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Plot: trauma transforms demure small-town girl into gun-toting angel of death.

Karateci Kiz (Karate Girl in most of the English territories, Golden Girl in certain European markets, and Golden Karate Girl in most of Scandinavia) is a peculiar regional variant on an established (and often imitated) formula. At heart it’s a convergence of at least two, possibly three, cinematic trends popular at the international box office of the day. It combines the first half of The Last House on the Left (1972) (Italy in particular took to imitating it with zest around this time) with the damaged vigilante subplot straight out of Thriller – En Grym Film (1973). If that weren’t enough of a volatile combination in and of itself director Orhan Aksoy spices the entire thing up with some pretty decent kung fu as Hong Kong martial arts imports were all the rage around this time. It’s not exactly TNT Jackson (1974) or Cleopatra Wong (1978) nor was that ever the intention. What makes it different from other rank exploitation from this period is that it does so on a basis of filial piety and traditional values of warm relationships, friendship, family, and the stoic belief in all things ending well.

Every country has its superstars. For Turkey that was Filiz Akin. Along with Türkan Şoray, Hülya Koçyiğit and Fatma Girik, she was one of the four queens of the Yeşilçam (Green Pine) era or the Golden Age of Turkish cinema. A bright young talent of a generation out to innovate domestic cinema and beloved at home for her "noble, modern, urban and elegant face".

Thanks to her academic background Filiz worked at the Ankara branch of American Export-Isbrandtsen Lines. In her two years there she rose to head of the marine branch. It’s here that she became fluent in English, French, and even a bit of Italian. During said employment she attended Ankara University, Faculty of Language, History and Geography for a semester studying archeology. After winning an Artist magazine contest she debuted in Akasyalar Açarken (1962), one of six movies she appeared in that year. IMDB meanwhile insists that her debut was Sahte nikah (1962). Filiz was wed to screenwriter, producer, and director Türker İnanoğlu in 1964 but the two separated somewhere in 1974. After another marriage that lasted from 1982 to 1993 Akin married Turkish diplomat Sönmez Köksal with president Süleyman Demirel and Speaker of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey Hüsamettin Cindoruk in attendance. The two have been together ever since.

Filiz appeared in a staggering 122 films (mostly dramas, comedies, and romances) in the thirteen years between 1962 and 1975. Among many others she could be seen in Çitkirildim (1966) with Cüneyt Arkin, as well as Fadime (1970) with Cihangir Gaffari. Gaffari would make appearances in Shaft's Big Score! (1972), The Demons (1973), Hundra (1983), and Bloodsport (1988). One of Akin’s more remembered roles was that in Istanbul Tatili (1968), a domestic remake of the Hollywood blockbuster Roman Holiday (1953). She won the Golden Orange Award Best Actress for Ankara Ekspresi (1971) on the International Antalya Film Festival that year. As near as we can tell Karate Girl was the only exploitationer Filiz ever partook in, but it’s one worth remembering.

While not many names in the rest of the cast stand out, two among the credited karatekas went on to have long careers in Turkish politics. Little is known about Hazır Lamistir or what has become of him but the same cannot be said of Orhan and Ahmet Doğan, if the two men two men appearing here are indeed the very same. Given their association with Akin and Ankara University being their alma mater it’s all a bit much to write off as mere coincidence. Orhan Doğan would be elected to the Turkish Parliament in 1991 and later join the centre-left Democracy Party (DEP). He would proliferate himself as an ardent defender of Kurdish rights and serve as a member of the Grand National Assembly from 1991-1994. In 1994 he was sentenced to a 15-year prison term for his association with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (Partîya Karkerên Kurdistanê or PKK). As a political prisoner he was the subject of the Hasan Kiraç television documentary Demokrasi Yokusu in 1997. After his release in 2004 he helped found the Democratic Society Party (DTP). Ahmet Dogan served as the chairman of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) from 1990 to 2013. It's also entirely possible that Orhan Doganer was just one of the production's martial arts instructors.

Zeynep (Filiz Akin) is a simple countrygirl making an honest living as a florist in Istanbul selling the flowers that her old father (Nubar Terziyan) grows on his farm on the outskirts of town. Since losing her mother at an early age Zeynep has been rendered mute. Together with her father she has been duly saving money for an expensive surgery that her doctor (Yilmaz Gruda) believes will restore her speech. Meanwhile on the other end of town a vicious and assorted gang of thieves, extortionists, rapists, and murderers - Ferruh Durak (Bülent Kayabaş), Riza Çakoz (Kudret Karadag), Kasim Arpaci (Oktay Yavuz), and Cafer Durak (Necati Er) – led by Bekir Bulut (Hayati Hamzaoglu) escape trial and confinement by murdering on-duty cop Hasan Çetin (Ahmet Kostarika) and disappearing into the thick blackness of the night. Insinuating themselves into the homestead Zeynep’s father makes nothing of the fast-talking band of vagrants naively imparting their present situation with them. Bulut and his bandits ransack the place, steal the savings, and callously murder the old man for his trouble when he offers up token but futile resistance. When Zeynep returns home after a hard day’s work she not only finds her father’s lifeless body but to make matters worse she’s violated by Bulut and left for dead. The trauma is so profound that Zeynep regains her speech. She vows to avenge her dear father and robbed innocence.

One day menial laborer Murat Akdogan (Ediz Hun) comes looking for work on the farm only to find Zeynep practice target shooting. Law enforcement and the authorities have been powerless to apprehend the extremely dangerous and fugitive convicts. Bulut in the meantime has reconnected with his former paramour (Sema Yaprak) unaware that Murat is a cop working deeply undercover to locate and arrest him and his gang of bovine brutes. Zeynep on her part becomes gradually aware of Murat’s true motives as he instructs her in target shooting, mortal combat, and enrolls her in the local karate dojo. Zeynep and Murat fall in love and eventually are wed. On her wedding day Bekir and his bandits crash the ceremony leaving Murat among the victims. Torn by trauma and grief Zeynep enrolls in police academy and continues training in karate. Upon successfully graduating from both she systematically hunts down each of the perpetrators. Trapping Bekir in his studio apartment she unleashes her righteous vengeance upon him for taking the lives of not only her old father but her husband as well.

Produced by İnanoğlu’s own Erler Film and made with participation of the Istanbul police force Karate Girl was a vehicle for Filiz Akin to undergo a sort of Soledad Miranda or Edwige Fenech-like reinvention. Apparently rushed into production to coast off the notoriety of Thriller – A Grim Film (1973) Orhan Aksoy, a celebrated specialist of melodramas in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was just about the last person you’d expect to be directing something like this. Aksoy was one of the forefathers of 'muhalle' cinema, or the Turkish equivalent of the German Heimatfilme, and as such he was a reliable provider in wholesome family entertainment. Twice had he been given the Best Film Award on the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival. Once in 1970 for Kinali Yapincak (1969) and then again in 1973 for Hayat mi Bu? (1973). To say that Karate Girl was something not in his usual wheelhouse would be putting in mildly. Whether the same rung true for writers Fuat Özlüer and Erdogan Tünas we honestly can’t say but given the company they kept it’s entirely plausible. Most of the music was lifted from another production, although various blogs over the years have failed to mention which. Assistant director Samim Utku would become a prolific writer in Turkish television and build a respectable career as a director. Was this a last-ditch effort on İnanoğlu’s part to save his failing marriage to Akin? Not many contemporary reviews seem interested to delve into the history of Karate Girl and the people behind it.

The similarities between the two are startlingly distinct, but so are the differences. Both feature protagonists rendered mute by trauma and Madeleine/Frigga as well as Zeynep both come from the countryside. Both are triggered into a homicidal frenzy by the loss of a loved one (Madeleine/Frigga loses her best friend, Zeynep her father) and both undergo weapons, martial arts, and close quarter combat training by a police officer friendly to their plight. Also not unimportant is that both women experience sexual trauma at the hand of their wrongdoers. Whereas Thriller – A Grim Film (1973) relished in showing just that in explicit detail it is implied rather than shown here. Where Karate Girl differs most significantly is during its second half. Here it suddenly changes into a procedural once Zeynep completes her police training. She starts tracking down and apprehending the perpetrators one by one. That being different the conclusion is mostly the same, only does Zeynep bloodily dispose herself of the main culprit in what looks like an exact re-enactment of Thriller’s legendary finale. In 2012 Karate Girl for a brief spell was popular on social media as the final shoot-out was bombarded to “worst death scene ever” exposing an entire new generation to it. In an interesting duality Aksoy was able to fuse muhalle values with rank exploitation. How this fared with Turkish audiences at the time is near impossible to gauge. What is certain is that it didn’t tarnish Akin nor her cleanly image or reputation. Likewise did Orhan Aksoy find incredible success with romantic comedies in the next decade.

In retrospect and with the benefit of nearly five decades of hindsight it’s puzzling that Karate Girl remains ever as obscure. This undoubtedly had a profound influence in shaping Cirio H. Santiago's Naked Vengeance (1985). At home its closest cousin was perhaps something like Cellat (1975) which gave Michael Winner’s vigilante thriller Death Wish (1974) (with Charles Bronson) a Turkish make-over. Once divorced from İnanoğlu Akin continued with wholesome dramatic and comedic roles. Never again would she lower herself to rank exploitation like this. Just how much of an anomaly Karate Girl is for most of the principal players in front and behind the cameras is mystifying and interesting enough all by itself. It makes you pine for a tell-all confessional on what was happening behind the scenes while it was being conceptualized. Turkey has a long and storied history in playing fast and loose with international licensing and distribution rights, and the country had a prolific exploitation industry that was even more shameless than that of the Philippines. Karate Girl is the exception and a curiosity as it was an exploitationer made by otherwise respectable people cashing in on what seemed like a lucrative trend. Is this the greatest that Turkish exploitation has ever wrought? Probably not but it’s damn entertaining.

Plot: exchange student pulls prank on class playboy. Hilarity ensues!

The careers of commedia sexy all'Italiana starlets Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati were irrevocably intertwined but didn’t exactly run parallel. Whereas la Guida made her ass a thing of national pride through a series of breezy comedies, Carati wasn’t so fortunate. Lovely, luscious Lilli… She who shone so fiercely, so brightly, and who crashed so spectacularly, so miserably, so undeservedly. Forever the bad girl. There’s no disputing that To Be Twenty (1978) was a career peak for both la Guida and la Carati. Moreso for Carati as Guida was already was an established star by that point and even had a few genuine box office hits to her name prior to La Liceale (1975). Fernando Di Leo had not only upstaged the commedia sexy all'Italiana formula by turning the conventions on its head, and even more importantly, he used them as a vehicle some of the most scathing socio-political commentary aimed at church and state alike. Before Carati got there there was La compagna di banco (or The Seatmate, for those in the English-speaking world) from Mariano Laurenti, which hardly was the worst, or the most odious, thing that Lilli ever lend her name (and figure) to.

Mariano Laurenti was one of many specialized directors that ushered the commedia sexy all’Italiana into its various forms and through multiple decades. He’s mostly remembered around these parts for the indispensible Edwige Fenech-Malisa Longo decamerotico Beautiful Antonia, First a Nun Then a Demon (1972). Laurenti was instrumental in helping Edwige Fenech reinvent herself after her tenure as giallo queen. He worked with miss Fenech on many an occassion, but their association was by no means exclusive. He helped sire the comedic careers of just about every comedic Eurocult leading lady including, but not limited to, Nieves Navarro, Femi Benussi, and Orchidea De Santis to Nadia Cassini, Dagmar Lassander, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, and Anita Strindberg. He was the creative force behind My Father's Private Secretary (1976) plus La Guida’s post-La Liceale (1975) romp The Landlord (1976), as well as her post-To Be Twenty (1978) efforts The Highschool Girl Repeating Class (1978), The Night Nurse (1979), and How to Seduce Your Teacher (1979). Once Gloria divested of her famous schoolgirl character in search of greener pastures he directed The Repeater Winks at the Headmaster (1980), or that illicit sequel wherein Anna Maria Rizzoli superseded Sabrina Siani as the horny and mischievous schoolgirl. In his twilight years he assistant directed the breastacular Saint Tropez, Saint Tropez (1992) (with the delectable duo of former Tinto Brass goddesses Debora Caprioglio and Serena Grandi).

Simona Girardi (Lilli Carati) is a beautiful 18-year-old student who has newly moved from Milan to Trani in the region of Apulia. As a transfer student and newcomer at Mamiani Lyceum she immediately attracks the attention of philandering lothario of class 3B Mario D'Olivo (Antonio Melidoni). After hearing from her new friends the blonde Mirella (Brigitte Petronio) and fashionably crewcut Vera (Susanna Schemmari) that Mario has broken many hearts and that he will break hers if she’ll let him. With that in mind the girls decide that a suitable bit of revenge is in order. Simona will seduce him and give him a bit of his own medicine in retaliation. Mario’s best friends (and professional practical jokers) are ginger class clown Nicola Martocchia (Stefano Amato) and certified virgin-for-life Gennarino (Nando Paone, as Ferdinando Paone). The boys love nothing more than to come to Mario’s apartment and spy on nubile women undressing in the tailor shop of Mario’s father below.

Hijinks ensue when Mario’s father, Teo (Lino Banfi) hits on upperclass socialite Elena Mancuso (Nikki Gentile, as Niki Gentile) and he has to pretend to be gay to escape the wrath of her Mafia don husband signor Carmine Mancuso (Rosario Borelli). All of which amuses shop assistant Giuditta (Ermelinda De Felice) to no end. Back at home Mario barely has time to study as he has to ward off the unwanted advances of perennially horny maid Dominica (Paola Maiolini). At the faculty the teaching – and supporting staff are having their own problems. Professor of physics and gym Ilario Cacioppo (Gianfranco D'Angelo) and substitute Salvatore (Alvaro Vitali) are working on such a meager paycheck that they have to rely on fruit and vegetables the students bring to survive. Of course, all of them are booby-trapped.

Cacioppo is introduced to giant new teacher Professor Marimonti (Francesca Romana Coluzzi) who’s built like a linebacker and has the strength to match. Meanwhile the boys convince Salvatore that Elena Mancuso is a nymphomaniac lusting for him. Along the way Simona picks up an older suitor in Federico (Vittorio Stagni). Amidst all this chaos the principal (Marcello Martana) does everything within his power to avert crises at all costs. When Simona wants to introduce Mario to her parents (Gigi Ballista and Linda Sini) he gifts her a family heirloom which leads the D'Olivo clan accusing her of theft. When Commissioner Acavallo (Giacomo Furia) interrogates all the various parties involved, it’s Mario’s attorney mother (Cristina Grado, as Christina Grado) who comes to Simona’s rescue. Naturally, with all of this going on romance starts to grow between Simona and Mario.

Miss Cinema Campania Loredana Piazza (left), Miss Italia Mary Montefusco (middle), and Miss Eleganza Lilli Carati (right)

In 1974 Mary Montefusco was Miss Italia, Gloria Guida became Miss Teen Italia, Lilli Carati was crowned Miss Eleganza, and Loredana Piazza was Miss Cinema Campania. In the jury sat producer Franco Cristaldi who saw Lilli’s star potential and ensured she got her start in commedia sexy all’Italiana. Guida’s career was off to a flying start and she would, despite a few minor hiccups here and there, remain steadily in the mainstream.

Lilli had the good fortune to work with the greatest in domestic comedy including, but not limited to, Sergio and Bruno Corbucci, Michele Massimo Tarantini, Mariano Laurenti, and Pasquale Festa Campanile (with whom she allegedly had an affair) and shared the screen with Adriano Celentano, Enzo Cannavale, Renzo Montagnani, and Vittorio Caprioli. One thing was clear from the onset: lovely Lilli was never going to eclipse la Guida. Carati had co-starred alongside Tomas Milian in the second Nico Giraldi poliziottesco-comedy caper Hit Squad (1976) from Bruno Corbucci and played an l’insegnante in Michele Massimo Tarantini’s The Professor Of Natural Sciences (1976). It was only natural and logical that Lilli would play la liceale next. It was a rite of passage for every starlet. That happened with The Seatmate. While hardly mandatory Carati’s career was about to peak with A Night Full of Rain (1978) and To Be Twenty (1978) after which things went from bad to worse for her quite rapidly and dramatically.

Appearances in Escape from Women's Prison (1978) (with an ensemble cast including Zora Kerova, Dirce Funari, Ines Pellegrini, and Marina Daunia) and the sleazy Eurocrime actioner Vultures over The City (1981) signaled that Lilli’s days in the A-list were now very well behind her. By the the late 1970s Carati had developed addictions to alchohol, heroin and cocaine that would sideline her career. She kept in the limelight with covers on and nude spreads in Playboy (December, 1976 and September, 1978), Playmen (October, 1976), Penthouse (December, 1982) and Blitz (July and September, 1984; June, 1985 and 1986). Now blacklisted Carati was forced to look in the exploitation circuit to stay employed. It was Joe D’Amato who offered her a chance to rebuild her career. As fate would have it it was their mutual friend Jenny Tamburi who made the introductions in 1984. The rest, as they say, is history. D’Amato - a professional pornographer who frequently dabbled in exploitation and was in the habit of rescuing disgraced A-listers and employing wayward adult performers – had Lilli starring in 4 films, the first of which was The Alcove (1985). Convent Of Sinners (1986) was supposed to be a Carati vehicle too until D’Amato for reasons never made public bombarded Eva Grimaldi to lead. That it co-starred D’Amato’s other big star of the eighties Luciana Ottaviani from Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (1987) and Top Model (1988) probably didn’t hurt either. By 1987 and 1988 Carati did hardcore porn for Giorgio Grand with a young Rocco Siffredi.

The inevitable criminal charges followed as in May 1988 she was arrested for heroin possession landing her in jail for a few days. Having finally hit rockbottom Lilli attempted suicide on May 10, 1988 shortly after her arrest. A year later on May 1989 a severely depressed Lilli tried a second time by throwing herself from the bedroom window in her parents' house after unsuccessfully trying to get sober. Carati survived the attempt sustaining only three broken vertebrae and three months of immobility. Lilli underwent therapy for three years in the Saman community of anti-authoritarian sociologist, journalist, political activist, and sometime guru Mauro Rostagno – famously murdered by the Costa Nostra - where she was the subject of the documentary Lilli, una vita da eroina (or Lilli, A Life of Heroin) by Rony Daopoulos. It aired as part of the Storie vere program on Rai 3 on February 25, 1994. Carati recalled her suicide attempts and subsequent recovery on Ricominciare on Rai 2 on 9 July, 2008. 2011 was supposed to be the year of Lilli’s big comeback as she was slated to appear in Luigi Pastore’s La fiaba di Dorian, a project that was shelved after Lilli was diagnosed with a brain tumour. In 2014, at age 58, disgraced and neglected, she passed away in Besano and was interred at Induno Olona cemetery in Varese, Lombardia. Pastore used the Lilli footage in what was to become Violent Shit: The Movie (2015), an ill-conceived remake that tried turning the 1989 Andreas Schnaas gore micro-epic into a giallo, of all things.

Being produced by veteran Luciano Martino (the former husband of Wandisa Guida, Edwige Fenech, and Olga Bisera) ensured that The Seatmate came bursting out of the gates with some big or semi-famous people working behind the cameras. Martino was a versatile producer who did anything from The Demon (1963) to Hands Of Steel (1986), and everything in between. Composer Gianni Ferrio was a frequent Mariano Laurenti collaborator and especially prolific in commedia sexy all'Italiana around this time. His score, while adequate and freewheeling, is nothing special. Director of photography Pasquale Rachini was something of a newcomer in 1977 still but on average he’s more hit than miss. Writing are Francesco Milizia, and Franco Mercuri who both were experienced in comedy at this point. Their screenplay is hardly the worst but it leaves a lot of plot threads unresolved: what’s the purpose of Federico and how does he enhance Simona as a character in any way? Why don’t any of Mario’s friends end up romantically entangled with Simona’s? Why introduce the Mafia don subplot when it serves no function to the mainplot? Do Mario and Simona even like each other? To its everlasting credit, The Seatmate never diverges too much from the established La Liceale (1975) formula, the comic relief from Lino Banfi and Alvaro Vitali isn’t as odious as it usually tends to be, and it even contains that classic Gloria Guida scene but here it’s Lilli Carati running about in the nude in a meadow causing all sorts of trouble. The supporting cast might not contain any name-stars but Francesca Romana Coluzzi, Ermelinda De Felice, Brigitte Petronio, and Linda Sini all were reliable second-stringers who cut their teeth in exploitation on both ends of the budget spectrum.

Ultimately The Seatmate is to the Lilli Carati repertoire what The Doctor… The Student (1976) was to the infinitely superior Gloria Guida canon: an efficient but hardly remarkable iteration of a well-trodden comedy formula. Thankfully there’s enough naked Lilli shenanigans for everyone, and she doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. What’s curious is that only after Lilli had tested the waters a spate of official La Liceale (1975) sequels were suddenly produced within a record time of just two years. As for Lilli herself – while hardly a terrible actress she was no Gloria Guida (who herself was no Edwige Fenech, Agostina Belli, Laura Antonelli, Ornella Muti, or Orchidea De Santis) but it’s not like she was ever given scripts that played up to her limited strengths. In many ways The Seatmate was a prototype for the La Liceale (1975) sequels (official and otherwise) in that it works like a well-oiled machine but never has any higher aspirations. And that’s the problem with The Seatmate. It never tries hard enough. It has all the right ingredients but it never quite knows what to do with them. A few genuine chuckles notwithstanding the humour is puerile and too often reduced to slapstick. At least Lino Banfi and Alvaro Vitali aren’t as odious as they usually are – and Lilli Carati was always one of the more exotic looking comedy vixens. It’s truly unfortunate that To Be Twenty (1978) would always remain an anomaly of sorts in her repertoire.