There's a scene in Baskin (2015) in which the ostensible protagonist (sat in a restaurant) goes into a confused monologue about his childhood and Freudian dreams, randomly plunges into an eldritch sea of black water, and is then rescued by a pair of giant hands. Later - in the very same film that has firmly established its Argento-esque dreamy metaphysical cred - a character has his eyes gouged out and is forced to shag a fat woman wearing a goat's skull.
Baskin is a goddamn weird film so it felt necessary to open this review with a sample of its strangeness. Perhaps the weirdest thing about this ultra-graphic horror film is that it comes to us by way of Turkey. Without wishing to generalise, Turkey is something of a conservative nation and you could probably count the number of Turkish horror films on both hands. Outside of being Erdogan's preferred treatment for his political prisoners, Turkish torture porn isn't generally a 'thing'.
Adapted by director Can Evrenol from his own 2013 short film of the same name, Baskin combines the new school of ultra-realistic gore with old school flair. Evrenol is clearly a horror buff and lovingly packs his movie with Eighties' movie flourishes; jewel tones, pulsating synth, abstract symbolism, and dream-like direction. The opening scene is like another movie unto itself, a sort of Eighties-style surreal haunted house sequence.
Proceedings begin with the ultimate childhood nightmare: a young boy leaves his room at night and overhears his mother having loud sex. And then he's attacked by an undead arm conjured from the nether. Cautionary tale about masturbating along to the sound of your parents shagging, perhaps?
From here (seemingly without connection) we follow five police officers who, after acting like first class dickheads in a strange restaurant, receive a call requesting backup in the remote town of Inceagac. The officers proceed through the night-time wilderness as events take a turn for the surreal; resulting in encounters with a swarm of frogs, Deliverance style yokels, and a naked man whom they hit with their van.
Upon arriving at their destination, albeit somewhat worse for wear, they discover they're at a former police station - a ramshackle Ottoman Empire era fort which has a worse reputation than Mount Doom. What with it being the Gate to Hell, after all. Proceedings deteriorate rather quickly once they enter this ominous place as the officers find themselves at the mercy of a depraved cult. A cult whose antics make the Roman orgies look like standard office Christmas parties in comparison.
How the dream sequences fit into the main cult 'plot' is never adequately explained. Which isn't to say that an explanation isn't (reluctantly) proffered: apparently this is a recurring dream that Arda (Gorkem Kasal), the youngest cop who is our protagonist by default, suffers from. Something that ties into his boss and mentor Remzi's (Ergun Kuyucu) ramblings on dreams and fate: none of which particularly gels with the whole descent into Hell business.
Fortunately, the final thirty-odd minutes are twisted and blood-soaked enough to elevate Baskin from artsy indie horror into a Turkish Hellraiser. In Mehmet Carrahoglu's Baba Baskin has a worthy counterpart to Hellraiser's Pinhead. Carrahoglu is effortless as the cult leader/other worldly being, a character whose ideology is circular enough to become almost Barker-esque in its "pain for pleasure" logic. He leads a congregation of deformed subhumans in a (possibly) never-ending orgy of sexual perversity, cannibalism, and squalor that wouldn't be out of place in a Hellraiser film, Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses, or the 'Visions of Hell' scene from Event Horizon.
It also helps that Carrahoglu's extremely rare skin condition lends him a unique appearance. He looks and acts like ET after a visit to an S+M club.
Ultimately, reviewing Baskin is difficult as it's essentially two movies in one. Well, no actually: it's the bastard offspring of about fifty different horror movies. But as I mentioned previously, Baskin can be said to be composed of two distinct 'parts': the dialogue heavy scenes focusing on character study and under-the-veil metaphysics, and the grisly prolonged torture sequences. It brings to mind another film I reviewed recently - The Void. That film also built up an incoherent mythology which detracted from its excellent horror elements.
Baskin excels at the visceral (see the 'birth' scene) and also at establishing the sense of camaraderie within the group, but it's rubbish at tying it all together. Evrenol and his co-writers raise more questions than they can answer. They're like post-truth politicians - dodging answering our questions with facts and instead providing vague hints:
- Is the former police station actually Hell? Possibly.
- Do these slightly dickish people really deserve this treatment? Maybe.
- What was up with the key Arda put into Baba's head? Dunno.
- How does Arda's dreams fit into this, and is he in time-loop? Enough of all the fucking questions already.
The result is a film which has big ideas about dreams, the afterlife, and all the spiritual bollocks you pretend to be into at college so you can get off with the hot 'new age' chick. But these ideas have to jostle for attention alongside horrific depictions of mutilation, cannibalism, violation, and death. Baskin's heavy themes are the sort of thing which require ample room to be explored. They shouldn't really be explored alongside images of people getting their intestines pulled out. That's a faux pas - like farting when somebody's eating.
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