Over on Groovy Age of Horror there's an interesting thread with some early 1990s erotic grotesque fumetti – well, they're erotic horror, but the Japanese phrase seems very apposite. I found one of them, in which a man builds a masturbation machine, using the severed hands of a succession of female victims, so marvellously perverse.
It also got me to thinking about a notorious underground giallo type film from a few years back, Fantom Kiler, which I ended up watching again to see if my initial very negative reactions would be any different this time round...
The short answer is no – the film is the kind of thing which can only give the giallo and the fans of Eurocult cinema an even worse name among the mainstream media, were it to ever creep onto their radar. The longer one... well, read on...
Two station attendants watch a beautiful, unattainable woman. One or both of them imagine her naked, reminiscent of Meyer's The Immoral Mr Teas. Coming over to ask them what they find so fascinating, the woman, now seen clothed, slips, exposing her breasts and that she is wearing no panties. Declining the men's dubious offers of help. she leaves, not noticing that she has dropped her keys, which the men pick up. One suggests that he will be seeing her, as a close-up of his eye segues us into the next sequence.
Classic giallo iconography put to dubious use; note the Bisongrass Vodka bottle in lieu of J&B in the purportedly Polish production.
Walking through the woods, the woman becomes lost and progressively loses her clothes through a series of contrivances, including a randomly barbed wire fence in her way – shades of Suspiria's room filled with razor wire, if we want to desperately search for a reference point / justification for sitting through the film perhaps?
Finally - the extended stalking sequence being marked by the absence of obvious POV shots from the killer's position, insofar as most of the camera set-ups conveniently position us with a full frontal view even if a supernatural element might then serve as justification – she meets the Fantom Kiler, dressed a la Blood and Black Lace and wielding a large knife for maximum phallic symbolism.
He then proceeds to menace and verbally taunt her. While this is useful for the film-makers as way of expressing his – and more worryingly perhaps also their – twisted philosophy, such as it is, it also serves to undercut the iconic potential of the figure when we remember that his more realistically grounded predecessors invariably declined to speak. (Think, for instance, of the aforementioned Blood and Black Lace, with the mute figure writing his question, “where is the diary” on a notepad.)
At least the banal presentation of the perfunctory investigation scenes is true to the prevailing norms of the giallo form; the detective's remarks seem like a convenient get-out for the film-makers and their target audience, however .
Two of the under-achievers, with the safe, convenient distance of Benny Hill-esque parody.
Then, inevitably, he slashes her repeatedly, before finishing with several thrusts of his blade to her groin. Due to the lack of special effects and poor technique the scene is nowhere near as nasty or shocking as it sounds, especially when compared with similar moments in the likes of The New York Ripper, Crimes of the Black Cat or The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
The exception is in terms of its sheer lack of taste, by way of the gloating, she-asked-for-it attitude. It's not that filmmakers should ever be self-censoring and refuse to admit of or explore the dark side of human desire, more that there one gets the sense here that all they wanted to do was shock.
This might seem a curious thing for me to say, given that in the case of The New York Ripper I recently argued that Fulci and his collaborators did not have any particular misogynistic or psychosexual axe to grind and were instead just seeking to be as hard hitting as possible, but there at least there were also narrative, characterisation and subtext to keep one engaged and, most importantly, a denouement that is ultimately as if not more terrifying in its absolute bleakness than anything in the preceding 90-odd minutes.
Come morning the police find the body, leading to a flashback from another similar case a year ago, in which a naked woman is menaced with a power drill; similar moments punctuate the main episodes and have a tendency to show the limitations of the digital video equipment being used, as with an otherwise potentially interesting set up where one victim loses her glasses to allow scope for some split-focus type effects.
Meanwhile at the station one of the attendants has been taken ill, leading to the arrival of his replacement, a woman who proceeds to engage in assorted scantily clad floor and window cleaning. She then demonstrates the strength of her buttock muscles by inviting the other attendant to attempt to pull out a wooden spoon she clenches between them, inevitably winning the contest, the wager of one weeks' wages and – you sense – the imminent wrath of the Fantom Kiler.
Before this, however, the other attendant is called into the police station for a chat about the case, it so happening that the officer heading the investigation is also his brother. The attendants recollections of what he was doing on the day in question leads to another Mr Teas type sequence, as the two layabouts ogle the invariably scantily clad women, including one whose rebuff signals the Fantom's next appearance.
Note the obvious cut out blade
At this point, however, these recollections spill over into the next extended stalk, strip and kill sequence as the woman unwittingly gets into a taxi driven by the Fantom. There's a brief moment of wit here, as the woman asks him why he wears the mask, getting the response that he was in an accident and is quite badly scarred; an answer that's accepted at face value and wouldn't perhaps be out of place in many proper gialli.
The car then breaks down in the middle of the woods. There's a series of three cuts in on the red headlight of the car, getting closer each time, that indicates the Argento influence and a more general hint of Suspiria to the lighting, even if again the paucity of resources proves a limitation. But, all too soon we are again back into more mundane territory as the Kiler discovers he needs something to tie the fan belt back into the engine, giving the woman a reason to take the bottom half of her clothes off and, before long, her top as well - her hot pants fall under the taxi and so she takes off her boob tube to be able to better stretch under it.
The Killer then takes a hammer and a chisel and is about to strike the blade into the unwitting woman's anus, the attempts at suspense backfiring on account of some unconvincing impossible camera angles from what would have to be the brown-eye-view, before another woman unexpectedly shows up and asks if she can help.
The killer then strips her naked and glides his chisel across her body before stabbing her in the groin with it. Again what could be unbearable comes across as laughable, especially when he then drags her bloodless, seemingly unharmed form away. Taxi woman remains oblivious to all this, as she is still busy retrieving her hot pants from under the vehicle, then discovers the killer's accoutrements in the boot of the vehicle – too late...
A potentially worthwhile composition ruined by technical inability?
Back in the station and the female attendant's girlfriend shows up, revealing that she only took on the post for bet. The two women return home and prepare for some lovemaking, at which point the Fantom shows up. He slits the girlfriend's throat - there are lashings of gore here, but the effect is negated by a blade that is more fake than the breast implants of the female performers - then deals with the attendant, who seems quite into their S&M games until she's handcuffed and helpless and he pulls her girlfriend's severed head out of his bag...
There's perhaps five minutes of decent spoof / parody material here, but as for the rest it's so calculated and as a result ineffectual in its attempts to shock. Perhaps it's desensitisation after years of watching what are by most people's standards pretty extreme films. I would prefer to think of it as a re-sensitisation, as to what a good giallo specifically or sex / horror hybrid generally can actually accomplish, however.
Pseudonyms galore; like Snuff, none of those who appeared in this film were ever heard from again...
Though purportedly of Polish origin – bottles of Bisongrass Vodka perform a function analogous to the beloved J&B bottle – the film would appear to in fact have been clandestinely produced in the UK with its director hiding behind a pseudonym. While probably a wise move legally – exactly what is the BBFC's policy on the insertion of wooden spoon and broom handles into the rectum, even if only implied? – and in terms of helping establish a certain mystique around the film, one really cannot emphasise enough that this is one of those films that would be better left to hopefully disappear. Sadly, however, with two sequels and an out-and-out hardcore porn offshoot, it would seem that too many of us were curious and / or believed the hype...