When you think of Turkish cinema, if you think anything about it at all, then it’s unlikely that many horror titles spring to mind. That isn’t to say Turkey doesn’t make horror films, mind you; even a cursory Google search turns up a fair old number made in the last couple of years alone. It’s just that, with the vagaries of film distribution, very few examples ever make their way to Western audiences. Baskin (2015) is already notable, then, for successfully making that leap: since its release three years ago, it’s acquired a modest degree of recognition and success in Europe and the US, culminating in this rather superb Severin Films UK Blu-ray release. And, if I’m not already preaching to the choir here, I’d say Baskin (‘Raid’) is well worthy of a view. Yes, there’s a certain amount of homage on display, but given that it’s to filmmakers such as Argento and Fulci, you’re unlikely to hear many complaints from film fans. Nor is Baskin solely homage, either; with its filth-caked, blood-glossed aesthetics and sound design, it has its own identity too.
After establishing that one of their number, Arda (Görkem Kasal) had horrifying nightmares as a child, something which becomes plot-relevant later on, we’re introduced to a group of Turkish cops relaxing on a break. Their conversation is reminiscent of the actors in Reservoir Dogs from the point of view of the puffed-up machismo being bandied about, particularly by would-be alpha male Yavuz (Muharrem Bayrak). You certainly aren’t made to feel that you should simply endorse these characters, but they’re fleshed out enough to seem realistic – and fallible. Things seems amiss from the start. Even before their break ends, one of their number feels like he’s losing his mind, screaming at his own reflection; the men are soon after asked to respond to an emergency call, but before even getting there, strange events begin to overcome them, with accidents on the road derailing their certainty. At last they arrive at what was, during the Ottoman days, a police station, but is now an abandoned building. Another carful of police are presumably already inside, given the abandoned squad car out front, so the group of men set off on a rescue mission. What they find in the house calls an end to all of their certainties – inside is carnage, and worse, a sense that they’ve been brought there by forces beyond their control.
In many respects, Baskin’s plot – as written – would not look all that remarkable. A group of unwitting men stumble upon occult goings-on and suffer the consequences. Done badly, this would all be rather dull – and has been done badly, many times over elsewhere. However, good control of pace, atmosphere and mood, with a superb setting and visual flair throughout keep things engrossing; Baskin is extraordinary to look at, from its actors to its lighting to its framing. There isn’t a wasted second in terms of what’s being presented to the audience, and the film proves that even an economical plot can reap the whirlwind. Another key success of the film is the sense that nothing is real, or at least, as real as it seems. Dreams are invoked from the opening reels; altered states of consciousness work on the viewer as much as on the characters themselves, and the film pushes us out of a linear progression through a narrative with frequent interruptions via flashback or hallucination. There’s a keen sense of inescapability threaded throughout the film, and a sense of malign intelligence guiding the men’s every move – something which the likes of Kill List reached for, but didn’t successfully attain, in my opinion. Baskin’s premise that hell is something you carry around inside you is certainly explored, and pushed to its zenith during the film.
Despite being an occult horror though, Baskin is also a very visceral piece of cinema, with plentiful, protracted gore, particularly as the film moves towards its climax. Hellraiser was an influence on the director, and prescribed viewing for the ‘Father’ of the cult, Mehmet Cerrahoglu. You can see the aesthetic impact of Hellraiser throughout Baskin, and not just in the Cenobite-like appearance of the cult, but also in the ostensibly enlightening torment of the men. Violence is shown, not implied. Disembowelment, eye-gouging, throat-slashing – all of the exploitation cinema SFX favourites are unflinchingly present and correct, dripping with blood, and repeat viewings offer the opportunity to pick up on all those additional little details which may have been missed.
These escalatingly nasty scenes push us on towards the film’s conclusion, a choice of ending which honestly leaves me with a slight note of irritation, but the overall impact of Baskin is quite something regardless. As an exercise in gruesome atmosphere, it has very much shown that Turkish cinema is capable of making its presence felt. Director Can Evrenol clearly has love and enthusiasm for the horror genre, and with his new horror title The Housewife now secured for North American distribution, I hope we’ll see much more from him in future. Baskin is certainly a worthy place to start.