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Cinema/TV, Dracula, Film Notes

Your Daily Dracula – Drakula Istanbul’da (Dracula in Istanbul) (1953)

Drakula Istanbul’da (Dracula in Istanbul) (1953) Atif Kaptan

The Turkish commercial film industry has long since made a habit of tailoring famous stories for the domestic market (cf: Tarzan Istanbul’da/Tarzan in Istanbul) and a minor international cult prizes Turkey’s ridiculous, eccentric imitations of Star Trek or Superman.  Less well-known is this sincere, surprisingly straight transposition of Dracula to contemporary Istanbul.  Drakula (Atif Kaptan) retains his name but all Bram Stoker’s supporting characters get a Turkish make-over.  Despite innovations like making blonde heroine Güzin (Annie Ball) a dancer who desports in a harem outfit and the downplaying of crucifixes as vampire repellent weapons (a lot of garlic is used instead), Drakula Istanbul’da is more faithful to Stoker than any other cinema adaptation until Francis Coppola – though the cramped production misses the scope of the book and screenwriter Ümit Deniz turns an epic into the story of a creep who makes a pass at the hero’s wife and is then properly seen off for it.  Nevertheless, there are modest innovations – Kaptan, white-haired and balding, is the first screen vampire with fangs (indeed, his fierce canines look like tusks) and this is the first film to stage the memorable image of the Count crawling head-first down the wall of his castle.

Besides the use of garlic – and a plot-point which leaves Güzin briefly vulnerable because she can’t wear a garlic necklace while dancing – this has its Van Helsing, Dr Eren (Kemal Emin Bara), stress that the stake through the heart is just to pin the vampire down till the subsequent decapitation finishes the creature off.  Sadan (Ayfer Feray), the Lucy, and Drakula are both served this way, discreetly with no onscreen blood or head-lopping.  Azmi (Bülent Oran), the Harker, travels to Romania to help the Count buy properties in Istanbul, is warned off by peasants, menaced over the dinner table by the mysterious nobleman, spooked by a hunchbacked minion with a false nose and insanely large moustache, vamped by a single bride and takes a spade to the vampire’s head when he finds him bloated in his crypt.  In Turkey, tailcoated and cloaked Drakula – who uses the pseudonym El Cross Abdullatif – transforms Güzin’s dark-haired cousin Sadan into a child-hunting vampire.  Turan (Cahit Irgat), her Arthur fiancé, consults with Dr Eren and Seward-like Dr Afif (Münir Ceyhan). Together, they destroy her then seal nine out of Drakula’s ten coffins with garlic.  Azmi recovers from a nervous breakdown … and shows remarkable confidence when Drakula has the nerve to hypnotise his wife into giving him a private performance, chasing the cowardly vampire back to his hidden tenth coffin (in a local cemetery) and impulsively staking and beheading him then breezing home to insist Güzin throw all the garlic out of the house and never even use it in cooking again.  Directed by Mehmet Muhtar.

Extract from Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon.

 

In my collection of editions of Dracula, I have versions of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel rewritten in English for various readerships … comic books, film scripts, plays.  A Pop-Up Dracula and illustrated retellings for younger readers are at one end of the shelf … at the other are editions with newly-added sex scenes (‘a piece of ass is a piece of ass – be it in England or here in Transylvania’ begins Jonathan Harker’s diary in The Adult Version of Dracula, published by Calga Books in 1970).  Only now, a hundred and twenty years after Stoker’s book came out, are we beginning to explore the non-English language variants of the founding text of modern horror.

In an afterword to Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula (Duckworth Overlook, 2017) – a translation into English of Makt Myrkanna, Valdimar Asmundsson’s free Icelandic adaptation (1900) of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1987) – John Edgar Browning suggests ‘unearthing translations like Makt Myrkanna may become the next cottage industry in Dracula scholarship and entertainment’.  The appearance in a new English translation of Kazikli Voyvoda/The Impaling Voivode proves his case.  That a book as well-known as Dracula should exist in such altered versions from territories as far apart as Iceland and Turkey indicates something unique about this particular work (and character).

Given that this is an area of literary scholarship which has been neglected, it remains to be seen whether other popular works of this vintage – Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1898), Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw (1898), Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) or Gaston Leroux’ The Phantom of the Opera (1911) – have such extreme variants.  Is there an Egyptian War of the Worlds where the Martian War Machines stride past pyramids to lay waste to Cairo … a Polish Phantom lurking under a Budapest Opera House … a Japanese sleuth unmasking a cat ghost as the scheming heir to a title and fortune?  Certainly, when the movies got hold of these key texts, there would be room for a Chinese Phantom of the Opera (Ye ban ge sheng/A Song at Midnight, 1937), multiple American-set Wars of the Worlds from Orson Welles’ radio play through to films by Byron Haksin and Steven Spielberg, a Hindi Hound of the Baskervilles (Bees Saal Baad/Twenty Years Later, 1962) and a Heart of Darkness set during the Vietnam War (Apocalypse Now, 1979).  But Dracula seems uniquely mutable, as attested to by the emergence of long-known-about, hitherto-hard-to-assess translations/adaptations/reinventions.

Outside Turkey, Ali Riza Seyfioğlu’s Kazikli Voyvoda (The Impaling Voivode) first became heard of when people writing books about vampire films – Barrie Pattinson (The Seal of Dracula, 1975), James Ursini and Alain Silver (The Vampire Film, 1975), David Pirie (The Vampire Cinema, 1977) – made mention of Mehemet Muhtar’s Drakula Istanbul’da (1953), a film they knew of but which was then unseen in Europe and America.  Donald F. Glut’s The Dracula Book (1975) includes a synopsis of the film and a still of Atif Kaptan as a Dracula with the bald pate of Max Schreck in Nosferatu, eine symphonie das grauens (1922) and cape-and-evening-wear costume of Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931) but also the prominent fangs which wouldn’t catch on in Western movies until Christopher Lee bared his teeth in Dracula (1958).  Glut states that ‘the film was based both upon Stoker’s Dracula and Ali Riga Seifi’s Kastigli Voyvoda’.  It wasn’t until Pete Tombs’s Mondo Macabro (1997) that anyone wrote in English about Drakula Istanbul’da after actually seeing the film.  Then, it was only around as an unsubtitled bootleg VHS recorded off Turkish television.  Now, though the print quality hasn’t improved, the film is on youtube with English subtitles – though some blunt translations add a layer of humour probably not intended by the filmmakers.  ‘I read your book  on vampires. I think Miss Sadan is a sucker. She must be the one sucking little kids in Eyup.’  ‘Turan, I know you loved her deeply, but she is a bogey now.’  ‘We should go and garlic the chests before midnight.’

Drakula Istanbul’da can now be assessed as an important stage of the evolution of Dracula as a film property.  For all that it’s an adaptation not of Stoker but of Kazikli Voyvoda – using (most of) the character names Seyfioğlu invented and shifting the location from London to Turkey – Drakula Istanbul’da follows Bram Stoker’s plot more faithfully than the other four film adaptations of the novel made in the first sixty years of the 20th century.  Among other things, Muhtar is the first filmmaker to stage Stoker’s memorable image of the Count crawling head-first down the wall of his castle.  Though, of course, Muhtar wasn’t necessarily adapting Stoker’s book – his film is based much more closely on Seyfioğlu’s.  Like Tod Browning in 1931, Muhtar (working from a script by Umit Deniz) opts for a contemporary setting rather than make a period piece.  Stoker’s book makes a point of being set roughly in its present day and featuring up to the minute tech like dictagraphs and blood transfusions, and wouldn’t accrue the patina of Victoriana until Hammer Films started making films set in an era of gaslight and hansom cabs.  Seyfioğlu set his version (published in 1928) in the 1920s and made the characters’ involvement in the then-recent Turkish War of Independence (1919-23) a crucial part of their backstory.  Muhtar opts for an understated 1950s setting, with motorcars and nightclub scenes, even to the commercial extent of making Seyfioğlu’s patriotic and pure Mina character Guzin a dancer who desports in a harem outfit and is hypnotised by Dracula into giving the vampire a saucy private performance before the heroes stake and behead him.  The novel excludes all humour – even Stoker’s comic relief rustics and occasional jabs at Van Helsing’s silly accent and Renfield’s grotesque habits – but the film ends with the vampire-hunting hero secure enough in the monster’s death to insisti his new wife throw all the garlic out of the house and never use it in cooking again.

In 1900, Asmundsson created his Dracula for a newspaper serial, which forced him to deliver short episodes with cliffhangers – but he was inclined for some reason to add his own sub-plots and characters, combining Dracula’s three wives into one temptress who might be the historical Countess Elisabeth Bathory and predating Hammer’s later films by giving his Dracula a cult of acolytes, minions, well-connected disciples and a penchant for murderous sacrificial rituals.  He also seems to have decided after a year which barely got him past the Transylvania section of the novel to wrap things up quickly.  Seyfioğlu can’t possibly have known about Makt Myrkanna when he set out to turn Dracula into something else, though he may have been aware of F.W. Murnau’s film Nosferatu – which changed the character names and set the story in Bremen in a bid to evade copyright – and even of London and Broadway stage adaptations by Hamilton Deane and John F. Balderston, which took their own liberties with the novel and established a framework that Browning would work on when he was put in charge of Universal’s Dracula.  It cannot have escaped him that Count Dracula had long since escaped from Stoker, who died in 1912, and become – despite the widow Florence Stoker’s waving of  writs and claiming of royalties – what we might now call an ‘open-source’ text.

In Turkey, as in Romania, the name Dracula meant something before 1897 and Stoker’s novel had to compete with the lasting reputation of Vlad the Impaler, also known as Dracula.  It wasn’t until Radu Florescu and Raymond T. McNally’s In Search of Dracula (1972) that anything much was made of the relationship between the literary and historical Draculas in the Western world – though the lasting influence of this by-no-means-uncontentious book is felt on almost all subsequent literary and film Draculas.  In Turkey, the Florescu-McNally contention that Dracula was Vlad the Impaler was old news, cemented by Seyfioğlu’s book.  It strikes me, after quite a bit of research, that Stoker mostly just liked the name Dracula and probably knew little about Vlad beyond the skimpy, not-entirely-accurate historical details he mentions (to be fair, his Dracula is an unreliable narrator).  Seyfioğlu, writing for a readership with more awareness of Turkish-Romanian history, makes much more of the Vlad connection and, indeed, includes historical details and anecdotes which feature in In Search of Dracula and have been recycled over and over in fiction, documentary, history and film ever since.  How many times have you heard the turbans-nailed-to-heads story seen the forest-of-impaled-enemies tableau?

For Bram Stoker, Dracula is an ultimate foreign threat (likened to Attila, a barbarian not only from the geographic East but the historic past) who comes to London with his ill-gotten riches (when stabbed, he bleeds gold coins), apes British manners (memorising railway timetables) and dress (‘a straw hat which suit him not’) and sets out to seduce the fairest daughters of Albion (Lucy and Mina).  That Stoker, an Irishman, includes an American cowboy and a Dutch Professor in his array of mostly English heroes suggests his own notions of Western civilisation are broader than the average Brit of his day, though Quincy Morris and Dr Van Helsing are, for all their qualities as stalwart and wise, ‘funny foreigner’ stereotypes  too.  Seyfioğlu is even more bluntly propagandist.  Dracula is an old enemy, and a disgusting threat, and the good  guys are all emblematic Turks, free of the flaws (like Dr Seward’s drug abuse) Stoker allows his heroes.  Quincy becomes Ozdemir Oguz, an Anatolian whose swashbuckling outdoorsy persona makes him roughly analagous to a Wild West gunslinger/cowman … while Van Helsing is Resuhi Bey, a Turkish expert in mental illnesses acknowledged even in France as a credit to his nation.  Seyfioğlu also has to Islamicise the action, though the Transylvania sections of the book feature Christian crosses as per Stoker – this vampire is seen off by verses from the Koran rather than communion wafers.

Upon its first appearance, few realised how significant a book Dracula would be.  It was respectfully reviewed, sold reasonably well without making its author rich and lingered in the memory long enough to attract theatre and film adaptors a generation later.  Only Bram Stoker’s mother – who might have been prejudiced – suggested that it was an instant horror classic (‘Poe is nowhere,’ she wrote to Bram).  In his lifetime, he was responsible for a cut-and-paste first theatre version (supposedly to secure copyright), saw the book translated and reprinted and might have begun to sense that it would last – though he made few attempts to capitalise on it, despite writing another vampire novel (sort of – The Lady of the Shroud).  ‘Dracula’s Guest’, an offcut from the book, didn’t appear until after his death, when Florence began to sense that Dracula might afford her a widows’ pension.  But Dracula remains undead – an evolving, mutating, constantly self-referential multi-media text, yet also a cornerstone contemporary myth.  Dracula’s career in English has been thoroughly mapped, but – as John Edgar Browning noted, vast areas beyond that are still unexplored.  With this translation of a translation, a significant patch of the collage is filled in.  Many more remain.

My introduction to an English translation of The Impaling Voivide as Dracula in Istanbul (2017).

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