Fantom Kiler (1998) Fantom Kiler (1998/2000) *˝

     Given that I’ve been a trash movie lover literally for as long as I can remember, you might think that there isn’t a whole lot out there that can surprise me anymore. The funny thing about this business, though, is that no sooner do I almost start to believe that myself than some movie like Roman Nowicki’s Fantom Kiler comes along to prove me wrong. Semi-hardcore slasher porn from Poland? (Or, according to some, from England but masquerading as a Polish production in an attempt to dodge the Board of Film Classification?) That’s definitely a new one on me!

     It all starts when a pair of policemen find the mutilated, nude body of a beautiful (by porn-star standards, anyway) woman decaying in a forest clearing. The victim’s identity is unknown, and there is little in the way of evidence at the scene. All the cops can say for certain is that the circumstances under which the body was discovered remind them of another murder they investigated without success about a year ago— although this one isn’t anywhere near as bad. (A flashback reveals that last year’s dead girl had been tied by her ankles to a pair of automobiles, and then ripped in two lengthwise. “We never did find the other half of her,” one of the detectives recalls.) The police turn the body over to forensics, and then return to the precinct.

     Meanwhile, at a train station in Warsaw, a pair of janitors (whom I’ll call “Mr. Moustache” and “the Cretin,” on the grounds that I never did catch their real names) are amusing themselves by girl-watching. This scene gives the first indication of how hard it’s going to be to disentangle fantasy from reality in Fantom Kiler, for once the two lecherous janitors latch onto a woman whom they find particularly attractive, she is shown naked every time the camera sees her from their perspective, but clothed whenever it assumes a more “objective” point of view. Evidently the woman overhears the two broom-monkeys talking about her, for she walks over to give them a piece of her mind as soon as she finishes waiting in line at the newsstand kiosk to buy matches for her cigarettes. The janitors get the last laugh, though, because her dramatic exit is spoiled when she slips on a patch of flooring that is still wet from their mops. While the woman and Mr. Moustache exchange angry words, the Cretin surreptitiously pockets her keys, which fell out of her purse when she hit the floor. Without those, the woman has no way of getting into her fifteen-year-old Datsun 280ZX, and is forced to walk home through the woods. As the heroine of virtually every horror movie ever made could surely tell her, this is an incredibly stupid thing to do. She’s not alone in the forest, and after a bizarre pursuit through dense underbrush and a barbed wire fence that somehow manages to leave the woman naked but for her stiletto heels (I personally would have thought those would be the first thing she’d lose), she is cornered by a man in a black trench coat and fedora, whose face is entirely concealed behind white gauze. The killer— for what else could he be?— seizes her, and after purring threateningly to his prey about how she must have wanted to be punished, slashes her shallowly but repeatedly with his knife. When the woman collapses to the ground from pain and blood loss, the killer crouches above her almost as a lover would, and then plunges the dagger nearly fifty times into her crotch. The strangest part is that the victim seems to enjoy her murder almost as much as the killer does. And though the police again notice similarities between this murder and a previous unsolved case, doing so doesn’t seem to bring them any closer to catching the gauze-faced slasher.

     Back at the train station, there have been two interesting developments. The Cretin has been put on administrative leave because his bosses are afraid he’s going crazy, which he’s apparently done at least once before. Given that he’s the one who stole the car keys in the last scene, this is a suggestive bit of news to say the least. Then again, it’s obviously Mr. Moustache who has been dreaming about the Gauze-Face Killer stalking a lingerie-clad woman through a cemetery, so maybe both janitors are off their rockers. The Cretin’s replacement as Mr. Moustache’s sidekick is an athletic blonde girl in porn-star attire who— and I swear I’m not making this up— currently holds the title from the Miss Butt Beautiful pageant. We have now left horror movie country behind, and are entering Pornoland; please have your passports ready for the border guards. After a long and rather tiresome montage of eroticized janitorial labor, Miss Butt Beautiful offers to show Mr. Moustache how she keeps her ass in such good shape. For some reason, this requires her to strip naked. Finally, she demonstrates the effectiveness of her exercise regimen by daring Mr. Moustache to pull a big wooden spoon out of her ass. Again, I swear I’m not making this up.

     Back in that horror movie we thought we were watching, the police bring the Cretin in for questioning. Amazingly enough, he comes to their attention at least partly because one of the detectives investigating the Gauze-Face Killer case is his older brother! In any event, he seems a logical suspect— after all, each victim so far had last been seen in the vicinity of the train station where he works, and there is that small matter of him having just been relieved of his duties on mental health grounds. Under interrogation, the Cretin tells his brother about how he and Mr. Moustache amuse themselves at work by watching the pretty girls go by and trading speculations about what they look like naked or how they perform in bed. It may also be that the Cretin describes how an incident not long ago led up to a murder; at the very least, the flashback that accompanies his story blends seamlessly into another stalk-and-slash sequence. Again the victim is a girl who rejected the janitors’ boorish sexual advances, and this time she runs afoul of the Gauze-Face Killer when she hails a taxi that he turns out to be driving. Not only that, this ends up being a double murder, for a second girl comes along out of nowhere and interrupts the slasher while he is sneaking up behind his victim (she’s groping around under the broken-down taxi for her AWOL Daisy Dukes— it’s really better not to ask) with a hammer and chisel.

     On the other hand, maybe no confession should be read into that scene transition, for not only do the police make no visible effort to follow up on anything the Cretin might have told them, it doesn’t seem as though he actually has anything to do with the killings, and thus could not have known about the details of the two murders we just saw (unless, of course, the killer had already confessed the crime to him). In fact, we’re about to find out that the Gauze-Face Killer isn’t really human at all. Remember Mr. Moustache’s intimate encounter with Miss Butt Beautiful in the back office? Well it was pretty much love at first sight for the sawed-off little pervert, but his subsequent efforts to take the relationship to the next level (complete with flowers!) don’t go very well. Turns out the new janitor is a lesbian, and her somewhat more naturally proportioned goth girlfriend stops by to pick her up from work right as Mr. Moustache is trying to make his move. Incensed at his bad luck and her mixed signals (I know I usually take it as a sign of favor when girls invite me to pull cooking utensils out of their rectums), Mr. Moustache proceeds to drink himself stupid (mmm... Polish vodka...) while scarfing down prodigious quantities of peanuts and fuming impotently to himself. At the same time, the Gauze-Face Killer drops in on Miss Butt Beautiful and her bondage-loving paramour and goes to work. The murderer is in the middle of violating Miss Butt Beautiful’s prize-winning bum with a mop handle when Mr. Moustache swallows a nut sideways, and starts choking; the killer too begins clutching at his throat. Both men weaken simultaneously, slowly sinking to the floor, and as Mr. Moustache breathes his last, the Gauze-Face Killer simply vanishes into thin air, a trail of dead bodies and the mop hanging out of his would-be victim’s rear the only signs that he was ever there in the first place.

     In the right hands, Fantom Kiler could have been a film fit to make even the toughest viewers’ flesh crawl, and there are points at which it comes this close to living up to that potential. The idea of a misogynistic loser whose sadistic id takes on physical form as a brutal rape-murderer and goes after the women who spurn his advances could have been the basis for a truly great horror movie, and approaching the murders with a porn sensibility could have turned it into the kind of film that forces you (at least if you’re a heterosexual male) into the uncomfortable position of confronting the vilest depths of your own psyche. Unfortunately, although that does seem to have been the director’s aim, that's not quite what happened. Roman Nowicki displays both some appropriate influences— he’s obviously seen more than his share of gialli, which is far better under the circumstances than seeing a lot of American Halloween wannabes— and a bit of real talent in the creation and manipulation of images, but the good points of Fantom Kiler never quite come together. For one thing, the music video-style editing of the murder scenes robs them of most of their power to shock. They seem too unreal to have the kind of impact that their subject matter demands. Meanwhile, Nowicki is hindered by a cast consisting mainly, or so it would appear, of Russian porn stars. Admittedly, the incredibly smutty tone that Nowicki aims for here (literally every victim is completely nude when facing off against the killer, and all the murders involve genital mutilation or some similar sexual atrocity) would probably send any actress who aspires to better things than Butt Masters 58 running to the hills, but this movie can’t help but suffer for having a cast would have been sent packing in disdain by a high school drama club in Missoula. Nowicki’s obvious porno roots get in the way too, in that the absurd scene between Mr. Moustache and Miss Butt Beautiful is apparently his idea of character development. This is unfortunate, because there are other moments in Fantom Kiler when that background becomes an outright asset. It’s only fitting, after all, that Mr. Moustache’s fantasies (and it isn’t always easy to tell, even in retrospect, which scenes we are meant to take as really having happened, and which ones are supposed to have occurred only in his mind) should play themselves out according to the conventions of hardcore pornography. In fact, it’s a real pity that more isn’t made of this angle. On the whole, my dominant impression is that the creators of Fantom Kiler simply lacked either the talent or the sophistication to follow through on their good ideas while recognizing their bad ones for what they were.

 

 

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