earth, but his attacks are always repelled by a shield of concentrated human brain molecules.
Go ahead. Admit it. You can’t wait to watch it, right? I would only add that some of the fight scenes take place in a rather otherworldly looking network of cavern-like temples carved out of stone. That, my friends, is none other than Cappadocia, one of Turkey’s most famous tourist spots, that served as a Christian monastery between 300-1200 AD.
Just one or two more words about Cüneyt Arkın that I just learned about from wiki, the people’s encyclopedia (yes, I know, leftists have all sorts of complaints about it.) He was a physician originally and a master of seven different martial arts. Although he made a lot of schlocky films, he also acted in Remzi Aydın Jöntürk’s “The Adam Trilogy” that supposedly relates the story of the class struggles in Turkey in late 1970s in a psychedelic style! Jöntürk was prosecuted for promoting Communism, but did not serve any time.
Turning to “Hell’s Ground”, I don’t think I can improve on the description found on Subway Cinema, the organizer of the yearly Asian Film Festival:
Shot during the rainy season when the Pakistani countryside erupts into radioactive green, with wild marijuana plants growing up to ten feet tall, HELL’S GROUND was shot on a low budget by first-time filmmaker, Khan, who managed to round up an impressive cast and crew for his flick, most of whom were eager to do something new after laboring for years in Pakistan’s predictable television and film industry. The plot is bare bones simple: five teenagers who want to go to a rock concert hit the road in their Mystery Van. A protest against polluted drinking water is blocking their way and so they take an ill-advised detour through the countryside. Turns out that the problem with the drinking water is that it’s been turning people into zombies. On top of that there’s a mysterious killer hidden inside a bloody burqa racing through the forest who wants to introduce his cast-iron mace into everyone’s face.
“Hell’s Ground” is available now from Netflix and your better video stores.