Saturday, June 20, 2009

Orhan Oguz's Büyü (2004)

Perhaps to my detriment, at least in regards to the future, I have always lived very much in the present. I also have a terrible memory and a "let be" attitude towards the past. However, I very much love the cinema of yesterday. Seemingly each decade of film represents, at least a little bit, the time in which it was made; so in that respect, every film is somewhat dated. And that's a good thing. One of the aspects of cinema that I really love is how each decade had its own artistic vibe, perhaps influenced by its culture. One of my favorite eras, which I share with numerous other film lovers, is the 1970s, especially the genre pictures. There was a distinct absence of irony to most of the films and an often sleazy, sexy, sometimes nasty, and campy vibe to a lot of them. Unfortunately, that distinctive vibe died with era, and when modern filmmakers attempt to channel or reproduce that vibe, like Quentin Tarantino's excellent Death Proof (2007), it never comes out the same. I recently had the pleasure, however, of digging up a recent film that comes damn close to some of my favorite Euro-cult horror films, like Amando de Ossorio's Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971), and its subject is one of my favorites, the archaeological dig. Without further ado, I present from Turkey, Orhan Oguz's Buyu (aka The Spell) (2004).
Buyu begins in a desert village, where a young couple is resting on a quiet night. The little girl is playing with a metal hoop in the other room, while her father carves a wood crib, presumably for the little girl's doll, with an ornate dagger. The young mother, with piercing looks at the father, resumes her knitting. When the opportunity is ripe, the young mother steals away from her family, across the way to the tenement on the far side, where it is a little darker under the full moon. The young mother visits an old crone, and without dialogue, the two begin a ritual. At this point, I am guessing magic, because it involves nudity and whipping. The old crone with a thorn branch lashes the young woman several times across her back and front to produce blood. The old woman does the same to herself and she mixes the two's blood. Meanwhile, back at the homestead, the father finds himself in heartbreak, as he has taken the dagger and spilled the blood of his child.
Cut to modern times, with a nifty transition, where beautiful archaeologist, Ayse, is describing to her colleagues, at a dinner party, the significance of an old deer hide with some lines from the Koran inscribed upon it (the same hide was seen over the little girl's bed in the introduction). The whole crew is having dinner the night before the archaeological dig at Dengizhan Village to study Artuk culture and find their artifacts. Hodja, the patriarch and leader, is bringing along Cemil, the sole other male, Sedef, Hodja's daughter, Aydan, Ceran, and of course, Ayse. Zeynep, another dinner guest, along with Ayse's husband, aren't going on the expedition. Zeynep is resentful of Ayse's successes, and she tries to put the moves on Ayse's husband. He brushes her off. So what's up with Dengizhan Village? The archaeological crew takes a flight, a bus, a hike on foot, and a long trip through a cave to get there. Before arriving, however, they make a pit stop to talk to an elderly gentleman, who cautions them on going. Dengizhan Village "is cursed by God." No one lives there now nor has anyone lived there for a very long time. An elderly sorceress moved into the village and convinced the folks in the village to kill all of their girl children. In a flashback sequence, a baby girl is seen being buried alive. One widowed villager had a baby girl hidden away for four years, until he decided to marry a woman from another village. The new wife didn't like the young girl, so she had the sorceress put a spell on the husband, forcing him to kill the child. That act, apparently, caused "disaster after disaster to occur" until no one was left in the village. The archaeological crew still wants to go there.
Meanwhile, back home, Zeynep goes and visits a witch, herself. Zeynep tells the witch that she wants Ayse dead, because Zeynep has always lived in the shadow of Ayse. Zeynep's family loved Ayse more than she, and Ayse has always been more successful. The witch takes Zeynep's money and agrees to cast the spell and kill Ayse. Coinciding with the crew's nighttime arrival at Dengizhan Village, blood starts pouring out of the water spouts onto the rocks, as the witch casts Zeynep's spell. Dengizhan Village is quite spooky looking, as ominous tenements lay under the moon, across the field, where the old sorceress once lived.
Thus really begins the true litany of crazy and cheezy events in Buyu. Cemil gets bitten by a three-toothed flying creature while eating dinner. Aydan gets a dream-time visitor similar to the evil in Sidney J. Furie's The Entity (1981). The following morning, the pack mules are gone, and the dig is not going well. Ayse decides to go for a walk, and while coming upon the eerie tenements across the way, a metal hoop bounces out of an open door. Then, BAM!, a huge boulder comes out of nowhere, nearly killing everyone. The boulder sequence, like the rest of the film, is played dead serious; however, I laughed quite a bit upon viewing it (more than once). Hodja and the crew look around the tenements and find nothing amiss. Sedef finds a deer hide near the base, and Ayse says that its language is about demon spirits. The crew decides to begin digging in this area, and the area begins to yield several artifacts. Of particular note is an ancient dagger, which looks exactly like the one the young father was holding in the initial scenes. The crew stops for the day, when an ancient gravestone is uncovered, very near the surface. At dinner, the lights powered by the generator go out, and Cemil and Ceran go to fix the problem. Ceran steps into a mysterious beam of light, and her gorgeous eyes glaze over. Cemil and Ceran become transfixed and begin having sex, and when the light disappears, the two separate, ashamed. What overcame them? Ceran splits back to the crew, and Cemil gets attacked, throat cut, and decapitated. The location of the Dengizhan Village looks authentic, and its essential to the atmosphere of Buyu. Its feel is similar to the Templar ruins and graveyard in de Ossorio's Tombs of the Blind Dead. The music is used judiciously but is also similar to the humming and ominous tune in Tombs. The horror scenes range from the ridiculous, the boulder scene, to the effective, Cemil's death and several of the subsequent ones; and having a mix is also essential to Buyu's old school flavor. Perhaps the most ancient aspect of Buyu is how sexist it is: presumably all of the women on the dig have Ph.Ds in archaeology, and are shown to be successful, quick, and resourceful, especially Ayse. However, there's no shortage of scenes to show the ladies topless, while they're not donning their tight clothing. There's a nasty catfight between Ceran and Aydan after Cemil's death, and Oguz often shows the women characters as essentially shrill and emotional. Normally this would be offensive, but like a lot of 70s Euro-genre pictures, it's just another ridiculous aspect of the film not really taken seriously.
While Buyu is no means a masterpiece, it is a tremendous amount of fun, especially for film lovers of a by-gone era. Buyu sits nicely on the shelf next to the coffin box set of The Blind Dead films. Digging up and finding films like these is perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of my cinematic journey and receiving their small pleasures during the present time of their old school flavor.

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