The Phantom Killer 1981 Review

The Phantom Killer 1981

aka Fen Ku Lou

Directed by: Shui-Fan Fung

Starring: Pai Wei, Nora Tsang, Wah Cheung

Review by Luisito Joaquín González

(Click on pictures to open them and see the whacky dialogue…)

Not to be confused with the English pretending to be Polish soft-porn slasher from Trevor Barley, The Phantom Killer is more proof that the success of Halloween had a global reach. 2436353.

Bruce Lee’s rapid rise to stardom in the sixties and seventies made Chinese cinema globally accessible. Martial Arts flicks and the sport in general became very fashionable for Western kids and growing up first in Spain, then in London, I shared my love of slashers with a lesser-passion for Ninjas.

Cinematically, Ninja and Slasher films have quite a lot in common. Both are fairly exploitive, filmed on low budgets and they also share bad acting and shoddy effects. Hunting out titles like Ninja Wars, Zombie vs Ninja and the Ronald Marchini flick, Ninja Warriors (authentic title -not), was almost as much fun as searching for cruddy slashers on big box VHS. As I grew older and spare time became a rarity, I had to give up on Ninjas and remained focused on the titles that you see here on a SLASH above.

Fen Ku Lou (The Phantom Killer) is a different party bag from the same year’s Si Yiu, but both movies are blessed with a crazy Asian charm that makes them stand apart from the norm in a good way. 

After helping a small town to defeat a gang of bandits, Master Siu becomes extremely popular with the local ladies. Everywhere that he goes, he is propositioned by single girls, however he has already found the lady he wants to call his own. Things take a turn for the worse, when a masked killer turns up and begins to slaughter the women that he rejects. As the bodies pile up, Siu joins the Police to help uncover the psycho in order to save the apple of his eye.

Don’t you just hate going out of your way to track down a film that someone has called a slasher only then discovering that it’s nothing of the sort? If I had £10 for every time that’s happened to me dear reader, I’d be writing this from a warm Cuban beach with a bottle of Dom and a Playboy Playmate on my knee. Fear not my good friends, because old uncle Luisito would never do that to you guys and gals. So brace your sweet selves and allow me to tell you what we have here: Fen Ku Lou is not a stalk and slash flick, it’s a Kung-Fu film. Well, I mean, if you’re looking for a bread-knife clenching maniac stalking a summer camp, then you’re gonna be in for an upset. With that said, it packs in a fair few genre clichés that allow it to grab a page on the celebrated hall of fame that is a SLASH above.

For example, the killer is dressed in a skull mask of all things and his choice of victims are flirtatious young teenage girls. He also leaves a calling card of a skull and a note informing the cops who will be next. The plot is a giallo-like mystery and is handled fairly well for three quarters of the runtime. It’s one of those, where you are continually picking different people whom you suspect to be the killer. Everyone shows a reason that they could be behind the mask, but in truth, the first thing that I’d guessed turned out to be correct.

The story flows well, with an addictive pace and it keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Like most Kung-Fu flicks, almost every situation turns in to a reason for a fight and the action scenes are numerous if a tad too darkly filmed. The use of an eerie sound effect whenever the killer turns up is really quite creepy, but the score seems to have been ‘borrowed’ from a popular eighties horror film. (I can’t recall which one). There’s no gore worth mentioning, but the maniac hides the corpse of one girl inside a statue and it’s quite nasty thinking about the way they have to chisel her out.

When the conclusion finally comes around, it has an intriguing message to convey, but it’s not as unpredictable as I’d hoped for. I guess that I’d already guessed the best part of it; and if I did, then most likely, you will too. There’s another ‘twist’ that is a bit unfair, due to the physical impossibilities of it actually happening, but that sums up the ‘virtual’ world that this plot has to contend with.

You see, Fen Ku Lou is hilariously OTT in places, especially in the desperation of the town’s female inhabitants to spend a night with Master Siu. One girl even goes as far as to beat up four guys because they won’t tell her where he is! The dialogue is also funny, however I am always of the belief that this is due to the weak translation of the script rather than a screenwriter with an awkward sense of humour.

I made a vow when I launched a SLASH above that I would never allow the site to focus on anything other than slasher movies. There are so many places on the web that claim to be dedicated to this style of film, but include many titles that fall outside of the template. Although this could be my first step in to the ‘dark side’ of posting a film that is not a traditional out-and-out slasher. I still think it has enough to be featured here. I just want to warn you that if you hate Martial Arts movies, then you should definitely not pick this one up. If, however, you are a little like me and can appreciate a bit of Chinese craziness, then it’s really quite an alluring treat.

Personally, I had a great time with watching this crazy story. I liked the silliness of the ‘hunky’ Master Siu, the mystery was fairly well handled and the killer was effectively creepy. When the conclusion is revealed, it is in one part hilarious and in another fairly thoughtful. The movie most definitely lacks the technical flair that made Si Yiu such a noteworthy entry, but it stands out solely because it is the only periodic Kung-Fu/Giallo cross-breed that the world has ever seen. Likely, will ever see.

It may well be impossible to find nowadays, but if you look hard enough and you are willing to accept a dose of fisticuffs in your horror, then I think you might quite enjoy its oddball pizazz.

Slasher Trappings:

Killer Guise: √√√


Final Girl: √√


Posted on August 17, 2012, in Slasher and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. a little variation wouldn’t hurt. That’s what makes this genre so fun! And I actually enjoyed this one so i got to thank you for it!

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