Akrepler director Cevat Okcugil deserves our attention for at least two reasons. First of all, he directed the 1966 film Orumcek Adam, which is the earliest of three films -- the others being 1972’s Orumcek and 1973’s 3 Dev Adam -- that have all come to be referred to by the unofficial title “Turkish Spider-man”, not to mention that it’s the only one of those films that is actually named Spider Man, albeit in Turkish. Depending upon whom you believe, Orumcek Adam was either based directly on the famous Marvel comic book hero, and is thus one of the very first -- if not the first -- of the wave of superhero films produced in Turkey throughout the late 60s and early 70s, or it has nothing to do with Spider-man at all. Okcugil also directed the 1967 film Django vs. The Gestapo, whose title sums up everything that’s great about Turkish pulp cinema in four words.
Akrepler (English translation; “Scorpion”), is one of Okcugil’s later films, an un-subtitled copy of which just happened to recently fall into my suspiciously well-manicured hands. I really can’t tell you much about what’s going on in it during it’s first half. But during it’s second it turns into a revenge tale, which makes its events far more relatable. I mean, who out there doesn’t have someone whom they’d like to make pay and pay and pay for some real or perceived wrong that they’ve perpetrated? And if you say not you, you are a damn liar, and as God is my witness I am coming for you if it’s the last thing I do.
Akrepler’s protagonist is a burly mustache farmer by the name of Jamal, who is played by Kemal Aydan. We first see Jamal out on the town with his big-haired, chain-smoking best buddy and a couple of foxy mamas, enjoying the floor show at a ritzy restaurant. Afterward they all go back to one of their apartments, where one of the women shoots up some drugs and hallucinates her way into a Jess Franco movie, complete with lots of hyperactive zooming in and out on people’s sweaty faces.
While all of this is going on, a criminal gang whose hideout prominently features a cheesy scorpion wall plaque (oh what paths might their lives have taken had they never bought that plaque?) is committing a string of brutal armed robberies. What these have to do with Jamal is unclear, but eventually some of the gang’s members go to Jamal’s folks’ house, kill both of his elderly parents, and rape his sister, who looks like Turkey’s answer to Tina Yothers. At this point, needless to say, the shit is on.
In his quest for revenge, Jamal makes the mistake of turning to his big-haired, chain-smoking friend for help, only to find that said friend has secretly been a member of the scorpion gang all along. Big Hair shoots Jamal and leaves him for dead, after which Jamal is rescued and nursed back to health by a woman whose wardrobe consists entirely of red vinyl jumpsuits and leopard print lingerie worn as day wear.
Once recovered, Jamal resumes his hunt for payback, and also starts wearing a domino mask for some reason. As with most Turkish superheroes, Jamal’s wardrobe is mask optional (as I recall, in 3 Dev Adam, the Turkish Captain America’s costume simply served the same purpose as a lucky pair of underwear), and he mainly seems to wear his for the purpose of whipping it off dramatically to reveal his identity whenever he’s got the drop on an adversary. In every case, that adversary reacts with gasping astonishment at the fact that this identically coiffed and mustached, Jamal-shaped man is, in fact, Jamal.
To anyone accustomed to the wild, action oriented style of 1960s Turkish films like those in the Kilink series, Akrepler might come off as a bit ponderous and deliberately paced. While there are certainly a decent amount of scenes involving fighting and bloody gun violence (for some reason aimed disproportionately against old people), there is also an awful lot of dialogue and what appears to be actual plot separating them. Having not seen many other Turkish pulp films from this late period, I couldn’t tell you if this is a sign of the industry as a whole maturing, and as a result embracing more prosaic narrative conventions, or if it is simply something particular to Akrepler. In any case, if it is a sign of age, there is nothing in Akrepler that demonstrates a corresponding maturing of cinematic technique, as what we see here is the same homely, point-and-shoot style that we’ve been seeing in these movies since the get go. Even the grand tradition of stealing the film’s soundtrack from James Bond (Turkish trash cinema renaissance man Kunt Tulgar gets sound engineer credit here) is still observed -- though in this case it’s George Martin’s score to Live and Let Die that gets the workout, rather than the usual John Barry joints.
And appropriate to that, Akrepler’s finale is a crescendo of decidedly sub-Bondian proportions, with Jamal gunning down the whole scorpion gang, sexy lady minions and all, and then blowing up their unassuming, HO scale cottage hideout. Ah, but revenge does not come without a price for our hero. Whoa… wait. What? Yes, that’s right; Akrepler doesn’t even allow us the vicarious thrill of seeing our hero rain bloody vengeance upon his foes with impunity, but instead suggests that such actions somehow have consequences. Crazy, right? Wow, Akrepler, if I’d wanted to be bummed out, I would have just watched Turkish E.T.