By Scott Dorward
Baskin (Turkey, 2015)
“Hell is not a place you go. You carry Hell with you at all times.”
One of the things I love about the October Horror Movie Challenge is that it gives me a good reason to watch films I’ve been meaning to catch up with for ages. This Turkish oddity has been on my list for the past five years. I’m happy to report that it was worth the wait.
While Baskin has a simple premise, its execution is weird and imaginative enough to make up for the slight plot. Following a disquieting evening at a grubby little diner, a team police officers are called to an incident in the middle of nowhere. After a road accident and a weird encounter with a group of country folk out of a Lovecraft story and a bucket of frogs, they arrive at a long-abandoned police station, expecting to join other officers who called for backup. Instead, they find a building populated with horrors, including a staircase that leads them deep beneath the earth into a hellish underworld.
Amidst scatterings of human remains and cells full of mutilated prisoners guarded by cannibals, the officers are taken captive by a cult. The cult leader — an oddly compelling man with something of the Innsmouth look — leads the officers on a gory psychedelic voyage into madness and enlightenment. The final payoff, when it comes, is sudden and violent, offering a pleasing symmetry to the tale.
One of Baskin‘s greatest strengths is its aesthetic. While this is clearly not a big-budget film, it creates an uncomfortable sense of hellish depravity using simple sets, lighting and makeup. The overall effect is quite literally nightmarish, with the sense of being lost in a terrible fever dream, often challenging us to believe the reality of what we and the characters are experiencing.
Horror films that play with perception can be profoundly disturbing but are also difficult to pull off. Go too far into the breakdown of reality and you lose all sense of stakes. Is the protagonist really in mortal danger? Are they just going to wake up and discover that it was only a dream? What does any of this matter beyond spooky stuff happening because it looks cool?
Baskin skirts this line without every quite finding itself on the wrong side, although it does get close. Even if it had gone astray, losing itself in masturbatory surrealism, this still wouldn’t have ruined the film completely. There is plenty to love in its grimy, bloody transgressions. Baskin owes a huge debt to Clive Barker and more than a little to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The depiction of meat in this film does more to promote vegetarianism than PETA could ever dream of.
In the latter half of the film, Baskin piles atrocity upon atrocity to an almost numbing degree. Its salvation is that it knows when to pull away and shift the focus elsewhere, letting the viewer’s brain recover before the next assault.
Baskin is also canny enough to build our interest in its protagonists — if not exactly sympathy — before putting them through hell. The early scenes of the police officers in the diner give us a good sense of who these characters are, showing us their relationships through dialogue. Meanwhile, background scenes involving a robed figure and a bucket of mystery meat create a growing sense of wrongness.
Despite the creeping dread of these early scenes, the tonal shift when the officers arrive at the abandoned station is marked. When things get going, this is a brutal, gory film; but like Martyrs, the nastiness feels necessary, in service of transcendence.
In some ways, Baskin is the film I always wanted Hellraiser to be. Its sinister cultists are pretty much Cenobites in casual dress, but ones who explain their philosophy of transcendence through suffering more clearly, if less pithily. Their acts of sadism carry a weight of dread and brutality far beyond a quick dismemberment with hooks and chains.
Baskin was the feature debut of director Can Evrenol, based on his 2013 short film of the same name. Since then, he has directed two more features with weird or horrific elements — Housewife (2017) and The Girl With No Mouth (2019). Based on the strength of Baskin, I have added them to my list of films to look out for. I’ll try not to wait another five years before catching up with them.
Thank you to JonCTX over on our Discord server for letting me know about this video from Fright Logic that explores the Turkish superstitions and Zoroastrian religious beliefs upon which Baskin was based.
A Final Note
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- 1 – Baskin (2015)
- 2 – The Bar (2017)
- 3 – The Editor (2014)
- 4 – The Beach House (2019)
- 5 – The Mummy (1959)
- 6 – The Wind (2020)
- 7 – Tigers are Not Afraid (2018)
- 8 – Voices From Beyond (1991)
- 9 – Dearest Sister (2016)
- 10 – Patrick (1978)
- 11 – The Transfiguration (2016)
- 12 – The House at the End of Time (2013)
- 13 – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
- 14 – The Hallow (2015)
- 15 – Night of the Demons (1988)
- 16 – Deep Dark (2015)
- 17 – The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)
- 18 – Black Sheep (2006)
- 19 – The Battery (2012)
- 20 – Eaten Alive (1976)
- 21 – Satan’s Slaves (2017)
- 22 – Evolution (2015)
- 23 – Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)
- 24 – The Dead Center (2018)
- 25 – Your Vice is a Locked Room and I Have the Only Key (1972)
- 26 – The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
- 27 – Here Comes the Devil (2012)
- 28 – Gretel & Hansel (2020)
- 29 – Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
- 30 – The Stepfather (1987)
- 31 – In Fabric (2018)
Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!