Kilink Strip and Kill

Upon sitting down to write a review of the third film in the long-running Turkish Kilink series, I feared I had painted myself into a bit of a corner. As much as I love the Kilink films — and believe me, I love them — I didn’t know exactly what was left to say about them. Other than a couple paragraphs dedicated to recounting the basic plot of the film, there was precious little back material I could use to fill in a whole review. Kilink’s dubious history as a copyright violation of a copyright violation was covered in previous reviews. Its growth out of the Italian fumetti and fumetti-inspired films was similarly covered. Since solid information on Turkish cult cinema is difficult to find, even in the Turkish language, I wasn’t really brimming over with a wealth of material I could fall back on. And yet, I find that I am both physically and mentally incapable of not reviewing a movie called Kilink Strip and Kill in which a grown man dresses up in a skeleton themed body stocking and punches out dudes with thick Luis Tiant mustaches and black suits with white ties.

However, after finishing the movie, which I have to say is the best of the three Kilink films I’ve had a chance to see, I discovered that I was in luck, at least to some small degree, for Strip and Kill does offer up a couple topics worth exploring further. Chief among those would be the fact that Kilink begins, against the better efforts of the first two movies, to follow the same trajectory as Kriminal and Killing, the two skeleton-suit sporting Italian super-villains who quickly became celebrated anti-heroes no matter how dastardly and devious their schemes may have been.

Turkish adventure cinema was, traditionally, characterized by a very clear cut definition of good and evil. 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, the hero was going to triumph. Turkish audiences did not appreciate ambivalence, shades of grays, or the concept of the anti-hero. Although Turkish cinema often looked to the West and their roots in Europe for inspiration and source material, the Turkish preference for clear cut heroes and villains was one very much in line with the Eastern roots — specifically, the films of India, where a similar preference for explicitly drawn borders between good and evil were the order of the day.

When Kilink first found his way onto Turkish movie screens, he fit very comfortably into this mold. 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 bust 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. But 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 Kilink 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 gently 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 have been quickly dismissed. In fact, 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 Kilink Strip and Kill, there is absolutely 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 nominal protagonist this time around, and the obvious focus of the film, is Kilink.

In this sense, Kilink follows the exact same path as Killing, the Italian comic book and photo-novel character who “inspired” Kilink. Killing was, himself, a thinly veiled — or not veiled at all — rip-off of Kriminal, who was himself heavily influenced by the grand-daddy of all Italian fumetti anti-heroes, Diabolik. If Diabolik was a Cecil B. DeMille epic, and Kriminal was the lavish Dino De Laurentis copy, then Killing was the sleazy Cannon Group version of that (never mind that the Diabolik film really was a Dino De Laurentis production). Killing was a flat-out jerk. Rapist, madman, blackmailer, extortionist, not to mention prone to brandishing his pistol while women clung longingly to his leg. And yet, no matter how vile he behaved, no matter what horrifying scheme he dreamed up, Killing became if not a “good” guy, then at least an anti-hero. It would seem inevitable, then, that the same fate would befall Kilink, even given the difference in aesthetic between Turkish and other European audiences. And so, with this film, it comes to pass.

We open, as I said, 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, absolutely 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?” And I think the right 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 Blackberry 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. That said, I also started thinking about how much cooler my own conferences and meetings would be if I or someone started showing up to them wearing a black body stocking with bones painted on it. Anyway, it turns out that Kilink’s conference is actually comprised of members of a secret criminal society who all wear hoods when they gather — even though they all 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 pow-wow, but that doesn’t stop him from showing up, killing one of the criminals, and taking his place.

It seems 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 and assorted taunts. I reckon 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 as well a subplot about stolen gold that Kilink is going to want to be having for himself. The entire thing ends up with Kilink playing the good guy as he systematically dismantles and destroys the two criminal/spy rings — and by systematic, I mean he disguises himself, then a few seconds later rips off the disguise and yells “Kilink is here!” while diving off a hill and onto a group of stuntmen.

The story for Strip and Kill was apparently lifted more or less wholesale from an issue of the Killing photo-comics. 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 am I witnessing” 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 sultan 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.

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 half an hour’s worth of 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. I should also note that at no point does Kilink himself strip and kill, and the title actually represents a proper division of labor. Kilink handles the killing portion of the job, and the stripping is left to the steady procession of astoundingly 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. Luckily, this movie is full of hot, evil women, so Kilink doesn’t want for sexy dames to kill even if he’s laid off the innocent ones. Plus, he’s always got faithful Suzy and her vast array of slinky cocktail dresses and revealing bikinis by his side.

There’s precious little point to discussing the acting. The movie was dubbed in post-production, as was common for low budget films at the time, and the main character spends the entire movie in a skeleton mask. The supporting cast is on hand to look devious and/or sultry, and this they accomplish. Actor Yildirim Gencer, who plays Kilink, went on to star in a number of relatively well-known and remembered cult adventure films, including more fumetti-inspired fare like Spy Smasher, Iron Claw the Pirate, as the infamous “Turkish Superman” film Supermen Donuyor, as well as appearing in the Turkish giallo Thirsty for Love, Sex and Murder and the Cuneyt Arkin adventure Kara Murat Olum Emri. He died fairly recently, in 2005, probably before he could hear his old collaborator Yilmaz Atadeniz talking about resurrecting the Kilink franchise. Kilink’s sole reliable compatriot, Suzan Avci, is still active in Turkish cinema and television. The relationship between her and Kilink is one for the ages, not unlike the relationship between Diabolik and his woman. They seem to exist on a level beyond morality. Plus, she looks drop dead gorgeous in a bikini.

Although it represents a transitional softening of the title character, Strip and Kill is easily my favorite of the three Kilink films I’ve seen. I don’t know if subsequent films continue along the same trajectory, with Kilink as the super-cool anti-hero who foils the plans of other criminals while still finding time to befuddle whatever the Turkish version of Scotland Yard may be. There’s not much reason to mourn Kilink only killing bad guys when there are just so many bad guys on hand to kill. Strip and Kill is full of action, and I really like the move away from comic book superheroism and toward the world of espionage adventure. It suits a character like Kilink much better to be matching wits with femme fatales and guys with eyepatches and pointed goatees. With any luck, someone will manage to turn up additional films in the Kilink series, but old Turkish cult films are notoriously difficult to track down, with many of them truly being lost forever and those that are around enjoying almost no interest at all from fans in Turkey or anywhere else.

There are plenty of other Turkish films inspired by Italian fumetti heroes as well, and it seems fitting that these two halves of the former Roman empire would come together once again, centuries later, to create a body of work in which dudes in body stockings strapped Lugers to their waist, grabbed a sexy dame with one hand, and used the other to pick the pockets of both the governments and the movie-going public of the world. I know, for one, that as long as these guys and their movies are out there, I’ll keep watching.