Fantom Kiler 2 (1999/2001) -*
The original Fantom Kiler took me by surprise at any number of levels, but the greatest shock was how close it came to being good before writer/director Roman Nowicki’s lack of self-discipline (or perhaps insufficient self-awareness) caused it to fall apart. Fantom Kiler 2, unfortunately, falls into most of the same traps without having nearly as many virtues to make it marginally interesting in spite of itself. Though Nowicki tries just a little bit harder to tell a coherent story this time around, he succeeds only in creating absurdities, and by scaling back the sickening viciousness of the violence a tad to attempt more conventional slasher movie gore scenes, he draws attention to how poorly executed his murders really are— what was disturbing the first time around is at best funny and at worst boring in the sequel. In fact, that basically goes for the movie as a whole; whereas the first film tried (admittedly not quite hard enough) to fuse the ugliness of modern porn with the ugliness of the slasher movie to create something uniquely grotesque and horrifying, Fantom Kiler 2 mostly just fuses the stupidity of modern porn with the stupidity of the slasher movie, and what it creates is merely uniquely silly. If it weren’t for Nowicki’s Bava-inspired use of color and lighting, and some surprisingly deft cinematography (or, conversely, for the copious nudity and piteously unambitious gore effects), you might almost mistake this movie for something by Andreas Schnaas.
Once again, we begin with a pair of cops at a crime scene. The junior of the two detectives leaves their vehicle to have a look around what appears to be some kind of refrigerated warehouse (and incidentally, I personally have no trouble at all believing that the Warsaw Police Department’s idea of an unmarked squad car is an early-80’s Volkswagen Beetle), and when he opens up the cargo door of the truck parked outside, he discovers a nude, female corpse strung up like a side of beef from the rack on the ceiling. He calls his partner in, agitatedly telling him that it’s just like what happened last year: “He’s back! It’s starting all over again!”
“He,” of course is the Gauze-Faced Killer, who slew three young women (note that they finally get names now that they’re much too dead to make use of them) on the outskirts of Warsaw in 1998. We (or at least those of us who saw Fantom Kiler) know that the reason he was never caught is that he was really a psychic manifestation of a train station janitor’s venomous misogyny, and that he ceased to exist when his creator choked to death on a peanut, but such things are obviously outside of a police detective’s competence. There is one point of distinction between the new murders and the old, but it seems to be of little consequence— while last year’s victims came from all walks of life (well, all walks of life that could plausibly be portrayed by a Slavic porn queen, anyway), both the girl from the warehouse and the one who gets carved up the following night had been prostitutes. Regardless, if Gauze-Face has returned, it’s a safe bet he’s once again the alter-ego of the biggest woman-hater in town, and that would seem to point the finger of blame directly at Inspector Polanski, the higher-ranking of the two cops from the pre-credits scene. In point of fact, Polanski makes the janitor from the last film look positively charming. When a hooker named Ramona comes to him offering herself as a witness to the second murder, Polanski does little but insult her, and only grudgingly accepts her testimony into evidence. Indeed, he’s quite candid about his opinion that the two dead girls got what they deserved, and he openly avers that the only reason he cares about catching the killer is the possibility that he may one day set his sights on someone who doesn’t fuck for a living. Nor is Polanski any less abusive toward Detective Lieutenant Kinska, the young, female agent whom he hopes to use as bait in a trap for the murderer.
It’s when Polanski springs his trap that Fantom Kiler 2 first collapses under the weight of its own idiocy. It’s a simple plan, after all— Kinska impersonates a hooker (this entails the lieutenant— a good Catholic girl, we are assured— hanging out in front of what appears to be a rural cemetery’s main gate dressed in nothing but a pair of exceedingly impractical stiletto heels, a just-below-the-ass-length coat, and one of those gold waist-necklace thingies that were apparently mandatory for porno girls in the late 90’s), and tries to get the killer to pick her up. It shouldn’t take that long, and we ought to move right ahead into the part where Kinska gets in over her head and Polanski has to risk his own ass to save her from a foe who is really the most loathsome aspect of his own personality, somehow given independent existence. That’s not how it works, though. Instead, Kinska’s attempted seduction of the unseen man in the parked car drags on interminably, with Polanski growling exactly the same instructions at her over and over and over again via the wire she’s wearing somewhere in her poofed-out hair, while she does pretty much everything in the world except just to get the fuck into the suspect’s car and let him drive off with her. This goes on for better than ten minutes before Ramona (who is in the Beetle with Polanski, from which vantage point she’s supposed to be identifying the murderer’s ride) mentions that they’ve got the wrong motherfucking car! Gauze-Face drives that other car over there, so Kinska really ought to be aiming her efforts in that direction. Jesus H. Christ… At least the second time around doesn’t gobble up another ten minutes, but when the car chase between Gauze-Face and Polanski begins a moment later, it’s good for probably seven or eight before all is said and done. Finally (and I do mean finally— at this point we’re something like a third of the way through the movie), Gauze-Face gets Kinska back to his warehouse lair, and we get the first plot development worthy of the name since just after the opening credits. Polanski is, inevitably, too late on the uptake and too slow in his pursuit, and Gauze-Face has long since finished Kinska off by the time her boss bursts in with pistol in hand. In fact, so late is Polanski that the killer has had a chance to lay an ambush for him, and no sooner has he found the lieutenant’s body than he’s been whacked on the head from behind and tied to a tree outside. From that vantage point, Polanski gets to watch as Gauze-Face tortures Ramona with a set of jumper cables and then guts her with a gigantic knife; at some point, the detective loses consciousness again, and when he awakens, the crime scene is crawling with cops and Ramona’s body is strangely nowhere to be found.
The Ramona-Kinska fiasco does not go over well with Polanski’s chief inspector. From the sound of it, he has something of a history of slack-assed stakeouts, and the chief promises that when the police commissioner gets her report, it will mean the end of Polanski’s highly unimpressive career— if he has any sense at all, he’ll clean out his desk before he goes home at the end of his shift. Actually, home is not Polanski’s first destination after leaving work that night. Instead, he goes right back to the cemetery gates where the hookers hang out, and hires one for himself. (We may assume that his detective’s badge is going to earn him a serious discount.) Polanski isn’t just out to get his dick sucked, though. No, it’s revenge by proxy he’s after, and while the whore is going down on him in the front seat of his car, he’s thinking about his despised lady boss. Just as the girl is starting to wonder why Polanski keeps going limp on her, he pulls out his sidearm and points it at her face. He can’t go through with it, however, and he merely speeds off in the car without paying for the blowjob. The Gauze-Faced Killer, on the other hand, has no such compunctions; the unfortunate hooker meets up with him just minutes after Polanski makes his exit.
Eventually, we come to the setup for the one honestly shocking scene that Fantom Kiler 2 has in its bag of rather desperate tricks. Not long after the killer takes a handsaw to Polanski’s hooker, someone claiming to be the missing and presumably dead Ramona calls the chief inspector at her house with intimations of evidence that will lead directly to the whore-slayer’s capture. All the chief has to do is meet Ramona at the warehouse where Kinska died— alone, of course. Meanwhile, Gauze-Face calls Polanski with essentially the same instructions, except that instead of decisive evidence in the murder case, he makes the rather more ambiguous offer to arrange the final elimination of the source of all Polanski’s problems. You know what’s coming. When Polanski reports to the warehouse, he finds the chief inspector tied naked to a wooden ladder, and the Gauze-Faced Killer standing by with knife in hand, just waiting for Polanski’s say-so to take her apart like he had all those hookers. This is also the point at which Ramona’s body finally resurfaces, tied to the hood of Polanski’s department-issued VW, just as it was when the detective saw her killed. Polanski, needless to say, is confused as hell. The killer, evidently in a helpful mood, explains to him what we’ve known since the moment we met the detective, that he and the murderer are in essence the same person, and that Gauze-Face draws his lifeforce from Polanski’s vicious and irrational hatred of women. We might further speculate that the killer’s hesitation in murdering the chief inspector without an explicit go-ahead from his alter-ego represents the last little piece of Polanski’s conscience rebelling against the idea of killing a cop. In the end, though, Polanski realizes that his spectral doppelganger is right, and that it really is the boss he hates above all other women. He turns and walks out of the warehouse, while Gauze-Face goes to work.
There’s still one more of these things out there, so maybe I’m in for a surprise, but my inclination now is to conclude on the basis of Fantom Kiler 2 that the unrealized potential in the original Fantom Kiler is going to remain unrealized, at least by Roman Nowicki. I suppose Nowicki ought to be commended for making more of an investment in storytelling this time around, but his efforts at characterization are just as crude and clunky as they were before, and his sense of pace now that he’s trying to do more than skip through a series of only tenuously connected murders is simply atrocious. The dialogue is as repetitive as it is inept (Polanski must tell Kinska to get into the suspect’s car at least twenty times during the entrapment scene), and from the sound of things, many of the lines may even have been extemporized by the actors themselves. But what changes the tone of the film from the original’s queasy mix of scummy sex and even scummier violence to something more in the way of a really awful joke is the new emphasis on gore effects which Nowicki’s budget was nowhere near adequate to render. It was a smart move Nowicki made in the first Fantom Kiler never to give us a good, close look at what Gauze-Face was doing to his victims. We always knew what he was up to, but the killings were framed so as to conceal the point of intersection between blade and body. This time, however, when Gauze-Face carves up Lieutenant Kinska, the camera is close enough to the action that we can actually see the spring-loaded plastic blade of his dime-store toy knife retracting into the handle with each stab. We have every opportunity we could ask for to study the way his “savage, frenzied” attack accomplishes nothing but to smear a bit of stage blood across Kinska’s obviously unbroken skin. The most important point about working with strictly limited resources is to recognize those limitations and to resist the temptation to aim for what you have no chance of achieving. In Fantom Kiler 2, Nowicki doesn’t just fail to recognize his limits; he positively flaunts his failure, seeming to revel in his effects team’s inability to deliver what the script calls for. Fantom Kiler 2 would be hilarious if it weren’t so fucking boring.