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Islam, black magic, and grotesquerie: this creepy Turkish horror film trailer has fans freaked

The buzz-generating movie Three Lett3rs is an occult Turkish delight.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

On the surface, upcoming horror film Three Letters 3: Black Magic doesn't have all that much to offer — it's the third installment of a Turkish horror film franchise whose first two films, Three Letters: Marid and Three Letters 2: Hablis, are both lackluster duds with three-star IMDB ratings. So why are horror fans on the internet going nuts over the trailer?

Turns out the writer-director of this latest sequel is Alper Mestçi, whose 2007 film Musallat (The Haunting) jump-started a new horror wave in Turkish cinema, and whose Siccin (2014) and Siccin 2 (2015) drew massive audience raves.

That all adds up to a lot of hype for Three Letters 3 — and the trailer is unique, especially in its weirdly quiet presentation of surreal body horror. Check it out:

The trailer has been garnering buzz from horror fans for its creepy atmosphere and unique take on the occult. "This is how you do black magic!" wrote io9.

But there's even more to the film than what looks like some pretty stellar nightmare imagery. The Three Letters franchise (Üç Harfliler in Turkish) deals with the terrifying magical creatures known in Turkey as the "gin," or djinn. You might think of the djinn as terrible sprites (and sometimes night hags) made of chi and dark energy. The plot of the third film in particular seems to involve a djinn who comes into the lives of a recently widowed mother, Anne (Özay Fecht), and her young daughter, Eda (Merve Ates). After they move into a new house, Eda starts acting strange, and both Anne and Eda begin to have encounters with creepy figures and black magic.

The djinn have become a major theme in Turkish horror over the last decade, with numerous installments of Turkish cinema exploring them as demon-like entities in relation to the larger theme of oppressive religion in Turkish society. Academics Mete Kazaz and Halit Kartal describe the trend as a fusion of folklore and reaction to Islam, noting that the concepts of both the djinn and magic are common elements of both Turkish superstition and the religion. "Within this context, productions which take their subjects from the Turk-Islam synthesis find more audience for they carry cultural elements. Gin possessions, sacred tombs underneath buildings are more social themes."

Mestçi's previous films have clearly demonstrated his interest in these themes, and Three Letters 3: Black Magic seems to be taking them in interesting directions. Anne's struggle to help her daughter is reminiscent of 2014's The Babadook, which won critical acclaim for its fine acting and psychologically gripping portrayal of the pressures of single motherhood, while the grotesque imagery reminds me of Guillermo del Toro at his surreal best. It's definitely enough to pique my interest. Bring on the Turkish horror revival!