Watching Baskin is definitely an experience. The Turkish horror film from writer-director Can Evrenol is gloomy, atmospheric, disturbing and absolutely nightmarish, as a van full of cops venture answer a call to the middle of nowhere and wind up in what is quite possibly hell itself.
We caught it at FrightFest Glasgow, and were definitely impressed by the film’s blend of Lynchian nightmares, Fulci madness and brutal cop movie, so it was great to get the chance to talk to Evrenol about the film’s development, the Turkish horror scene and the reactions he’s been getting.
Baskin started as a short film; did you always plan to turn it into a feature?
So Baskin was my sixth short film, and it was kind of like a rehearsal for me for a feature film anyway. That’s how I approached it; it was like a big scene from a horror action movie. It was my dream to make it a feature, but it was also a stand-alone short feature on its own.
With my previous feature script I went to lots of people and it didn’t happen, I was really disillusioned, so with this one I only wrote the opening. It’s a short film, if it becomes a feature film, then great. If it doesn’t, I’ll just hop onto the next project. That was the idea. But it was very successful, it was at over 40 film festivals around the world, and it had the premiere at FrightFest London. Eli Roth watched it at Sitges and loved it, and he made me sign a six month deal which gives him the rights to finance the feature with me as the director.
Then the deal fell through, it didn’t happen, but that attention brought the attention of other people, there was a Spanish producer attached for some time, there was an article in Variety about it, so it just snowballed. Then all the producers were falling through, and I said “You know what, maybe I should finance this myself!”
And our family company, my mum is an architect, we did some tax refund and this and that, although it’s a very small budget, it’s about $300,000 dollars, but for us it’s almost the whole family savings. But my mum is a cinema fan, I got all my love for cinema from my parents, they said “OK, let’s go for it.”
What was the process of putting this together as an indie like?
I work in TV commercials in Istanbul so I know lots of talented, experienced people, and some of them were my friends so they were willing to work for smaller fees for an interesting art project. So that’s why, with a small amount of money, I was able to get a good team together, and my producers in my commercial business were my line producers for the film.
So we had a kind of indie guerrilla but also professional balance on the set. 90% of the cast and crew had no feature film experience before. Although they’re very experienced in commercial or theatre, some TV series, this was the first time they were doing a feature film, let alone an arthouse horror film, which is quite alien to the Turkish industry.
Is it true that the actor playing The Father had no prior experience?
Yeah he’s an amazing guy. I gave him the script and asked him if he wanted to play it and I thought he’d probably say no because he’s coming from a conservative background and it’s a crazy character he’s playing, but it was so interesting. He did these crazy storyboards for us with no art education.
How conscious was that blend of arthouse and shocking horror?
It’s weird; I treated this movie as: if I had one movie in to make in life, what would it be? So I put my heart and soul into it and my area of interest is very diverse. Sometimes I’m as passionate about He-Man as I am passionate about David Lynch or Haneke, so sometimes very childish and immature things are combined with more dark and arthouse stuff, and it just came out that way.
It’s flirting with arthouse cinema, also with some very cliché ’70s, ’80s horror, and it’s like a weird hybrid. There are films like From Dusk Till Dawn and Cowboys Vs Aliens that are smashing two genres together, but I don’t know many genres that smash two worlds. One of them’s a Turkish festival film and the other one is like an indie horror film and when you smash those two together…that was what was interesting to me.
There’s also the violent cop element. Was it important that these guys were not particularly sympathetic?
That was the idea, to have them some of them who are more like good guys, some of them who are more like bad guys, but they’re all in a grey area. The idea was to make them immature and authentic. That’s really how most cops are in Turkey. It’s like you put a lot of power into the hands of a kid that doesn’t have much education and that’s how it turns out.
The horror element has definitely had a strong reaction too!
The atmosphere and the way that some of those scenes are done, I’m really content and happy; it brings a Grand Guignol to it. But I’m surprised that there’s so much reaction to it, because compared to films like Frontieres or Hostel or like Human Centipede, it’s really not that much at all.
I’m super happy with the reaction so far and I really intended this film to be a vanguard film in Toronto and I was kind of surprised when Colin Geddes said “No this is a midnight madness movie.” I said “Really, it’s going to be a lightweight; people will have much bigger expectations!” SPL2, fucking Green Room is playing Midnight Madness!
But it turns out some people love it and honestly, as a horror film fan, if I go and see this film coming from a country with no genre background, like Hungary or Greece, and I always love underdog movies, I think probably I would love Baskin a lot. But from a director’s point of view, you always feel your film’s a bit lightweight compared to bigger films.
It turns out something like Argento’s Inferno, so it’s more like it’s being driven with imagery and atmosphere. I really how the story comes together but it’s more to do with atmosphere and feeling.
How have you found the experience of watching the film with an audience?
Every time my film begins I get jitters and slightly nervous. It’s like being naked in front of an audience, but at the end of the day I’m really content and I really like my film a lot. And there are many things that I cannot watch any more because little errors really bug me, much more, I see many other things that I can really improve so I’m really inspired to make my next film, but that’s an aside, I really like the film.
So in every screening there are people who say this is out of place, overrated shit, and lots of people are fans, and it’s interesting. Films like Only God Forgives and It Follows and Starry Eyes, some people hate them, some people love them. So I feel very OK about any kind of comment. And these types of festivals are the reason why I do these films.
There are very dark and atmospheric arthouse films like Ivy and Frenzy, I would very much advise you to watch them. There are great films like Once Upon In Anatolia, Winter Sleep, and Three Monkeys. They’re little detective movies in a sense. They’re mainly character dramas but they go around a little whodunit sort of story. They are very dark and they have a little horror atmosphere, but they would never consider themselves horror, they would never know about Argento or Fulci, they are not horror fans.
Last year there were 22 horror movies in Turkey, but they are mainly religious exploitations and jump scares and they’re like the shittiest horror films you could ever find, they’re not interesting. Those people probably don’t know much about blocking or composition, they’re like TV quality in your face money grabbing, there’s no philosophy. So I think Baskin stands somewhere in the middle. If those directors who did Frenzy or Ivy did something like Hellraiser they would deliver something really good. But they are in their own world and want to do Tarkovsky-esque stuff. And the other directors don’t share the love, they’re not heavy metal, they’re not interested in challenging the status quo. They’re just horror for making horror and that’s not my way of understanding horror.
Baskin is in cinemas and on VOD today. Keep up with the latest horror news with the new issue of SciFiNow.