January 30, 2020 The Hunt for Vlad the Impaler (Movie Review)
His title ‘Dracula’ may have inspired the world’s most famous vampire, and thus any vampire with a flair for the debonair since, yet Vlad the Impaler of Wallachia remains a scary enough figure on his own. Whether it was ordering the turbans of some Turkish envoys to be nailed to their heads in court, or impaling approximately 20,000 men, women and children for the Turkish forces to see, there was something about him that was not quite right.
The true scale of Vlad’s destructive rule- whether it was 20,000 dead or not – has been a bandied-about topic for historians for centuries. Still, the very least one can say is that Vlad was a cruel despot, as The Hunt for Vlad the Impaler shows. Originally released on November 23rd, 2018 as Deliler (‘Mad men’ or ‘Valiants,’ according to the film), the film will be making its US debut on Tuesday, February 4, 2020 on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and digital platforms through 4Digital Media.
The film was directed by Osman Kaya (Filinta series, Sisterhood series) and written by Ibrahim Ethem Arslan (Nezir Bir Film 201,. Tozkoparan series), Mustafa Burak Dogu (Dirilis: Ertugrul series, Kizilelma series), and Esra Vesu Ozcelik (Rule 2 2006, Hicran and Melek 2016). In it, the forces of Vlad the Impaler (Erkan Petekkaya: Broken Piece series, Ayla 2017) are tearing through the lands of the Ottoman Empire.
Emperor Mehmed II (Ruzgar Aksoy: Adnali series, Kesif 2018) orders seven warriors known as the ‘Deliler’ to hunt Vlad down. Led by Gokkurt (Cem Uçan: Water and Fire 2013, Hürkus 2018) and Asgar (Ismail Filiz: Ketenpere 2017, Adanis: Kutsal Kavga 2020), the seven men set off for the battle to end all battles.
As one might suspect from the names and the Ottoman Empire being mentioned, this is a Turkish production, complete with Turkish cast, crew and dialogue. Luckily, there are subtitles for everyone else. It aims to fit in with people’s Vikings and Game of Thrones boxsets, only in one 2-hour flick instead of a long series. Does it achieve its goal or does it fall short?
Uçan certainly had high hopes for the film. In a 2018 interview with the Daily Sabah, he said, “When spectators watch this movie, they will understand what I mean. It is an unbelievable visual show and perfect in the context of action.” He is not wrong either, as it is a nice-looking film, impaled people and other grisliness aside. There are some nice sweeping exterior shots, and the colours are less washed-out. The lighting is bright and the costumes have some fancy additions, notably the big black wings Uçan’s Gokkurt wears during the adventure.
Still, the editing could have been a touch better in places. It is perfectly fine for most of the film, going from shot to shot without affecting the pace. It just gets messy when the action picks up, like in the final battle where blows repeat themselves between shots. The intent seems to be for dramatic effect and it sometimes works. Other times, it feels like they cut a few frames too soon or too late from one angle to the other.
How about that plot? Well, it is as subtle as a neon-painted sledgehammer. The Deliler are seven unlikely heroes bound together by duty and their Muslim faith to save innocent people, and their Christian brethren, from Vlad- a vain, cruel, power-hungry monster that treats his supposed allies like the Pope with as much disdain as his enemies. It does not take long for this message to come through, as the CGI intro features symbols of the Islamic and Christian faiths standing opposite each other, before a dragon (‘dracul’) wraps itself around the Christian Cross like an unwelcome guest.
So, restraint is not its strong suit, nor is historicity. Some have even gone as far as to call it propaganda, as it treats the Ottomans and Mehmed II ‘The Conqueror’ too nobly for some. Still, it would take those more in the know to pick out who would win in the Bastard Olympics between The Conqueror and The Impaler. Independent of that, it is a cheesy story- 1960’s The Magnificent Seven meets the morality of 1984’s Fist of the North Star series with more contentious figures.
Does that make The Hunt for Vlad the Impaler a terrible film? Not on its technical merits. The direction is fine, even lovely at times bar some editing hiccups. As far as a non-Turkish speaker can tell, the acting is okay too, if as blunt as its story and message. Petekkaya and Uçan sell their roles strongly. Still, its jingoism keeps it from being completely effective. If it was aiming to be Turkey’s version of 1995’s Braveheart, it overshot and became its take of 1999’s The Patriot. If one has a high tolerance for cinematic cheese, it is worth a go. That just makes this film worth it and why Cryptic Rock gives it 3 out of 5 stars.