This Is a Thing: Turkish ‘E.T.’

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Welcome to “This Is a Thing,” a new monthly feature where your humble film editor will examine a piece of popular culture — a film, an album, a television special, whatever — that I wouldn’t believe existed had I not laid my own eyes upon it.

I’d heard about the Turkish films for a while. They’ve been a longtime object of fascination for bad movie connoisseurs; it seems that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, filmmakers in Turkey had something of a cottage industry in unauthorized remakes of American blockbusters, in which plots were appropriated, characters were bastardized, and music, shots, and even entire sequences of the original works were lifted wholesale (often in jarring contrast to their terrible homemade special effects). In other words, the Turks were “swedeing” movies long before Be Kind, Rewind. There was the Turkish Superman, Turkish Star Wars, Turkish Wizard of Oz, Turkish Star Trek, and so on. They were spoken of in hushed tones by lovers of terrible cinema, who swapped third-generation VHS dubs, always (and this seems a point of pride among those who view them) without subtitles. They sounded too terrible to be true, so when I spotted a copy of Badi — helpfully labeled “The Turkish E.T.” — on the shelves of my beloved World of Video, I took a deep breath and walked it up to the counter.

True to form, the Badi tape wasn’t subtitled, and was apparently dubbed from a Turkish release on “Sultan Video” (the label name is helpfully burned into the movie every few minutes). As I’m told, with these films, the language barrier isn’t much of a problem — if you’ve seen the original, you can pretty much piece together what’s going on, though the long stretches of Badi that have little or nothing to do with the original are pretty much indecipherable. This particularly holds true in the opening scenes, as director Zafer Par takes a good, long while to make with the ripping off. There are a lot of goings-on with a pretty scientist lady, a guy in an electronics shop, and her father/mentor/professor or something; there’s also a whole bunch of setup with the kids of the tale, since the Elliot role has basically been split into two. One of our protagonists is the offspring of a single mother, as in Spielberg’s original, but the other has a giant family, complete with a doddering grandma and a hilariously abusive father. Oh, and there’s a cop who just cold shoots a stray dog that one of the kids has taken a shine to, because nothing gets your family movie going like a dog death. But finally, about 16 minutes in:

Flashes of bright red and white lights outside of a window send the scientist lady and her gang to observe the landing of the alien ship — seen only in their reaction shots, of course (the makers of Badi apparently decided not to take the copyright-infringing risks of some of their fellow filmmakers, and no clips from E.T. itself are used; the closest they come is the occasional aping of Spielberg’s signature backlit fog). Finally, we get our first look at our extraterrestrial, shuffling off his “spaceship” with no explanation, before we cut to a scene of the angry father chasing his kid around the kitchen table. Such is the jarring internal logic of Badi!

Those scientists aren’t the only ones who see the spaceship land; the whole village, it seems, observes the landing, and takes to the streets, Frankenstein­-style. (The film’s cobblestone-filled setting, and the giant family at its center, give it a feel throughout that recalls E.T. less than Fiddler on the Roof.) But finally, we get to the scene we’re all waiting for, as our Elliot and E.T. stand-ins finally come face to face, and the lovable alien… smoke-farts?

You can see, in early scenes, that the filmmakers are trying to avoid too many straight-on, lingering shots of their alien. But once you get a look at him, you realize that this is not a case of Spielbergian sleight of hand, delaying the reveal of his extraordinary creature (á la Jaws and E.T.); they’re waiting as long as possible to show us their alien because he is fucking terrifying and totally disturbing and will haunt your nightmares for years to come. Witness this scene, in which we get a look at Badi’s “magic” (spinning apples on obvious wires, apparently), but more importantly, at the beast himself:

These are our first lingering looks at their alien, and it must be said: this little person in a peculiar suit looks less like E.T. than like a chocolate E.T. that’s been taken out into the sun and placed under a magnifying glass. If you’re not already haunted by this cute, cuddly creature, witness Badi’s riff on the famous “Reese’s Pieces” scene, in which delicious peanut butter candy is replaced by some sort of rotten marshmallow situation:

Sooner or later, the film’s two proto-Elliots merge, and we get Badi’s riff on one of E.T.’s most iconic scenes, in which little Gertie (Drew Barrymore) gets her first look at the creature her brother has befriended. But a scene like this is all in the playing: watch how director Par shoots, scores, and executes the entire sequence like something out of a horror movie.

Oh, and here’s this, presented without comment:

In summary — and trust me, there’s a lot more here to unpack — the makers of Badi took one of the most beloved family entertainments of the 20th century and transformed it into something along the lines of early Cronenberg.

So, what is the appeal of something like Badi and its Turkish movie brethren? Based on this viewing, it’s hard to say. To be sure, there is something weirdly fascinating about watching our popular artifacts refracted through another culture, and there are chuckles to be had at its laughable effects, peculiar tonal shifts, and hideous title character. But that’s good for about ten minutes of sneering and guffawing, and then there’s a whole movie to sit through. Frankly, it seems to this viewer that the fascination with Turkish rip-offs is less about jeering and talking back at bad movies, MST3K-style, than it is a testing of one’s bad-movie mettle. I’ve heard of crap cinema aficionados meeting up for marathons of the absolute worst films ever made, as a kind of endurance test to see who can survive and who will cry uncle. Badi feels like the trump card that you’d play at the end of such a long day, to finally, forevermore break one’s spirit. Good luck.

Badi can be obtained via several bootleg DVD sites; the entire film is also available on YouTube, though the video starts about four minutes into the movie. Believe me, you don’t miss anything.