Anyone that’s entrenched in the wonders of world cult cinema probably already knows there’s a ton of delights to be found from a little country called Turkey. A lot of them are charming for blatantly ripping off more popular films from around the world, especially Hollywood, with inferior effects and bad acting. But would it come as a surprise that Woman Despiser, a film that features a lot of aesthetics of the Italian Giallo, came out in 1967, a number of years before Dario Argento caused the genre to explode with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage? And I bet it’d come as a surprise that the film is rather original and pretty damn competent too, wouldn’t it?
Woman Despiser opens just like a film like this should: with a couple hapless women being stalked and subsequently slashed into the afterlife by a costumed lunatic. The police quickly surmise that the killer is choosing victims in districts based on the fact that their first initial is the same as the district in which he kills them. Obviously to know that information, these killings aren’t random, so the most likely suspects are ones close to the victims. They’re all rounded up quickly, but the bodies keep piling up, adding more and more men to the list of suspects.
While Woman Despiser is often referred to as a “Turkish Giallo”, it actually has much more in common with the German Krimi, a series of hyper-stylized films based on the works of Edgar Wallace that definitely had a bearing on many aspects of the Italian Giallo. Krimi’s are a little more tongue-in-cheek however, with a bit more cheese and are a lot less harsh in tone. This pretty much sums up Woman Despiser to a T. While there’s a maniac rapist serial killer on the loose wearing awkward rubber monster hands and dime store Halloween masks, nothing here is ever taken seriously, coming off more like a fun, lurid romp through the fields of sleaze than some of its nastier brethren. Murder scenes are generally subdued and the camerawork only teases us into thinking we’ll ever see anything more out of the women other than a bare back or some fleshy thighs, but it’s just kitschy enough that it hardly matters at the end of the day.
Aesthetically the film appears to be heavily inspired by the films of Mario Bava, not only his groundbreaking Gialli such as The Girl Who Knew Too Much, but also his gothic work as well. The ending, which takes place in a creaky attic full of spider webs and covered in dust would appear right at home in any 60s haunted castle flick out of Italy or Mexico. The camera work also does the source inspirations proud, with some wonderful use of shadows that effectively create a palpable atmosphere. Director Ilhan Engin shows he has a firm grip on his craft, something that a lot of people don’t give Turkish directors credit for. I think if you’ve only see the rip-offs, which are certainly entertaining as hell in their own right, this may open your eyes to the talent that was definitely out there in the Turkish cinematic scene.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t some problems though. While Woman Despiser may be more competent and coherent than many similar films to emerge from Turkey, it still stumbles a bit in editing and scriptwriting. Turkish films for the most part always feel a bit jumpy going from one scene to the next, and regardless of Woman Despiser pulling it off a bit smoother, it still feels jarring at times going in and out of scenes. There’s also a massive cast to keep track of, which isn’t surprising for a murder mystery, but many are woefully underdeveloped, and because of that it’s pretty tough to differentiate between them all. And then there’s the script that likes to toss things at you sometimes at random and then never explain them. Take for instance the investigator, whose sister is confined to a wheelchair, yet he suspects she’s just doing it for attention, so much so that he tells his everyone that will listen. Soon enough the sister sees the killer peeking through her bedroom window, causing her to jump from her bed and run into the arms of her brother. From this point on, she’s never in the wheelchair again, nor does anyone ever mention the fact that she was indeed lying for years about not being able to walk. Huh…
But that’s definitely part of the charm of Turkish cinema, the idiosyncrasies and odd transitions being just as interesting as the actual credible aspects. And Woman Despiser is more credible than most, featuring an original storyline and classy direction. Fans of world cult cinema will definitely want to give Woman Despiser a look.
Onar Films, who are basically doing the work of the holy spirit by bringing forgotten (or never remembered in the first place) Turkish films to DVD, have deemed Woman Despiser worthy of inclusion in their catalog. The release (which is region 0, PAL) is presented in the films original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and is arguably the best looking title they’ve released to date. Most prints of Turkish films are mistreated horribly, to the point where sometimes Onar is forced to use tape masters. Not so here, and the step-up in quality is apparent right from the beginning (well, at least after the opening credits, which look a little haggard). There’s lots of scratches, nicks, and print damage, but it hardly matters with a film like this, and you’ll never see if look better. The Dolby Digital mono track is pretty respectable, although there’s a low hum present throughout, and pops and hiss pop up now and again. The optional English subs have their issues here and there, but the message is never lost or muddled.
Extras include a 12-minute documentary on Turkish cinema (apparently the third part of a series, the first two on previous Onar releases), which focuses on the country's sci-fi and horror output. There are some hilarious clips of a film called Badi (Turkish E.T.), Turkish Star Trek, and wait for it…Turkish Young Frankenstein! I must see that before I die! There’s even a bit of Seytan (Turkish Exorcist) tossed in on the tail-end, with an interview from the Turkish Regan, Canan Perver. The disc is rounded out with a short stills gallery, bios on star Ekrem Bora and director Ilhan Engin, trailers for other Onar releases, and a nice little mini-poster replica for the film. This is limited to only 500 copies, so if it sounds interesting to you, pick it up now!
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