Director – Fred Vogel, Screenplay – Don Moore, Fred Vogel & Shelby L. Vogel, Story – Jerami Cruise, Don Moore, Fred Vogel & Shelby L. Vogel, Producers – Fred Vogel & Shelby L. Vogel, Photography – Gabe Spangler, Music – Mike Hammer, Special Effects/Makeup Effects – Jerami Cruise, Animatronics – Shawn Collins & Jerami Cruise, Production Design – Shelby L. Vogel. Production Company – Toetag Inc
Damien Marusack (Sergeant Bradley A. Roback), Camille Keaton (Karmen Roback), Jade Risser (Ashley Roback), Harvey “Freestyle” Daniels (Gavyn), Sean P. McCarthy (Bruce Roback), Sarah Thornton (Heidi), Allie Nickel (Tina Roback)
Karmen Roback and her children wait for the return of her son Brad who has been wounded while serving in combat in Iraq. When Brad arrives, he is confined to a wheelchair and will not discuss what happened to him. It becomes increasingly obvious to the others that Brad is not well but nobody is willing to come out and say anything. In his room, Brad’s condition worsens as he begins to leak black fluid from his ear and bowels and can no longer eat food.
Sella Turcica is a film from director Fred Vogel and his Toetag production company. Fred Vogel and Toetag gained some notoriety with their low-budgeted August Underground (2001), the first example of a mockumentary that posed as being a snuff movie, which led to two sequels August Underground’s Mordum (2003) and August Underground’s Penance (2007). Fred Vogel has made several other horror films, including The Redsin Tower (2006), Maskhead (2009) and Murder Collection Volume 1 (2009), a mockumentary that claims to be a series of death scenes taken from security cameras, as well as Necrophagia: Sickcess (2004), which is not a horror film but a documentary about a death metal band.
There have been other horror films about soldiers returned from combat before with works like Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Uncle Sam (1997) and Frost: Portrait of a Vampire (2001), although the film that Sella Turcica most resembles is Bob Clark’s minor cult classic Dead of Night (1974), which had Richard Backus as a soldier returned from Vietnam but turned into something else. Sella Turcica is almost a one-act film – army veteran Damien Marusack returns home, is greeted by his family as it becomes apparent that he is not the same anymore, before he … The entire film is a build-up that leads to a gore-drenched climax where it is revealed exactly what happened to Marusack.
Sella Turcica differs from Dead of Night (and Uncle Sam) in two essential respects. They were both films about a soldier returned as undead (in some form) and conducting a series of killings. The essential arc is not so different here but in Sella Turcica the focus is less on a series of killings by the transformed veteran than it is on the family’s reaction to the process of transformation. Sella Turcica explodes out into a series of killings only in the last few minutes, whereas these other films have the transformation occur relatively early in the piece or off-stage and then stagger the killings throughout.
The other crucial difference is that both Dead of Night and Uncle Sam were intended as critiques of their particular wars (Vietnam and Gulf War I), with Uncle Sam having a particularly scathing black humour bite to it. On the other hand, here you get the impression that Sella Turcica is supportive of the war – for instance, the end credits include a dedication to the men and women of the US Armed Services, which is not exactly something you would get from a film with an anti-war subtext.
One aspect of Sella Turcica that you have to commend is the strongly drawn characters. The family are introduced as a well rounded unit – from the tattooed and multiply pierced Bruce (Sean P. McCarthy) and his girlfriend (Allie Nickel) who contrarily appear the most normal in the family as they gush over baby pictures; teenager Ashley (Jade Risser – who does an impressive dance routine at one point) with her naive determination to think the best of her brother; her boyfriend, the wannabe rapper Gavyn (Harvey “Freestyle” Daniels) who is seen as a freeloader by the rest of the family and is constantly asking inappropriate questions of Damien Marusack. The relations between the group and as they try to cope with Damien Marusack’s increasing deterioration is portrayed with some nuance and subtlety. The performances here are all good, especially Sean P. McCarthy who, despite being outfitted as what anywhere else would be regarded as the freak of the show, gives the most solidly centred and reliable performance. As the increasingly infected brother, Damien Marusack plays with a strength and wry wit that you could easily see him carrying on to become a leading actor elsewhere.
The most famous name on the credits is Camille Keaton, the granddaughter of Buster, who had an indelible role as the multiply raped heroine in the shock-horror classic Day of the Woman/I Spit on Your Grave (1978). Camille Keaton has been almost entirely absent from cinema screens since the 1980s – she made a total of three acting appearances between 1989 and 2010, for instance. I assumed this was about her being blacklisted by casting agencies because of such a role, but after tracking down an interview with Keaton it transpires that this was something as mundane as her giving up acting for married life. In more recent years (and just touching the age of 60 here), she appears to have discovered the horror convention circuit and has started making comeback appearances in several films.
[PLOT SPOILERS] In some ways, Sella Turcicia‘s climactic unveiling of what is happening and the emergence of Damien Marusack as a zombie is its least satisfying aspect. It is the point where the film goes from a well-established character ensemble about people reacting to a family member becoming ill to a predictable gore bloodbath. Here Fred Vogel opts for an outlay of over-the-top 1980s-styled gore effects that are impressively gore-drenched but not always the most convincing.
The other oddity about Sella Turcica is the title, which initially leaves you with the expectation that it is a foreign film. The term is never explained anywhere throughout and leaves you scratching your head, trying to puzzle out what it means. After a little bit of research, I discovered that the Sella Turcica is a term that comes from medicine. The phrase ‘sella turcica’ is a Latin one that translates literally as ‘Turkish chair’ – in anatomy the Sella Turcica is a small bony indentation in the back of the human skull where the pituitary gland is located. Presumably, this is intended to refer to the area of the brain where the parasite inhabiting Damien Marusack’s head is located.