Director: Roman Nowicki
Year of release: 1998/1999
Country of origin: Poland/UK
Running time: 81 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: DVD only
Tagline: "He likes his women naked...And dead"!
Also known as: Fantom Kiler
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Billed as an Eastern European production this is actually largely a British film by an English director working under a pseudonym. Some of the exterior shots may have been shot on location in Poland however and the females are all of Eastern European origin.
The police force in a small Polish town are left troubled when the nude and mutilated bodies of several young women are found in woodlands. The grisly discoveries bring back memories for the cops of bodies found in a similar state the previous year, murders which went unsolved with the perp never caught. With either the same or a copycat killer on the loose and seemingly targeting the fairer sex the police have just the one suspect. It’s revealed that the younger brother of one of the officers has something of a dodgy past and has not long been released from a psychiatric unit. Along with a perverted colleague the young man now works as a cleaner at the local station but seems to spend more time ogling the women passing through than he does cleaning. Though under suspicion the investigation surrounding this guy soon breaks down. It later becomes apparent however that the cleaner and his friend do indeed have some sort of link with the man dubbed the Fantom Killer, the maniac with a bandaged face terrorising the local beauties.
Good points: *To make it clear straight from the outset this is a wretched film indeed but its one saving grace is that it does boast a cool looking villain. The Fantom Killer of the title has his face covered by a white mask which looks similar to the bandaged face of an Egyptian mummy. This is partly obscured by a dark Fedora type hat. Adding to the stylish ensemble is a long black trench coat with I think black gloves as well which creates a heavily Giallo influenced look.
At one stage one of the victims claws at the Fantom’s face with bloody hands leaving sticky red prints all over the white bandages of the mask which looks great. It’s funny how they can get this aspect of things so right and the rest mostly so wrong. The mask and outfit though is definitely on point and it’s a shame it doesn’t have much else to back it up.
*It's difficult to pick out much else worthy of praise but I’ll group a few small miscellaneous things together:
There’s a very reasonable piece of music that plays throughout, usually when the killer is stalking a woman on the run. While nothing to get excited about it stands out as being decent at least. It’s recycled throughout the sequels however and becomes quite tedious the more you hear it in the more recent entries but here where it’s largely fresh it’s more than acceptable.
Not sure how best to describe it but there are some unusual shots and transitions between scenes on show that warrant a mention. There are lots of closeups of blinking eyes for example as well as a telephone gradually filling the screen used as a bridge between scenes. Like with the music it’s nothing too special but shows a bit of ambition and style.
Lastly fog and mist is used a lot throughout, probably it’s used a bit too much to be honest but it does create a certain atmosphere. It enhances one scene in particular where a character is being stalked near a taxi where the killer is framed almost in silhouette with the mist swirling around him. Possibly inspired by the Exorcist it looked pretty good and added some flashy style.
*I’m reaching deep for this positive but as I usually like to list three separate points I’ll stretch to mentioning that most of the women featured are very attractive. This film and the franchise as a whole also has by far the most nudity of any film I’ve seen, slasher or otherwise. With that in mind if you like this sort of thing in a film then you’ll be well catered for here. It’s branching into soft porn levels at times in terms of how much is shown. Way too much emphasis is put on it though at the expense of what’s already a paper thin plot.
Bad Points: *Everything is incredibly unrealistic, so much so that it’s as if the whole thing is being treated as a big joke. It’s so bad that it makes something super sleazy in its own right like Hot Blood Sundae seem credible and believable by comparison. One of the main male characters for example has a ridiculous looking moustache that has clearly been stuck on. I don’t know what they were thinking about but he looks like something out of a kids cartoon.
Worse by far is everything involving the female characters, everyone of whom incidentally is shown at one point or another completely nude. It goes without saying that it’s totally misogynistic but it’s the pure silliness of it that didn’t sit well with me.
For example one woman slips over on the station floor and when she gets back to her feet all the buttons on her blouse inexplicably seem to have come undone during the fall. Of course she isn’t wearing a bra, in fact the entire film seems to be taking place in an alternate reality where underwear hasn’t been invented.
There’s another example where a woman is bending down by a taxi trying to retrieve something from underneath which she can’t quite reach. She’s in this provocative position reaching for the item for literally over five minutes whereas in reality no one would hold this position for long once they realised the item was too far away.
There are several other parts similar to this that are too slow and drawn out such as a scene with a woman taking what seems like forever to gingerly climb over some barbed wire. She takes all day about it and what was probably supposed to be titillating quickly becomes boring and it’s evident it’s mostly a time wasting tactic.
Topping it all off is a lot of extremely silly business involving one of the women and a sword in the stone metaphor which turns out to be both very sexual and very silly. It’s so nonsensical the less said about it the better.
*The story very much plays second fiddle to the nudity and is way too basic and underdeveloped with poor writing as well as bits and pieces that don’t make much sense. The police investigation which seemed a big deal at the beginning doesn’t go anywhere and they disappear from the story completely as it reaches its climax.
There are a few parts early on that could have done with more explanation where a couple of women go wondering off alone in the woods for no apparent reason while completely underdressed.
Very big spoiler regarding the end: The ending initially for me through up more questions than answers as it doesn’t definitively reveal how the killer was operating or if the death at the end is some sort of supernatural murder or a suicide. I actually had to re-watch the end with the directors commentary on to make sense of it. The killer is supposed to be a manifestation of the moustache guys anger towards women with said individual choking himself by mistake on a combination of vodka and peanuts. So he kills himself but it’s an accident not a suicide. It’s not as clear as it should be though and on first viewing without the benefit of the commentary I was left baffled.
*Much like with everything else the murders are unrealistic and also not very gory seeing how drawn out and brutal they’re making them out to be. One lady is stabbed with what must be about fifty knife thrusts but despite this she only has a few squirts of blood on her body. More unforgivable is that this doesn’t even kill her or even seem to hurt her all that much with it taking another attack from the killer very shortly after to finally finish her off.
Another problem is that the victims never seem to be making much effort to run away. It plays into the soft porn erotica aspect I guess as to some extent they’re being seduced before they’re killed but it’s so unrealistic. They’re dealing with a man with a bandaged face after all, not the attractive killer from the Prom Night remake!
In fairness there is one semi decent bit with a severed head but that aside the kills are all very poor.
Verdict: Interesting on the surface just because it’s rather different than most other films of its kind playing out more like an over the top pornographic cartoon as opposed to a traditional slasher/giallo. This might appeal to some and it’s perhaps worth checking out as a curiosity if nothing else but for me personally I found it to be an embarrassing and far too unrealistic experience to be worthwhile.
The only real positive which stands head and shoulders above anything else is the killer guise which admittedly is stylish looking and effective. Other than a scattering of creative touches here and there though it’s awful in every other regard. The story in particular is lacking in the extreme and lets things down along with the over reliance on drawn out nudity scenes which quickly become boring.
Somehow this spawned three sequels, a couple of which I thought were marginally better (see my franchise ranking video for more details) but ultimately they’re all cut from the same cloth and as silly and nonsensical as each other. I suppose they are trying to cater more to the erotica crowd than anything else though so taking that into account it might be a little harsh to judge it as a straight slasher. That coupled with the solid appearance of the killer led me to mark it up slightly higher than it probably deserves.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1)Random woman: Found dead in the woods by the police. Killed off camera but was presumably stabbed.
2)Woman who dropped her keys: Slashed with knife repeatedly many times in the torso and then finished off with knife thrusts to the nether regions.
3)Woman with glasses: Strangled with piece of cord/rope.
4)Blonde woman who interrupts car repairs: Stabbed in the pubic/nether regions with long screwdriver.
5)Female passenger from the broken down taxi: Killed off camera, we simply see the killer advancing towards her.
6)Dark haired woman (friend of the cleaner): Throat cut and then decapitated (actual decapitation off camera but we later see the head).
7)Male cleaner with moustache: Chokes to death after trying to wash peanuts down with too much vodka.
Review added on the 24th of September 2020.