Kriminal, Kilink, and Skeleton Suit-Clad Fumetti Cinema
Fumetto (plural: fumetti) is the name applied to Italian comics and comic books, an odd term to mean what it does, in much the same way giallo (Italian for “yellow) came to signify a type of murder/thriller film. Giallo evolved that meaning because the films were often based on or inspired by mystery novels that were released by a publisher all bearing the same striking yellow cover design. “Fumetto” translates to, more or less, “little puff of smoke” and was derived from the word and thought bubbles used by comics. Like giallo or pulp, fumetto can refer to different things for different people, and often times all those concepts get mixed up into one big, difficult-to-separate stew thanks to the fact that they all evolved from pretty much the same source material: penny dreadfuls, French crime novels like Fantômas, and the adventure novels of authors such as Alexandre Dumas, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and others.
Many early Italian comics publications were translations of popular American comic strips. During World War II, many of these were forced to suspend publication, and the pro-Fascist propaganda comics that took their place probably weren’t as much fun as Felix the Cat. After the war, however, they flooded back onto the market, only by then American comics had changed dramatically. A new generation of comics had arisen during the war years, as had a new way of delivering them. The newspaper funny pages were now full of adventure serials featuring costumed heroes with strange powers and names like Mandrake the Magician, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, and The Phantom. Alongside them, a new generation of dark, mysterious heroes and antiheroes rules pulp publications and, later, radio and movie serials. But perhaps most significant was the move away from newspaper comic strips and toward comic books, where “super” heroes such as Captain America, Wonder Woman, Superman, and most important for the future fumetti, Batman, all staked out their place in pop culture history.
The post-war years saw Italy once again importing popular American properties (as well as occasional European ones, like the nigh-ubiquitous Tintin), but they also saw (or heard) a rising call for home-grown comic heroes. Many of the original Italian properties that were created during this boom period hedged their bets by still using classic American settings and archetypes: Gian Luigi Bonelli and Aurelio Galleppini’s Tex Willer, who debuted in 1948, was an American cowboy (the first spaghetti western?). Sergio Bonelli and Gallieno Ferri created Zagor, a sort of native American protector of the forest, in 1961. Keen to mine the pulp past for ideas, Italian comic book creators started poking around in the dark alleys populated by the likes of the Shadow, the Spider, the Specter, Batman, and other antiheroes who operated outside of — and at times in open defiance of — the law. It’s in the brutal origins of the Bat-Man (who later, of course, just became Batman) that we find many of the traits that would become commonplace among the fumetti characters of the 1960s: the tragic past, the vengeful mindset, the playboy alter ego, a lack of superpowers compensated for by superhuman levels of discipline and training, and the willingness to kill and maim the guilty. Some combination of Batman and the villain Fantômas cross-pollinated with James Bond begat Diabolik in 1962, the creation of sisters Angela and Luciana Giussani. The fumetto nero (black comics) had been born.
Diabolik was a return to the seedy days of the pulps. He was an accomplished thief, a master of disguise, and an ace at killing anyone who interfered with his ambitions. His amoral mayhem struck a chord with readers, who quickly catapulted the master thief to the upper level of pop culture stardom, making it obvious that others would follow in Diabolik’s steps, each one trying to be more outrageous and offensive than the last. Among the many characters inspired by Diabolik was Kriminal, created by Luciano Secchi working under the pseudonym Max Bunker. Kriminal was a master thief from England, notable for his curious choice in clothing: a black and yellow skeleton suit with a creepy skull mask. It’s a difficult look for a grown man to pull off, but he makes it work. Kriminal, whose alter ego was Anthony Logan, did his best to one-up Diabolik, exhibiting sometimes absurd levels of cruelty and violence as well a parade of scantily-clad females that he couldn’t help but menace. The dude was wearing a skeleton suit. You either have to menace or be laughed at.
It was this potent combination of violence and near-nudity that got Kriminal in trouble with so many critics and censors — and also made it such a hit with readers. Like Diabolik, Batman, and Fantômas, Kriminal had no superpowers. He couldn’t fly or run at super-speeds, and if he needed to kill you, he usually did it with a Luger. In time, as with Diabolik, Kriminal’s sadistic streak was softened, until eventually he really only killed those who were asking for it anyway, though he never did get over his need to continually menace buxom babes whose blouses were falling off. No worries about Kriminal growing soft though, because another skeleton suit wearing anti-hero was waiting to take up the slack and commit depraved acts of which even Kriminal couldn’t approve.
Director: Umberto Lenzi.
Screenplay: Umberto Lenzi.
Cast: Glenn Saxson, Helga Liné, Andrea Bosic, Ivano Staccioli, Esmeralda Ruspoli, Dante Posani, Franco Fantasia, Maria Luisa Rispoli, Armando Calvo, Mary Arden, Mirella Pamphili.
Cinematography: Angelo Lotti.
Editing: Jolanda Benvenuti, Antonio Gimeno.
Music: Romano Mussolini.
Although he followed in the footsteps of Diabolik in print, Kriminal beat him to the big screen. Kriminal, an Italian production directed by Umberto Lenzi, was released in 1966. By that time, Lenzi was already a seasoned pro of the Italian film industry, working in whatever genre was popular at the time. Like a shadowy, more exploitative version of Federico Fellini, Lenzi dropped out of law school to pursue filmmaking and, in his spare time, worked as a journalist, including a stint with Bianco e Nero, the oldest film magazine in Italy. In 1958, he directed his first film, a Greek production called Mia Italida stin Ellada or Vacanze ad Atene. It was never released, but Lenzi recovered and, in 1961, scored his first legitimate feature film directing credit with the Italian romantic adventure Le avventure di Mary Read (Queen of the Seas). He settled into a groove for a few years that found him directing several adventure films that ranged from swashbucklers and historical hellraisers to sword and sandal spectacles, enabling Lenzi to hone his skill at crafting exciting action scenes and competently mounted productions.
Much like the silent Fantômas series, Kriminal begins with its titular villain (played by handsome Dutch actor Rolf Boes under the pseudonym Glenn Saxson) about to be executed in London as the powers that be, included his arch-nemesis, Scotland Yard inspector Milton (because all costumed villains need an arch-nemesis at Scotland Yard), wait anxiously for confirmation that the dastardly devil is dead. Naturally, that confirmation doesn’t come. As the level is pulled and Kriminal is about to hang, the rope breaks, the lights go out, and Kriminal vanishes. The officials are aghast — except for Milton, who planned the whole thing. It turns out Kriminal had stolen the Queen of England’s crown and is willing to take the secret of its whereabouts to the grave. Milton engineers Kriminal’s escape from death so that they might follow him to the crown, recover it, and then recapture Kriminal and resume the execution. Obviously, plans of this nature never go well, and before too long Kriminal has eluded his followers and is free to take up once again a life of crime — though he does politely return the crown to Milton as a thank you for inadvertently freeing him. Never let it be said that Kriminal isn’t a class act (well, until he starts murdering old ladies for the insurance money in the sequel).
Kriminal’s first action as a free man is to pay a visit to his ex-wife (in the comics, and unlike many other comic book characters, Kriminal ages and his relationships evolve; he even settles down and has kids at one point), which he does the only way he knows how: by slipping into his signature bright yellow and black skeleton suit and creeping in through the window. Like Fantômas’ hood, this skeleton suit serves no real purpose, and in fact works to Kriminal’s detriment since a bright yellow suit contributes little to a cat burglar’s need to hide in the shadows and not be seen. Also, pretty much everyone in law enforcement knows who Kriminal is (his real identity is Anthony Logan), and he frequently takes off his mask in front of people he should be menacing, just as Fantômas, would take off his own mask, taunt a victim, then put the mask back on. Kriminal and Fantômas are both masters of disguise (or at least masters of fake mustaches), a skill that serves them far more effectively than their penchant for outlandish get-ups. Still style counts, and as absurd as the skeleton suit is on the surface, somehow Lenzi and actor Glenn Saxson make it work. It does look cool, and it does look creepy, and if it doesn’t make a lick of sense, one need only remember that this is a comic book world where a villain can build a bomb whose sole function is to blow the shirt off a beautiful woman.
Kriminal’s ex (played by Maria Luisa Rispoli, who didn’t have much of a career in film but does pop up in a few other Eurospy films, including the pretty good Desperate Mission and a Franco and Ciccio comedy called Oh! Those Most Secret Agents) wants nothing to do with her felonious former, but Kriminal isn’t the kind of skeleton suit clad brute to let that go without working his sensual seduction magic. He also wants to steal some information from her, since she works for a bonded courier about to transport a fortune in diamonds. Like everything in this film, the company’s plan to protect against theft is ludicrously complicated when all they really needed to do was send one very attentive and focused courier accompanied by a small retinue of muscle. Instead, they hatch a loony scheme in which a glamorous young woman (cult cinema icon Helga Liné) will travel alone with the diamonds — except she has an identical twin who will be on a different airline, so no criminal (or Kriminal) will know exactly which woman to rob. This complex scheme full of multiple points of failure is made even more confusing when it turns out Kriminal is not the only cat in town with a notion to steal the diamonds, and indeed some of the others are working an angle from the inside. As is the way with such films, successfully acquiring the diamonds will require Kriminal to travel to multiple exotic locations, bed multiple beautiful women, and kill a good many people, all while being pursued by the indefatigable Inspector Milton.
When Lenzi is at his best as director, his films are snappy and crisply paced. Kriminal is one of his best. It never slows down, but it never goes so fast that you can’t stop to luxuriate in all the exotic location work or admire all the swank 1960s fashion. It’s a more down-to-earth film than Danger: Diabolik, which two years later would elevate the genre to the level of absurdist pop-art masterpiece. Being less phantasmagorical than Danger: Diabolik leaves plenty of room for swingin’ style, and Kriminal has it in spades. Working with cinematographer Angelo Lotti (with whom he worked frequently), Lenzi mounts a gorgeous production that takes full advantage of the film’s far-flung locations. It’s not quite James Bond level opulence, but there’s no doubting Kriminal is several cuts above many similar films being made at the same time.His experience shooting budget-conscious historical epics prepares Lenzi well for filming Kriminal in a big, screen-filling fashion. It never feels small, and Lenzi is happy to indulge in a bit of sun-drenched travel footage for the benefit of viewers who might not have a chance to get to Spain or Istanbul. Romano Mussolini provides a swinging fusion of jazz and cocktail lounge music to keep everything feeling peppy. Lenzi was always a straightforward director, and that remains so here. The only stylistic indulgence is the occasional transition from live-action to comic book style illustrations. It’s true the plot meanders and, at times, almost loses itself inside the ill-defined web of double- and triple-crosses, but the pace is such that one can easily shrug off the convoluted details and just go along for the ride assured that, in the end, all that matters is Kriminal wants those diamonds.
The bombshell factor is fulfilled by Helga Liné, as twin sisters Inge and Trudy. Liné was one of the great fixtures of Italian cult cinema, appearing, among others, Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon, Mission Bloody Mary, Special Mission Lady Chaplin, and Password: Kill Agent Gordon. She was even in another fumetti-inspired comic book adventure, 1968’s Avenger X, as well as El Santo’s luchador/Eurospy crossover film Doctor of Death, and made a lot of horror films in the ’70s, including Vampire’s Night Orgy, Antonio Margheriti’s Gothic classic Nightmare Castle (alongside Barbara Steele), and some Paul Naschy films where he doesn’t even turn into a werewolf. Born in Germany but Spanish and Portuguese by her parents, Liné’s family fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s and settled in Portugal, where the young Helga worked as a dancer, circus acrobat, child actress, and eventually a model. The cross-cultural collaborative nature of post-war European cinema led her to Italy, where she worked, like most of the stars there, in whatever genre was popular, making a name for herself first in Eurospy and spaghetti western films then later becoming one of the staples of the Euro-horror genre. She worked primarily in genre films, but in the 1980s she had a chance to work with respected arthouse director Pedro Almodóvar, first on Labyrinth of Passion in 1982 and later Law of Desire in 1986.
Glenn Saxson is a bit stiff as an actor but looks dashing as the lady-killer (among others he kills) supervillain. He’d previously starred in Alberto De Martino’s spaghetti western Django Shoots First (De Martino, incidentally, directed a number of great films, including the top notch Eurospy capers Special Mission Lady Chaplin and Operation Kid Brother starring Neil Connery, Sean’s brother). He went on to star in the Kriminal sequel, a couple other actioners, and then a string of saucy ’70s erotica with titles like The Hostess Also Likes to Blow the Horn and School of Erotic Enjoyment. He’s perfectly suited for the role of Kriminal, and somehow he manages not to look completely ludicrous when he’s strutting around with his mask off and the rest of the skeleton suit still on. Supporting him is a cast of Italian exploitation stalwarts lead by Umberto Lenzi regular Andrea Bosic as the harried Scotland yard inspector (he would later play a harried bank manager in Danger: Diabolik). This version of Kriminal is relatively soft, a reflection of the character having been softened in the comics as it became more popular. He kills people, sure, but those people are usually also trying to kill him, so turnabout is fair play.
THE MARK OF KRIMINAL
Director: Fernando Cerchio, Nando Cicero.
Screenplay: Eduardo Manzanos Brochero.
Cast: Glenn Saxson, Helga Liné, Andrea Bosic, Armando Francioli, Tomás Picó, Evi Rigano, Anna Zinnemann, Franca Dominici, Ugo Sasso, María Francés, Gino Marturano.
Cinematography: Emilio Foriscot, Angelo Lotti.
Editing: Gianmaria Messeri.
Music: Manuel Parada.
Original Title: Il marchio di Kriminal
Despite the fates of both Inge and Trudy in Kriminal, Liné returned, along with Glenn Saxson and Andrea Bosic, for the sequel, Il Marchio di Kriminal, in 1968. Alas, absent from that follow-up was Umberto Lenzi, who spent that year in the Middle East and Spain working on the war adventure Desert Commandos and the spaghetti westerns Go for Broke and Pistol for a Hundred Coffins. In fact, Kriminal was Lenzi’s final entry in the broadly defined Eurospy genre. In 1969, he directed two thrillers, Paranoia and So Sweet… So Perverse (both starring Carroll Baker, in exile from Hollywood) and in 1973 made the grim crime film Gang War in Milan. For the rest of his career, Lenzi worked almost entirely within the genres of horror and Eurocrime, leaving directorial duties for the Kriminal sequel to Fernando Cerchio and Nando Cicero, a couple guys better known for sex comedies and sword and sandal films and who were considerably less diverse in their projects than most of their fellow Italian directors. Still, you wouldn’t really know it, because Il Marchio di Kriminal picks up right where Kriminal left off, and delivers, pretty seamlessly, more of the same.
Although Kriminal ends with the master thief foiled and in the custody of Turkish police, and although his sequel begins with a reassurance that London and Inspector Milton (once again played by Andrea Bosic) have been enjoying their respite from the rogue’s capers, that doesn’t stop The Mark of Kriminal from beginning with the skeleton suit-clad baddie slipping through the window into an old woman’s bedroom, who he then proceeds to terrify into having a heart attack. Yes, Kriminal is back, and he’s murdering old ladies as part of an insurance scam, which returns the character to meaner, more repugnant behavior than was portrayed in the previous film; but it also…well, come on! Scaring little old ladies to death? That seems like a low crime, even for Kriminal. How did our jet-setting master-thief end up running such a lame con? How is he free and terrorizing pensioners when everyone thinks he is doing life in prison back in Turkey? Where is he getting so many skeleton suits? Is he eventually going to set his sights on a prize more worthy of his reputation?
Probably, but the fact that he starts out killing senior citizens means that this time around, Kriminal is less anti-hero than he is villain, and that behavior — along with the overly elaborate set-up it takes for him to execute the plan — places him once again in the company of silent era malcontent Fantômas. Fantômas often plotted elaborate heists that required an absurd amount of set-up and almost certainly cost the criminal more than he ever could have netted in ill-gotten gains. Similarly, to pull off his “kill old ladies for their insurance money” scheme, Kriminal (again played by Glenn Saxson, looking less stiff this time around) had to purchase a retirement home, establish himself as a respected doctor, get himself licensed as a mortician, hire an accomplice to apply for life insurance under the identity of whoever their next mark was going to be, wait for months so that it wouldn’t seem suspicious when the marked died, and devise a way to collect the insurance money without drawing the attention of insurance inspectors — all while being careful not to get noticed by Scotland Yard and Milton, who might think Kriminal is in prison but would probably react poorly to seeing him strutting around London. How exactly Kriminal is managing to even break even on this scheme, let alone turn a profit, is anyone’s guess. But, like Fantômas before him, maybe it’s not the profit that is important. Maybe he just like messing with people.
Through a series of fortunate coincidences, Kriminal comes into possession of a confession and a fragment of a map purporting to show the location of a couple stolen priceless works of art. This being a much cooler adventure than geronticide, Kriminal throws himself into it, hoping perhaps that we’ll just forget what he’d been doing in the meantime. Unfortunately for Kriminal, he doesn’t get out of the grandma-killing business without raising the suspicions of Inspector Milton who, through a series of coincidences of his own, learns than Kriminal has managed to escape from prison by swapping places with another prisoner (who looks nothing like him and yammers like a madman).
Postponing his own wedding (which is interrupted by Kriminal showing up to deliver the gift of a box that opens fire) like Bulldog Drummond with a new mystery to solve, Milton follows the trail of corpses, little blue Buddhas, and confused socialites as the hunt for the stolen paintings leads, once again to Spain and to Helga Line, though she’s not playing the same character as she did in the first film. This time she’s a Spanish dancer who has one of the pieces of the map and who, like several other characters, might know more about what’s happening than she lets on. From there, the action moves to a cruise ship, Lebanon, the swinging city of Beirut (so it was at the time), and the fabled ruins at Baalbek.
Co-directors Fernando Cerchio and Nando Cicero never became notable names in the world of Italian cult cinema, and at the time they were charged with taking over for Umberto Lenzi on Il Marchio di Kriminal, neither of them had much experience with action cinema or the Eurospy genre. Cerchio was best prepared (and was likely the lead director), having previously made one spy film (1967’s Top Secret starring former Tarzan and peplum star Gordon Scott) and quite a few sword and sandal spectacles, including Desert Warrior starring a young Ricardo Montalban, Cleopatra’s Daughter starring Debra Paget, Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile starring Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price, and a trio of peplum spoofs starring popular Italian comedian Toto. But where Umberto Lenzi’s period adventures had been action-oriented, Cerchio’s films were inspired more by Hollywood Biblical and ancient world epics than the rough and tumble swashbucklers and Hercules films. Il Marchio di Kriminal was his second to last film before retiring in 1969 (he was born in 1914 and died in 1974 at the age of 60 — a substantially older though no more experienced director than Umberto Lenzi at the time).
His experience with ancient world epics, like Lenzi’s, would have equipped him to make the most of the widescreen format and exotic locations even if the films themselves had been drive more by drama than physical action, and indeed as with the first film Il Marchio di Kriminal is beautiful (though slightly less so owing to some skies that are blown out when they should be blue). Cerchio also enjoyed the services of cinematographer Angelo Lotti, who worked frequently with Lenzi (among others) and had shot Kriminal. Nando Cicero was less qualified to helm such a large picture, having before Il Marchio di Kriminal made only a few films, including a trio of obscure but interesting spaghetti westerns: Last of the Badmen, Professionals for a Massacre (both 1967) and They Were Called Graveyard (1968, starring Antonio Sabata and Klaus Kinski). Given the way the Italian film industry works, it’s likely Cicero was apprenticing with the older Cerchio on this second Kriminal movie, but the world of swinging spies and super-villains didn’t prove to his liking. He spent most of the rest of his career directing sex comedies which, given that he worked with the likes of Michela Miti, Gloria Guida, and Edwige Fenech, was probably just fine with him.
Together, the duo made a film that retains all of the thrills of the first Kriminal but boasts a slightly harder edge owing to Kriminal’s more diabolical indulgences. In the end, the villain is seemingly done for, but given how often these fumetti anti-heroes/villains escape death by simply proclaiming “I have escaped!” at the end of one film or beginning of the next, nothing is guaranteed. If The Mark of Kriminal was the last Italy had to do with skeleton suit wearing villains, the same didn’t hold true for the rest of the world.
The King of Rogues
As Kriminal was skyrocketing to fame, and in doing so, seeing the nasty edge that had made him so popular and controversial softened somewhat to make him more palatable to a wider audience. But no worries, because even as Kriminal began to only kill a lot of people instead of a whole lot of people, another character in basically the same skeleton get-up arrived on the scene to make sure that critics and censors were still incensed by the make-believe actions of a grown man wearing a novelty skeleton body stocking. That hero — and by hero, I mean psychotic mass-murdering terrorist — was known appropriately enough as Killing. Created in 1966 by Pietro Granelli, Killing was a reprehensible brute on his best days, and most of the time the things he did were extreme even by the standards raised (or lowered) by Kriminal. That Killing relied on the photonovel format — using live-action still photography of actual staged scenes rather than artwork — made the salacious nature of his sexploitative, hyper-violent adventures even more risque.
Needless to say, with Killing boasting no redeeming values whatsoever, people once again lapped it up just as eagerly as critics, censorship boards, and parents despised it. Killing was a one-man 1980s metal band music video, all wearin’ a skeleton suit and causing the town censor to scream, wag his finger, turn red, and finally go into cardiac arrest as the head of the PTA angrily bangs a gavel and the mousy town librarian has her top blown off by a wicked guitar riff, causing her to jump up on top of the card catalog (it was the ’80s, after all) and do a sexy pole dance striptease as, all the while, this gun-toting madman in a skull mask lords over it, laughing evilly as he stands on top of an overpass with arms akimbo.
In response, Kriminal’s creator went and created Satanik, a disfigured woman who takes a special serum to become beautiful, and then spends most of her remaining time killing people. It was made into a movie, but unlike Kriminal or other fumetti adaptations, it plays out like a Jess Franco horror movie rather than a comic book adventure. Don’t let the Diabolik-inspired outfit that shows up in all the poster artwork fool you; that’s in the movie for like twenty seconds, as a costume during a cabaret dance. Anyway, the joke was once again on Kriminal creator Luciano Secchi, because as Killing got exported around the world — finding particular purchase in Argentina, for one reason or another — he got retitled with a whole host of new names, including Sadistik and, yes, Satanik.
And they couldn’t stop rubbing salt in the wounds, either. 1966’s live-action feature film Kriminal was partially set and filmed on location in Istanbul. Inspired by what they saw, Turkish filmmakers decided to flex their muscle as the premiere global violators of any and all intellectual property and copyrights. After all, if the Italians could rip off their own guy, then the Turks could rip off the rip-off, and that would just be awesome. And so Turkish producer-director Yilmaz Atadeniz commenced filming of his own Killing movie, 1967’s Kilink Istanbul’da.
Cast: Irfan Atasoy, Pervin Par, Muzaffer Tema, Suzan Avci, Hüseyin Peyda, Sevinç Pekin, Mine Soley, Ergun Köknar, Feridun Çölgeçen, Hüseyin Zan, Mete Mert, Enver Dönmez, Süheyl Egriboz, Yildirim Gencer.
Director: Yilmaz Atadeniz.
Screenplay: Vecdi Uygun.
Cinematography: Rafet Siriner.
Editing: Mustafa Kent.
Stylistically, Kilink Istanbul’da is somewhere between the early luchador movies of Mexico and old American horror serials — which isn’t surprising, considering how big an influence the serials were on luchador movies. The film’s opening scene, in which a mummy in a spooky room is revived and unwrapped to reveal the hideous skeleton below (oh wait, it’s just Kilink, played by Yildirim Gencer if that matters — it’s not like he ever takes off his skull mask), is straight out of a serial (The Crimson Ghost is the first to leap to mind). The spookiness ends right there, however, as Kilink springs out of his coffin and starts slapping asses and calling women “baby” and ranting about his need for a secret formula to complete his secret weapon that will help him rule the world. And so the plot is pretty much straight out of the old serials as well, with Kilink trying to get the secret formula from a parade of scientists whose only contribution to the world besides creating formulas for weapons of mass destruction is uttering the line, “I’ll never tell you the location of the formula!” before being shot by a skeleton.
When the dastardly Kilink murders a scientist, the scientist’s son, Orhan (Irfan Atasoy), swears revenge, then bemoans the fact that a mere normal man could never hope to foil the mad schemes of a villain as diabolical as Kilink. And then Zeus or Odin or someone appears and bellows for a spell and gives the guy super-powers that will activate whenever he yells “Shazam!” Shouting this magic word the makers of this film made up all on their own transforms Orhan into Ucan Adam, a guy in an unconvincingly padded Superman outfit with striped underwear and what looks to be a slight variation of the Batman cowl worn by Adam West. As Ucan Adam, Orhan can throw marble slabs around, shrug off bullets, jump over stuff, and superimpose himself onto footage of clouds in order to fly. Armed with these superpowers, Orhan feels he can finally prove a match for the wicked Kilink.
Having someone with actual superpowers in a fumetto was pretty rare. Most of the big stars of the 1960s were cut from the Batman mold, meaning that technically they have no superpowers, but they have trained so hard that, to us regular chumps, they would almost seem capable of superhuman feats. Kilink is very much in this vein, though perhaps a little more Joker than Batman, since he doesn’t seem all that great in a fist fight. But as soon as an ancient god pops up in the cemetery and turns some guy into a superhero with pillows stuffed down his shirt, Kilink Istanbul’da starts to resemble something entirely different than the Kriminal and Killing stories that inspired it. The random supernatural aspects of the story wouldn’t be out-of-place in one of the nuttier Santo films — and it’s obvious that many Turkish cult filmmakers were very familiar with El Santo and his ilk, since a Turkish version of Santo (along with Captain America and Spider-Man) shows up in the Turkish superhero blow-out 3 Dev Adam.
We can also see that Kilink the character is considerably different from Kriminal, if not in looks than certainly in ambition. Kriminal was interested in stealing and swinging, while Kilink is interested in swinging and conquering the world. He also has a gang of useless henchmen dressed like Father Guido Sarducci, whereas Kriminal worked alone save for the occasional beautiful accomplice (which Kilink was wise enough to keep in place as well). Kilink has one boney foot in the madmen of the old serials and another in the more modern (at the time) world of megalomaniacal James Bond villains. Finally, we are meant to sympathize to some degree with Kriminal, but Kilink offers us no such hook. He is the bad guy, at least in this initial outing, and you’re never really tempted to root for him. If a gun-toting mass murderer dressed as a skeleton fighting a superhero in a poorly stuffed suit sounds like fun to you, then Kilink Istanbul’da isn’t going to let you down. It lives up to the description, and perhaps exceeds it considerably.
Kilink makes sure that the screen is never devoid for more than a few seconds of scantily clad Turkish women. His accomplice is the gorgeous Suzy (Suzan Avci), and the film is filled out by a parade of beautiful women, including Pervin Par as Orhan’s fiancee Guile, Mine Soley as one of the scientist’s secretaries and eventual Kilink sidekick number two, and whoever it is that plays Orhan’s younger sister. None of these women can go for more than a few minutes without their tops falling off, or their skirts being hiked up, or them just walking around in a slinky bikini. Near the end, when Kilink leaves the suburbs and goes to his secret island lair. He walks into his throne room, and there are already half a dozen women in bikinis just standing around in alluring poses. Irfan Atasoy as Orhan is a fine-looking man with classic matinee idol looks. But when you’re a regular Joe, even one who turns into Shazam, surrounded by a dude in a skeleton suit and a bunch of femme fatales in slinky cocktail dresses, bikinis, and underwear, you tend to get lost in the shuffle.
Speaking of the end, Kilink Istanbul’da ends on a cliffhanger (yet more classic serial stylings) with Orhan trying to track down Kilink, who has kidnapped Guile and her scientist father, while Kilink gets it on with the traitorous secretary and unveils his super weapon: a smallish laser beam. Good luck with that one, Kilink. Some people have nuclear weapons. Some have navies and biological weapons. Kilink has a small laser gun in a cave off the coast of Turkey. Maybe when he turns it on in the next movie, it will be more impressive. But I bet not. After all, despite his cool set-up, Kilink seems like a bit of a buffoon. He lives in the suburbs in a house with cheap wood paneling; he only has like four guys working for him; and anytime he has to fight someone more capable than a passed-out woman, he ends up running away. Plus, the super weapon this whole movie is about is a little laser cannon that looks like, at it’s most effective, it could be used to take out one guy — maybe two. Kilink can barely handle terrorizing a couple of scientists, and the only reason he ever captures anyone is because they keep coming home to the same unlocked houses even though they know Kilink is after them. And yet some cop keeps popping up to remind us, over and over, how amazingly evil and dangerous Kilink is, even though the evidence on-screen points to something else. When Kilink does something as simple as pick the lock on a window, the inspector is there later to slam his fist into his palm and proclaim Kilink the most diabolical evil genius who ever lived.
Despite Kilink’s dubious crowning as the King of Rogues, Kilink Istanbul’da is top-notch entertainment. The episodic structure of the film keeps it from ever getting dull, and there’s usually not more than a minute or so before a skeleton is ripping off a woman’s top or a superhero is punching a villain’s car. As silly as the idea of a grown man dressing up like a skeleton and demanding to rule the world may be, it works in the fantastical context created by films like this. Kilink has a more menacing, detailed suit than Kriminal did, plus he accessorizes with a holster and pistol. he looks good in action, too. Superhero, is a little less spry in his action scenes, but that’s just because all the foam stuffed into his shirt means his mobility is restricted to little more than walking like a stiff-jointed bodybuilder while guys pointlessly shoot at him over and over.
Of course, there’s the whole business of the film ending right in the middle of the action. Luckily, the second Kilink film, Kilink Ucan Adama Karsi, was waiting in the wings to pick up the action immediately where the first one leaves off…
KILINK UCAN ADAMA KARSI
Cast: Irfan Atasoy, Pervin Par, Muzaffer Tema, Suzan Avci, Hüseyin Peyda, Sevinç Pekin, Mine Soley, Ergun Köknar, Feridun Çölgeçen, Hüseyin Zan, Mete Mert, Enver Dönmez, Yildirim Gencer.
Director: Yilmaz Atadeniz.
Screenplay: Çetin Inanç.
Cinematography: Rafet Siriner.
Editing: Mustafa Kent.
When last we saw the dastardly, skeleton-suit clad Kilink — self-proclaimed King of Rogues and master of all evil — he was in his secret island lair (well-stocked with randomly placed and artfully-posed bikini girls), casually bragging about his super-weapon (a rickety looking laser gun) while harassing a scientist and the scientist’s beautiful daughter, who just happens to be the fiancée of a man whose scientist father was previously murdered by Kilink, causing the man to swear vengeance and thus be granted super powers and a bad costume by a crazy hobo in the cemetery. Got it? Well, if you didn’t no worries, because the cliffhanger ending of Kilink Istanbul’da springboards us immediately into the sequel, Kilink Ucan Adama Karsi (Kilink vs. Superman), but not before the second film takes twenty minutes or so to recap the events of the last movie.
Calling Kilink Istanbul’da the first film is misleading, as they are really nothing more than one long movie chopped up into two episodes. Remember, the Turkish Kilink movies were drawing major influence from both the Italian fumetti characters Kriminal and Killing, but just as much, they were looking to the old American adventure serials for their formula and structure. Thus the serial-like cliffhanger ending, although to be fair, your final shot being Kilink hanging out in his living room while the good guy stands on the pier is somewhat less thrilling than many serial cliffhangers tended to be. Additionally, the recap of the previous “episode” is another trick straight out of the serials. The summary is nice, however, because it does contain bits and pieces of footage that were lost from the actual print of Kilink Istandbul’da, so if you want to get a glimpse of some Saddam Hussein looking guy laughing as he turns a knob, this is your chance.
Kilink Istandbul’da sets us up for the main event in Kilink Ucan Adama Karsi, which is our two main characters finally facing one another. Until this point, Kilink and Superhero have only met face to face in costume once, and that showdown ended with Kilink swapping identities with a doorman who he somehow convinced to not only wear a skeleton outfit, but also to try to escape from the combined forces of Superhero and the Istanbul police force via a slow-moving construction dumb-waiter. In part one, contrary to Diabolik or Kriminal, Kilink is without a doubt the villain of the piece, and we are meant to root for Superhero. This has a lot to do with the Turkish filmgoing population’s preference for identifying with a strong, black-and-white hero. Superhero is both strong (see how he throws those concrete slabs around in the first film — a brute display of strength that was probably unappreciated by the cemetery employees who came in later that day and had to clean up the mess made by Superhero and his weird god) and his film is in black and white, so the Turks were in luck! Superhero is the good guy, but it’s kind of cheating on his part to need the help of a randomly appearing god disguised as a homeless hippie and granting superpowers to beat Kilink, who has no superpower other than the ability to prance around in a ridiculous looking skeleton costume without ever actually looking ridiculous. We can assume, based on the title of this entry in the Kilink series, that we’ll finally be getting the tête-à-tête between the villainous madman and the guy in the padded suit and striped bikini. And we would have, if that footage still existed.
Part two opens with Orhan trying to find a ride to Kilink’s mysterious secret island, which can’t be too terribly secret if every fisherman in Istanbul knows it’s crawling with guys in genie pants and some dude in a skeleton suit running around on the beach. Eventually, Orhan finds a guy willing to take him to the island, even though — hey, wait? Isn’t Orhan possessed of super powers that allow him to, among other things, fly? I guess he’s such a good guy that he doesn’t want to use his superpowers when he could help out the local economy by hiring a boatman and putting the guy in mortal peril by making him sail out to Kilink’s island of doom.
Meanwhile, Kilink is splitting his time between making love (whilst still in his skeleton outfit) to his two beautiful women (Suzy and that ridiculously beautiful secretary he corrupted in part one) and showing off the awesome might of his now fully operational super weapon: the cheap looking laser gun. When he finally unveils his weapon, the end result is — well, maybe he would have been better off if he invested his time in trying to steal an atom bomb, because the laser cannon isn’t horribly impressive. I mean, he blows up a boulder with it, and later on he’ll use it to mildly inconvenience Superhero, but other than that I don’t see the world quaking in fear at the skeleton-bootied feet of Kilink just because he has a laser cannon — especially given that everyone seems to know where Kilink is, and they could just drop a bomb on his lair and be done with things. They must have plenty of bombs, because Kilink didn’t try to take any of those.
The action on Kilink’s island is pretty boss, disappointing super weapon notwithstanding. He’s got bikini girls, and although he talks big about conquering the world, he seems more interested in lounging around in his cave’s boom boom room, letting that hot secretary writhe about and strip while Suzy massages his shoulders and guys in Genie pants and vests with a giant felt “K” on them lean on their machine guns. And this is the point where I started thinking we should give Kilink a chance to rule the world and see how things work out. I mean, I know his super weapon is super-lame, but still — his primary vision of the world seems to be one full of half-naked women slipping out of slinky cocktail dresses, groovy music, and guys with Rollie Fingers mustaches and genie pants. That doesn’t sound so bad. Sure, Kilink has a tendency to randomly walk up to some guy who works for him and say, “Don’t disappoint me, or I’ll kill you,” even though nothing is going on at that moment, but whatever. What world leader doesn’t have his idiosyncrasies? Let’s give Kilink a go. Is being ruled by Kilink with his “stripper in every den” policy really so bad?
Kilink soon learns that nothing gold can stay, as Orhan arrives to change into Superhero and smash things up. Kilink unleashes the power of his laser beam, which is now suddenly a flamethrower — making it even lamer as a world-dominating super-weapon — which causes Superhero to have to sort of suck it in (hard when your body mass is composed primarily of pillows stuffed into your long johns) and stand against the wall for a little bit. It’s enough time for Kilink to make his escape, though, in classic third world dictator form. Actually, I guess those guys usually commandeer a jet at the airport, or get a free ride from some other country’s government. Kilink makes his escape in, of all things, a rowboat. Ahh, but it’s not really Kilink at all! It’s a fat, old scientist who, when disguised as Kilink, suddenly becomes a fit, muscular man. Kilink himself slips out the back door and begins plotting a decidedly less Bond-villainy, more Kriminal/Diabolik scale caper: stealing jewels from a princess.
Unfortunately, we only get the gist of things here, as the latter half of Kilink Ucan Adama Karsi has been, as far as anyone can tell, forever lost. That’s a shame, but what we do have is still fun. The showdown between Kilink and Superhero on Kilink’s island of pleasure and certain death is high-spirited and energetic, with some great fights and plenty of action. We’re better off for having seen at least this small surviving sliver of the film. And luckily, Kilink never stops to take a breath, and no sooner is he lying dead on the street after a final fight with Superman atop a tower than he is also taunting people via some unseen and inexplicable public address unit, promising to return. And return he does.
KILINK: STRIP AND KILL
Cast: Yildirim Gencer, Suzan Avci, Reha Yurdakul, Devlet Devrim, Cahit Irgat, Sevda Nur, Süha Dogan, Meriç Basaran, Tansu Sayin, Necati Er, Askin Dilek, Tevfik Soyulgan, Lütfü Engin, Kudret Karadag, Behçet Nacar.
Director: Yilmaz Atadeniz.
Screenplay: Yilmaz Atadeniz.
Cinematography: Ali Ugur.
As of Strip and Kill, the King of Rogues begins, against the better efforts of the first two movies, to follow the same trajectory as Kriminal and Killing, becoming a celebrated anti-heroes no matter how dastardly and devious his schemes may be. In the first two films, you knew who the hero was, and you knew you were going to root for the hero. Plus, you knew that, despite all obstacles thrown into his path, Superhero was going to triumph. Kilink was vile. He was pitted against a do-gooding magical flying superman in striped undies, and there was no doubt that you were supposed to be rooting for the good guy. There were several problems with this, however.
First, though it may have one foot in Europe and the other in Central Asia, but there was no way the social turmoil of the 1960s was going to fail to have an effect on Turkey. Europe was cranking out all sorts of films that were infused with the decade’s paranoia and distrust of authority figures, as well as reflecting the overall disillusionment with the concept of clear-cut good. Less socially important, but perhaps more likely the more probably main cause, Kilink was just way cooler than Superhero. I mean, sure, Superhero had Batman’s mask, and a suit with padded muscles built into it. And he had those striped panties that I’m pretty sure he bought at Phantom’s last Skull Cave yard sale. And he could fly and lift large slabs of granite in order to impress Odin or whoever the hell that old man was who randomly appeared in a cemetery and gave him all those powers.
But the problem Superhero faced, and the problem many superheroes face, is that it’s way more fun to explore the bad guy’s character. Superhero may have been the good guy, but the movie was called Kilink Istanbul’da. Superhero got his name in the second film, Kilink Ucan Adama Karsi, but it was almost an afterthought. It was clear, even by the second film, that people were coming to the theater to see Kilink. And why not? Superhero behaved properly and, when not flying, lived a quiet, typical life, so long as “quiet, typical life” includes being friends with scientists who have a tendency to be stalked by murderous madmen in skeleton costumes. While Superhero was busy sitting in a living room, drinking tea and making plans for a picnic, Kilink was dressed up as a skeleton, making love to a procession of gorgeous ladies, watching scantily clad dancing girls, kidnapping scientists, and shooting chumps with his Luger. You sort of hit a dead end exploring a one-dimension good guy, but a bad guy? There’s almost no end to the wild exploits in which you can involve the bad guy.
Of course, then arises the question of at what point does the bad guy stop being the bad guy? In the case of Kilink, it happens with Strip and Kill. Where as he’d spent the last two movies menacing Turkey and killing innocent people, the Kilink we meet in this film, while still obviously the same man, is transported into the realm of only killing the criminal and corrupt. He’s still out to steal gold and foil the cops, but the days when he was kidnapping the hero’s pretty wife and slapping her around are behind him. Superhero disappears entirely from this film, which picks up immediately after Kilink’s apparent death at Superhero’s hands while fighting atop a tower. Even though the final scene of Kilink Ucan Adama Karsi becomes the first scene of Strip and Kill, there is no mention of Superhero. It is as if he never existed. It is obvious that, even though he’s still dressed as a skeleton and calling women “baby,” the protagonist this time around, and the obvious focus of the film, is Kilink.
The story for Strip and Kill was lifted from an issue of the Killing photo-comics. We open with the scene from the last film in which Kilink falls to his death yet still manages to taunt the assembled crowds via a public address system that seems to have been set up specifically so Kilink could taunt people. There is, as best as anyone can tell, no way Kilink could have escaped his fate. He is fighting Superhero. He falls to his death in the middle of a gathering of onlookers. The police are already on the scene and examining Kilink’s body. And yet all of a sudden, Kilink is somewhere else, laughing into the PA system and probably intentionally causing it to emit ear-piercing feedback…because that’s just how evil Kilink is, baby! Strip and Kill sees no real reason to reconcile Kilink’s apparent escape from death with any sort of serial-like unseen twist. It simply assumes that the best thing to do is say, “Here is Kilink’s dead body…oh no!” without any proper explanation of how he goes from being a corpse getting poked at by cops to being a guy sitting in his posh living room, drinking martinis with his sexy girlfriend, Suzy (Suzan Avci, reprising her role from the first two films). Writer-director Yilmaz Atadeniz’s attitude toward this seems to be, “Look, do you want a convoluted explanation of how Kilink escaped, or do you just want to watch a guy dressed as a skeleton punch out a dude with an eyepatch?” I think the correct decision was made.
We soon learn that Kilink has to attend a conference in New York, and I was instantly chilled by the thought of Kilink checking his iPhone obsessively while sitting in a board room where Killing was explaining the robust, enterprise-wide solution that would shift the paradigm of the entire “grown men dressed up as skeletons” corporation. It turns out that Kilink’s conference is actually a secret criminal society whose members all wear hoods when they gather, even though they already know each other, and they all take their hoods off as soon as the meeting is adjourned. Kilink, it seems, was not officially invited to the criminal pow-wow, but that doesn’t stop him from showing up, killing one of the members, and taking his place.
This mysterious group is determined to steal microfilm that details the location of Turkey’s various missile defense installations. Kilink seems to take some degree of personal offense at this, even though he just spent the entire last two movies menacing Turkey with a flame thrower. Perhaps he figures threatening Turkey is his birthright, and he’s not going to let some uppity bunch of outsiders intrude on his turf. As far as Turkey itself is concerned, if you spent the last two movies being terrorized by a guy dressed as a skeleton, having your next threat be from a group of regular old gangsters just seems sort of underwhelming. Things get complicated for Kilink when a rival Turkish crime boss gets in on the picture, introducing a subplot about stolen gold that you know Kilink is going to be wanting for himself. The entire thing ends up with Kilink playing the good guy as he systematically dismantles and destroys both criminal/spy rings — and by “systematically” I mean he disguises himself, then a few seconds later rips off the disguise and yells “Kilink is here!” while diving off a hill.
Unlike the previous films, which existed within the realm of superhero fantasy thanks to the presence of Superhero/Superman, Strip and Kill is pure Eurospy/fumetti adventure. There are no magic powers, no ancient gods appearing in a puff of smoke; just a dude in a skeleton suit scheming against a bunch of guys in skinny ties. Strip and Kill eschews the trappings of old Superman adventures and exists solely within the realm of James Bond and Diabolik. The series benefits from this departure. Injecting a superhero into the fumetti formula was fun on a purely “what the hell” level but as a whole, it just didn’t click. Superhero seemed like a guy who wandered in from an entirely different movie, and when your character is invincible and super-strong and fighting henchmen whose sole power is to wear genie pants and shirts with a giant “K” taped to them, it doesn’t make for especially thrilling action sequences. You know you’re mostly going to see a shot of someone throwing something at Superhero, followed by a shot of that object bouncing harmlessly off his chest. With the yoke of superpowers removed from the formula, however, Strip and Kill is free to cram itself full of kinetic fight scenes involving Kilink kicking people and jumping off overpasses. Neither of the previous two films were short on action, but with the super powered guy discarded, and along with him the lengthy domestic scenes that accompanied his human identity, Strip and Kill can get down to some serious, no-nonsense skeleton guy action.
At no point does Kilink himself strip and kill, and the title actually represents a division of labor. Kilink handles the killing portion of the job, and the stripping is left to the steady procession of beautiful women these films seem to present to Kilink so he can slap them and make move to them — although this time he only goes so far as to slap and make love to the evil ones. In a departure from the last film, he even gets riled up and angry when his rivals kidnap an innocent woman and her child. Plus, he’s always got faithful Suzy and her vast array of slinky cocktail dresses and revealing bikinis by his side.
If there is a weakness in Strip and Kill, it is the final scene, which is a bit of a let-down after we’ve just watched a film that included car chases, foot chases, a big fight in a cemetery, various fights along the road, high speed car chases, and all of the good stuff you expect from a movie with a title like Strip and Kill. But all things considered, Strip and Kill generates more than enough goodwill to make up for the final scene of our lovable rascal surrendering tot he police and expounding on their virtues. After all, you can see him turning the whole thing into a taunt for the opening scene of the next film. Alas, neither Suzy nor Yildirim Gencer, who plays Kilink, would return for subsequent Kilink films. In a dizzying case of the metas, Kilink would become victim to the rip-off culture it itself was part of.
MANDRAKE VS. KILINK
Cast: Güven Erte, Mine Mutlu, Sadettin Düzgün, Hilal Esen, Mustafa Dik, Derya Tanyeli, Cemil Sayin, Meltem Mete, Bircan Bingül, Semra Sine, Dilek Adadan, Nevzat Akben, Natilda Daner, Nadya Daner, M. Erhan, Tansu Sayin, Ayla Kaya.
Director: Oksal Pekmezoglu.
Screenplay: Vecdi Uygun.
Cinematography: Nedim Akanlar.
Original Title: Sihirbazlar Kralı Mandrake Kiling’in Peşinde
There is some sort of lazy justice in the fact that Kilink, the Turkish rip-off of Killing who was a rip-off of Kriminal, would inspire an even greater number of rip-offs ripping off the rip-off. Director Yilmaz Atadeniz and star Yildirim Gencer’s four original Kilink films (the aforementioned Kilink Istanbul’da, Kilink Ucan Adam Karsi, Kilink: Strip and Kill and a fourth film, Kilink: King of Criminals, which is presumed lost), all made and released in rapid succession in 1967, inspired at least six other Kilink films all made by different producers. Çetin İnanç was probably the highest profile name to get in on the Kilink game, releasing Kilink Canilere Karşı. İnanç was a filmmaker of immense popularity who was behind some of the best Turkish pulp films of the 1960s and ’70s. Filmographies for Turkish directors can often be incomplete, but it would seem based on existing lists that Kilink Canilere Karşı was the first feature film from the man who would go on to create such films as Iron Claw the Pirate, En Büyük Yumruk, Ölüm savasçisi, and perhaps the best-known Turkish film outside of Turkey, Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam, also known as The Man Who Saved the World but perhaps better known simply as “Turkish Star Wars” on account of its liberal pilfering of special effects shots and music. It’s a shame that İnanç’s Kilink film is presumed lost, as it doubtless would showcase the director’s penchant for over-the-top action and stunts and because it stars able and willing Yildirim Gencer, back under the skeleton mask for the fifth time.
Other Kilink films produced in that fecund year of 1967 include Yavuz Figenli’s Kilink Oluler Konusmaz (Kilink: The Dead Don’t Talk); Nuri Akıncı’s tempting-looking Kilink Frankestayn ve Dr no’ya karsi (Kilink vs. Frankenstein); Natuk Baytan’s less tempting-looking Saskin Hafiye Kilink’e karsi (Silly Detective vs. Kilink); and Aram Gülyüz’s much sought-after Dişi Kilink, which gender-swaps Kilink into a busty female in a bikini. Alas, given the Turkish film industry’s tendency to regard film as disposable and not worth preserving (an attitude that was hardly unique, even in 1967) and the fact that many of these films were produced for small, regional markets, all of them are considered lost films, or at the best, missing in action. Every now and then, however, one of them turns up in the basement of a Greek television station or an Argentinian grandmother’s attic or some such place. Such was the case with one of the final Kilink films of 1967: Sihirbazlar Kralı Mandrake Kiling’in Peşinde, also known as Mandrake vs. Kilink, courtesy of illustrator/opening credits designer Oksal Pekmezoglu.
Mandrake the Magician was one of the early crop of comic strip heroes to appear in American newspapers in the 1930s, created by St. Louis native Lee Falk and debuting in print on June 11, 1934, nearly two years before the debut of Falk’s most enduring and famous creation, The Phantom (who appeared from time to time in Turkish films, such as Kizil Maske; how did Kilink never throw down against the Phantom?). His early biography highlighted the years he spent traveling through the “mysterious East,” studying with mystics and swamis. It was all as authentic as Theda Bara’s biography. Falk had never set foot outside of the United States. In fact, until he traveled to New York to pursue a career in the comics, he’d never really even set foot outside of St. Louis, though once he’d established himself as one of the most successful comic strip artists of the 1930s, he did his best to make good on the boast, becoming a seasoned world traveler though, as far as anyone knows, never penetrating the secret societies and cults of India and “the Orient.”
Mandrake was directly inspired by Falk’s fascination with stage magicians and is considered by many to be the first superhero of modern comics (Superman didn’t debut until 1938; Batman in 1939; and Captain America didn’t punch Hitler in the face until December 20, 1940). Mandrake’s primary power was the ability to hypnotize anyone almost instantly, causing them to see illusions and other phantoms convenient to the foiling of crime. He was also also armed with an array of magical implements, including his wand, cape, and top hat, that possessed sundry properties. Setting the mold for many superheroes to come (and perhaps following the mold of precursors like pulp anti-hero the Spider, who first appeared 1933), Mandrake worked at a day job (stage magician, naturally) when he wasn’t off fighting crime, and he lived in a high-tech superhero lair (in this case, a magnificent estate in the mountains of upstate New York). And like any long-running superhero, his powers evolved and expanded over the years. By the 1960s, the do-gooder magician had been known to levitate, turn invisible, teleport, and shape shift. Curiously, other than a serial released in 1939, Mandrake never made it to the big screen…except in Turkey.
Mandrake vs. Kilink begins with a scantily-clad woman fleeing from a gang of slowly meandering assailants. She eventually runs into a mysterious man in a trench coat whom she beseeches for help. He helps her by gunning her down and then chastising the gang for letting her escape in the first place. Then the opening credits play over the image of her lifeless corpse. And play. And play. For a film that clocks in at under an hour and was made on the cheap even by the standards of Turkish cult cinema in the 1960s, Mandrake vs. Kilink has an awful lot it wants to tell you about who made it (when you remember that director Oksal Pekmezoglu was also a credits sequence designer, the length of this opening — though not their unimaginative nature — becomes easier to understand). Once the Lawrence of Arabia of Turkish skeleton guy movie credits finally wrap up, the film moves on to the arrival of a plane filled with VIPs, among them Mandrake himself (Güven Erte) as well as an Indian princess, played by Turkish cult cinema mainstay Mine Mutlu (who appeared in, among others, Yilmaz Atadeniz’s Yilmayan seytan, aka The Deathless Devil).
Mandrake is on holiday with his faithful sidekicks Abdullah (aka Lothar, if you are a fan of the comics, and played by a guy in full-body jet black body paint) and Bircan (Hilal Esen). The princess attracts the attention of a nefarious looking gang who have all carved a gory “K” into their faces, just in case the police ever need something to fill in on the “Distinguishing Marks” part of their arrest form. It certainly outdoes the previous henchmen, who just wore those billowing satin “Kilink brand” sultan shirts. The princess also attracts the attention of Mandrake, who in turn attracts her attention, and the two engage in a bit of light-hearted flirtation that culminates in Mandrake playfully teleporting her priceless tiara into his own room, replacing it with a note informing her that she can swing by and pick it up in the morning.
Unfortunately for Mandrake, his mystical prank backfires when Kilink sneaks into the princess’ room and finds the note first. Mandrake might have a lot of amazing powers, but waking up while a grown man in a skeleton suit pokes around in his hotel room isn’t among them. Kilink absconds with the treasure and leaves a taunting note of his own for Mandrake. Although breaking into Mandrake’s hotel room and leaving him a dickish note is the sort of behavior we’ve come to expect from Kilink based on the other movies, this version quickly moves into much more villainous, unsavory territory than Atadeniz’s Kilink. Kilink’s day job is running a sex slave ring and brothel where kidnapped women are routinely raped and forced into prostitution. This is a much grimmer, horrific version of Kilink than the one that just liked to party, slap a few asses, and kidnap the occasional daughter of a scientist, whom he would menace but not actually, you know, rape.
Despite the soon-to-be revealed ludicrous comic book powers of Mandrake, Kilink and his gang operate more like straight-up human traffickers, albeit with a leader who likes to occasionally don a skeleton-motif bodystocking. And “occasionally” is the truth. Unlike previous incarnations of the character, this Kilink (played by handsome Sadettin Düzgün — maybe it was his idea not to hide that dreamy mug) unmasks frequently (much like Kriminal in the Italian films) and only dons the signature skeleton wear when burgling or when it actively detracts from what he is attempting to accomplish. For example, he walks around in regular clothes for much of the beginning of the film, but when it comes time to kidnap someone by posing as a cab driver, he wears his full skeleton suit and mask but “disguises” himself by wearing a knit cap and Macintosh.
This Kilink is also more more explicit in his own personal fetishes, with the scars across his back signifying that he enjoys receiving the occasional whipping session as much as he gives, and plays at least at times the submissive to his blonde girlfriend in a relationship pretty overtly colored with sadomasochism. In this regard, and despite the fantastical powers manifested by Mandrake, Mandrake vs. Kilink is a much more faithful adaptation of the photo-novel character Killing than was the Kilink of the Yilmaz Atadeniz films with his hopelessly absurd plans for world domination and his inability to concentrate on anything other than his living room full of strippers. No, this Kilink is mean, repugnant, and truly lives up to the sadistic portion of his description. Less so the super criminal portion, but that’s what happens when an eccentric but otherwise human rapist/thief/pimp choses to tangle with a magician who has actual supernatural powers.
Said powers mostly manifest as Mandrake’s ability to teleport or transmogrify items, a power which he uses not only to impishly “steal” the princess’ tiara but also to perform such feats as escaping from chains, stealing motorcycles and replacing them with bicycles (which leads to a pointless but amazing scene of Mandrake and Abdullah tearing down the highway while standing up on the motorcycles), and, at one point, turning Kilink into a dog. Kilink never seems much of a match for Mandrake, even when he has the wizard in chains. And unlike Adam Karsi/Superhero, who often seemed to forget that he could fly, had super strength, and was impervious to bullets, Mandrake never misses a chance to use his powers. Alas, one of his powers isn’t performing well in fight scenes. There are a few and, while they are executed with all the reckless abandon and energy one expects from turkish action cinema of this vintage, they’re not very good. The Atadeniz films had the benefit of Yildirim Gencer performing under the skeleton suit, and Gencer was an accomplished stuntman. No one in Mandrake vs. Kilink is able to operate on the same level, and so the fights take on more of a slapstick comedy atmosphere. As bad as actor Guven Erte may be in the action scenes, he fares better than he does in the acting scenes. Erte’s reacts to pretty much everything by not reacting at all. Flirting with a pretty Indian princess? Discovering a corpse in the closet? Being whipped by a henchman? Guven Erte handles these and all other situations with neutral-faced stoicism. Sure, as a wizard superhero, he’s probably seen it all, but even then, you’d think something would elicit a reaction at some point.
This is especially detrimental to the film since, at only 55 minutes long, Kilink doesn’t appear (at least in his skeleton outfit) until the 20 minute mark, leaving the bulk of the film in the hands of Erte’s Mandrake, Mutlu’s princess, Abdullah (who spends every second of his screen time mugging for the camera and doing the typical too-hearty laugh), and Kilink’s gang, anchored by the treacherous Mustapha (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Batman’s Joker) and Salma, the latest in Kilink’s long line of blonde bombshell femme fatales. When Kilink finally skulks into the film, he gives a pretty good performance that delves deeper (without being deep) into the warped psyche of a man who enjoys dressing up in skeleton pajamas and being whipped. He also performs better during the film’s action scenes, at one point even swinging around an ax while shirtless and still wearing his Kilink tights.
Tansu Sayin, who plays gunmoll Salma, was also no stranger to Turkish pop cinema, having appeared in Kilink: Strip and Kill, Demir Pençe Casuslar Savaşı, and a couple Zorro films. As the chief femme fatale, her job is mostly to point guns at people, nod approvingly at Kilink’s cruel tortures, and get jealous when it seems like Kilink might be developing the hots for the princess. But the real prize for this cast goes to head henchman Mustapha, whose pale face, macabre grin, twitchy demeanor, and massive facial scar hint at a character far more disturbed than even the boss.
In its present, and likely only remaining, form, Mandrake vs. Kilink is less than hour long. There is obvious damage to the print and some crude splicing in places, and records of the time show that censors demanded several cuts to the film to remove material even more salacious than what’s been left in. Whether an “uncut” print ever existed anywhere but in what was submitted to the censors was ever released, I am uncertain. And it’s likely that even if a longer cut was released, nothing better than the 55 minute version will ever be found. Well, at least we have that. Although Mandrake vs. Kilink doesn’t live up to the high-energy lunacy of the Yilmaz Atadeniz films, it doesn’t stick around long enough to wear out its welcome. That it delves into seedier territory and makes Kilink an overt sex trafficker means some of the fun of the other films doesn’t come through in this one, but the Mandrake stuff is so absurd, and the film so gleefully daft, that it still possesses enough charm to get by. It gets weird, and not just because it lingers on Kilink’s sadomasochism, and not just because it’s about a super-criminal in a skeleton suit fighting a powerful wizard.
There are moments, sometimes fleeting, that elevate the film into the realm of the surreal. Why, for example, do Mandrake and Abdullah insist on riding their stolen motorcycles while standing up on the seats (because it looks cool). Why, toward the end of the film, is there suddenly a Bollywood musical number, complete with the Princess and Mandrake frolicking at the beach as they sing a decidedly Indian song? Were they hoping for some sort of crossover appeal? A Bollywood Kilink film — now that would have been something to see. Alas, we never got to see Dharmendra facing off against the diabolical super-criminal, though he did once fight Fantômas.
Alas, there were no additional Kriminal films. Brightly colored comic book movies had just about run their course, and after Mario Bava put the exclamation point on the genre in the form of Danger: Diabolik, there just wasn’t much point to continuing to dabble. Indeed the entire Eurospy genre, of which these films were a tangential part, was winding down, making way for Spaghetti westerns and, eventually, the grim cops and robbers films of the 1970s. Kilink continued to pop up in Turkish cult cinema well into the 1970s, even though Turkey followed Italy’s lead and moved away from costumed super-criminals and toward more down-to-earth cops and gangsters films. Among these were Special Squad Shoots on Sight and Four for All, two Turkish-Italian co-productions directed by Yilmaz Atadeniz and Giulio Giuseppe Negri and starring Superhero himself, Irfan Atasoy, alongside Italian cult cinema mainstays like Gordon Mitchell and Richard Harrison (who himself starred in many Umberto Lenzi films).There were still a few freewheelin’ spy classics to come, but more and more, the sharp suits and wild costumes were being retired in favor of roll-neck sweaters, brown corduroy bellbottoms, and thick mustaches. But rest assured, dead though you may think these madmen, it’s only a matter of time before you hear maniacal laughter ringing out and turn around to see, to your astonished horror, a man in a skeleton suit standing on top of a parking garage, arms akimbo, ready to do some more crimes.