Emerging from a country that rarely raises international filmmakers let alone those belonging to the horror genre, Can Evrenol is a rare commodity. With his first film, Baskin, the Turkish writer/director conquered the challenge of exploring eastern ideologies, settings and characters through western framing, lighting and storytelling techniques. Evrenol now returns to the fear-fest circuit with an equally ambitious second effort, (Housewife opens this Thursday) while critics hail the diasporan director as Turkey’s answer to Wes Craven.
Slaying straight out of the cradle, Evrenol’s horror flick, Baskin was picked up by IFC Horror at tiff. two years ago. The story follows a posse of policemen on their way to raid an abandoned building, and through flashbacks and surreal dream sequences, it explores the ties of the protagonist to the hellish place he is about to enter. First half of the film gradually builds contempt towards its band of anti-heroes, and then with great terror and pleasure, Evrenol throws them in the snake pit as we watch and cheer for their demise from the sidelines.
The genius of Baskin’s plot lies in its subtle nod to the political climate of the country at the time. In 2015, when Baskin hit theaters, there were lingering sentiments of alienation and mistrust between the citizens of Turkey and the police force of Erdoğan’s totalitarian regime. The film was released shortly after the Gezi park protests where numerous innocent lives were lost at the hands of the Turkish authorities. Police brutality was in the forefront of political conversation.
At a time like this what could be more satisfying than seeing corrupt authority figures being literally tortured to death? People wanted revenge and Evrenol gave it to them. If they couldn’t have justice on the streets, they would at least have it on the screens.
More subtle with its cultural references and political undertone than Baskin, the director’s second film—first in English—Housewife (set to screen at Brooklyn Horror Film Festival) focuses on a young woman trying to understand her gory past by discovering ties to a new-age cult. Profoundly executed, Housewife further proves that what Evrenol lacks in story structure, he makes up for in visual motifs. No shortage of iconic cinematography, Lynchian lighting or elegantly-delivered gore when it comes to the director’s signature aesthetic.
Despite just getting started, the thirty-five year old director already scored big with hardcore genre fans, film snobs and critics alike. Borrowing from Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s melancholia, Sam Raimi’s absurdism and gore, Clive Baker’s unnerving villains and Dario Argento’s compositions, Evrenol creates a recipe that challenges genre masters.
For a human who thinks of shit like this, Evrenol is a quite down to earth and personable. Working on his short film—part of a horror anthology called Field Guide to Evil which also includes shorts by genre directors like Calvin Reeder (V/H/S) and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy)—Evrenol currently resides in a den of Marvel memorabilia with his super-hot wife Elif Domanic who makes high-end BDSM wear and loves to pole dance. The prom king and queen of Moda’s (Williamsburg of Istanbul) social scene, the collaborative power couple graciously opens their doors to BULLETT for a Studio Visit. Read our interview below.
Describe your writing process from concept to completion. What are the stages and how do you approach them?
Can Evrenol: I put myself in these slots everyday. I say “I’m going to be writing today from 2-4”. Even if I’m not writing anything, I’m going to be sitting here.
You obey yourself?
CE: Yeah. And sometimes I’m actually productive. Sometimes I just end up watching YouTube videos. You have to have a schedule to get you going. Ultimately, everything grows out of that schedule. With Housewife, I was rewriting it until it was green lit. I had the time to go over it again and again.
With the Field Guide to Evil, they just gave me a certain amount of money and they said “We want the final product in 4 months.” I had to find the idea first, I wrote a little short story but I didn’t like it. I went to a cowriter, we wrote something together. I came home and I thought about it and decided to switch writers. And, finally I ended up writing it with Elif, my wife.
What was that like?
CE: It was really good because I like her sensibility, and her non-industry approach. She has her own way of looking at things.
And you also have a woman’s point of view.
CE: Yeah, I always ask for her feedback. We ended up writing this one together. Once I finish something, then I look at it again in terms of budget. “Will I be able to do this?” Sometimes I change scenes according to the budget. Sometimes I remove scenes completely. Sometimes, there’s a shed in the script but I can’t find a shed. But I have a boat. So the shed becomes a boat. We had a lot of those on Housewife.
Then you go to a line producer and put a team together, you. And then once the wheels start turning, you become a slave of your own skills. You have to meet your own deadlines. When you’re your own boss, when you’re your own deadline giver, it’s really easy to skip them. But you can’t skip them if you want to be better.
I want to talk about the kids in the film, because that’s such a tricky thing. You shoot these super-gory scenes with kids. What I’m really curious about is, how much of the scene do they know? Do you just tell them, “Look at this door, and then start running” or do you give them the actual scenario, like “This is what’s happening to you in this scene.” Or do you give them a PG rated, more censored version of the scene? How do you deal with that?
CE: I’ve always had kids, since my early short films. They only see their parts.
But even just their parts are sometimes really traumatizing. “Now your sister is getting killed in front of you.” Do you say that?
CE: Yeah, of course. But when you’re dissecting it, when you’re behind the curtain of a certain trick, it’s a whole different vibe. It’s not really scary or disturbing. I usually explain things to them as if they were adults. Sometimes, I say, “We’re doing this crazy thing” and I approach it with a humorous attitude. And when you’re doing hardcore gore scenes, the vibe on the set is more like watching a sporting event. (Mock cheering) “Oh amazing! Did you see how good it was?” that kind of a thing. When it gets really weird is when someone is actually screaming or crying. When we film somebody crying on screen, I look at all the crew, and they almost always look down.
There is an urban legend that in the movie theatre, if the projector isn’t doing their job right and you can’t see the movie anymore, but you can still hear it, people don’t complain as much as they would if you cut the sound and they can’t hear but they can see it. Then they complain right away.
CE: That makes sense. I slowly realized through my filmmaking journey the importance of sound. Even if you shoot it with a phone, if you make the sound convincing, your movie is going to be convincing and realistic. I think that’s a great thing to discover for a filmmaker. On set, when there is blood and gore and lights, everybody’s like “Oh, it’s amazing!” But when somebody is crying from the heart, they’re all like biting their nails for the scene to finish.
The one thing that I noticed about the film that was interesting—it takes place in Istanbul. But it’s very subtle. If you don’t live in Istanbul, you probably wouldn’t even know where the story takes place. Right? The only that gave it away was the call to prayer.
CE: Yeah, and I put it there on purpose. I deliberately didn’t include any wide shots of Istanbul. I deliberately avoided any use of Turkey and Istanbul because I wanted to make it timeless. But, when it came to putting the call to prayer in there, it felt like such a cool, quirky idea. I always sabotage myself on my principles. I put myself hard principles and I always break them at some point. Which gives this overall coherent personality to the film.
I wanted to ask you how you shot the scene where the kid sister comes out of the toilet.
CE: We built a little set for it. It was a giant toilet with a tunnel underneath it. We shot some of it in an actual toilet, and then we shot some of it on that set. We filled the tunnel with blood so that it pours out. The father of the actress, the little girl found it very dangerous, he wouldn’t let her do it.
CE: It’s kind of a narrow tunnel she has to go in and it was full of blood. She was supposed to enter it and come out the other side. She had a breathing tube and everything, there were all these guys around her. But still… I said okay you know what, you have the right to refuse. We ended up using the son of the stunt guy. We dressed him in girl’s clothes and we put a wig on him. He was kind of embarrassed because he was in drag but we said “Oh come on, you’re an actor now.” We encouraged him and that’s how we did it.
So, what are you doing different next time you’re on set?
CE: I learned that I want to work with a smaller crew in my next film. After two films now, I know the value of working with the same people. You establish a dialogue, you have a history, you understand each other better. When you’re working with brand new people sometimes it becomes difficult to get things across.
What’s a childhood memory that could be straight out of your horror films?
CE: I remember my first ever nightmare: I entered my parents’ bedroom and the cartoon Napoleon, from Bugs Bunny was there. He had my baby brother on my mom’s ironing table. He was about to slice him with his cartoon saber as my brother was crying. And then I woke up in tears, my parents ran into my room in panic. I was terrified and later fascinated by this new phenomenon in my life called “nightmare”.
Give me your top 5 all time favorite scenes from any movie ever made.
1. Opening scene of Quest For Fire (1981)
2. Final shot of The Beyond (1981)
3. Frog rain in Magnolia (1999)
4. Ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
5. Every fight/training scene from Rocky IV (1985)
What is a movie you wish you made? Why?
CE: Crash (1995) It’s the kinkiest movie ever made, a surreal sci-fi.
Who dusts/cleans your house? Does that person hate you?
CE: Our auntie Serife. We both hate dust.
How does your wife feel about living with all your memorabilia? Does she get something in return?
CE: I guess she loves them. She gets to be a queen of darkness in return.