Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Gianfanco Clerici and Lucio Fulci
Produced by: Augusto Caminito
Reviewed by: Brett H.
ďHeís not a psycho, heís an asshole.Ē
Ah, the slasher film. Canít live with Ďem, canít live without Ďem. Iíve always had a love/hate relationship when it came to the non-franchise slashers, or more accurately ones where the killer wasnít driven by a supernatural force. Itís not that theyíre any less effective, theyíre just a whole lot less interesting. The slasher subgenre was never known for clever writing or great direction, it more or less existed as a way to make a quick buck with a few cheap scares, a splash of blood and a set of knockers or two. Plots were bland and sets were blander, really if there were two good scenes and a decent synth score, you had it made. For every great slasher, there are five mediocre ones and ten terrible pieces of crap. When I read about the Lucio Fulci slasher/giallo hybrid, Murder Rock (also titled Slashdance), it seemed like an interesting mix. If anything, Fulci could be considered over-qualified for a slasher director and his reputation for gallons of grue would ideally make for a perfect combination. Everything looks good on paper, but what matters is all in the translation.
A killer is on the loose at a dance studio in New York, knocking off beautiful dancers who are being trained by Candice Norman (Olga Karlatos). Candice had her dancing career tragically taken from her years earlier after being hit by a motorcycle and has been involved in teaching ever since as it is the next best thing. Not even a handful out of a group of dancers are going to be accepted to get their big shot while the others will have their dreams shattered after years of hard work. After a particularly hard practice, a young dancer and her boyfriend meet up in the locker room for some extracurricular activities. After making out a bit, he tells her heís going to take a shower and theyíll meet up soon to further the fun, but little does he know it will be the last time their eyes will ever meet. While she is showering, she is smothered with a cloth drenched in chloroform and stabbed through the heart with a pin after she is unconscious.
The dance studio is in an uproar after this and accusations begin to fly everywhere. The competitive nature of the auditions surely has gone to someoneís head, and after all, the victim was sure fire to make the cut. Hardnosed Lieutenant Borges (Cosimo Cinieri) is on the job and you can be damn sure heís going to sort through the river of shit to find the real culprit. Everything changes when one night Candice has a dream of a man chasing her with a hatpin, but she cannot recognize the visage. While driving one day she sees a billboard with a man on it that looks identical to the person in her dream and she seeks him out. He turns out to be George Webb (Ray Lovelock), a washed up actor/model who appears to be anything but a killer. As girl after girl make their trips to the morgue, fewer and fewer suspects are left. With everyone a suspect, the real question is who Lieutenant Borges will pin the label of murderer on?
I would love nothing more than to say to you with a smile that Lucio Fulci did it again and brought forth another masterpiece. I would like to tell you that, but such is not the case; itís close to cheesy slasher awesomeness, but it falls just short of the finish line. Murder Rock is by no means a bad film and isnít a bad slasher, but it fits into the category of ďfive mediocre onesĒ that I referenced in the intro. Itís not boring by any stretch of the imagination, the mere fact that anyone (or multiple persons) could be the killer definitely keeps things flowing as you are always trying to figure out whodunit. Fulci constantly teases the viewer with false leads that are pretty intelligent and even lays the killer right there on the line for anyone keen enough to pick up on it, and I love it when the director does that and still fools you. One could make a case that any person featured in the entire film could be the killer and that is what makes it worth your while. There is only one character that Iíd have never suspected. While it would have been more of a shock, it would have made the killer very generic, a quality that is thankfully not present in Murder Rock. The ending is definitely worth it and it at least makes you think, ďoh, yeah!Ē on the question of whodunit rather than pulling a rabbit out of its ass and giving you a killer for some lame reason with no thought put into tying together facts from scenes and the killer.
The mystery aspect is definitely well done, but the film lacks in other departments. Typical for a slasher, the characters are pretty bland and although you donít hate them, you really couldnít care less of their fate. Normally this is acceptable, but the problem is you donít even get any gratification when they are offíd. The film is nearly completely bloodless and since the victims are out cold before the pin goes in, there is very little struggle. Picture the total opposite of the last time Fulci had a slasher roaming the Big Apple (The New York Ripper) and you get Murder Rock; it's all cheese, little sleaze. With more blood and guts combined with the already great mystery, this could have been a much better film. Then thereís the 80s dancing you have to contend with, itís really a shame they didnít stick with Slashdance (a play on Flashdance, if you live in a cave) as the title on the DVD because it is not only catchy, but the most accurate representation of the film. There is a ton of spandex and dance scenes and thankfully Fulci mostly always focuses on the finer parts of the women. Letís put it this way, when their legs are spread eagle during a dance, Fulci isnít showing their pretty eyes. The songs are cheesy fun, and although the sick Fulci touches arenít present like in his other films, there is one unique bit of foreshadowing that puts a sinister grin on your face. The lyrics to the dance song are all about delusions. ďEvery move thatís made, every night and day, paranoia is coming your wayÖĒ
Lucio Fulci does a great job with the direction as thereís plenty of interesting shots (and beautiful New York landscape) and a bunch of trademark eye zooms and itís actually chuckle inducing knowing Fulci directed scenes involving break dancing. The atmosphere goes from neon and fun to drab and shadowy at the drop of a hat, itís really quite a pleasure to look at and consists of much better atmosphere than the typical slasher. The acting is good for a film of its nature, so itís too bad the actors didnít have a bit more to work with. It takes some cues from the giallo (black gloves, police involvement), but at least the killerís identity is based on more than a flashback that is completely unreasonable, which is the bane of all too many gialli. Itís part of their charm, I guess, but it is a lot more rewarding when the identity of the killer is revealed and it actually makes sense. The best part of the movie is the automatic lights at the dance school, which are programmed to shut off at a certain time and fifteen minutes before this happens, the lights begin to blink off and on repeatedly. Along with music that sounds like a beating heart pulsating with each flicker of the lights, it induces a very uneasy but stylish feel and the kill scenes are all the better because of it, which somewhat makes up for the lack of violence.
I will admit that I donít completely dig the dancing vibe, but on the contrary I will say that I do dig the tight spandex vibe. Itís a gimmick of the time that dates the film, but for many slasher aficionados, that is probably considered a plus. There is one really good dance scene in which a hot little vixen dances indoors with fake rain pouring on her and she looks really fucking tasty. Murder Rock is full of familiar Italian faces, in addition to the obvious Karlatos and Lovelock, just about every actor is present in another Italian horror film of some sort. Youíll recognize people you donít know by name, but were in films such as Demons, The New York Ripper, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and Tenebre. The DVD is jam packed with special features as Shriek Show gives Murder Rock the double disc treatment with interviews, featurettes and a commentary with the filmís director of photography, Giuseppe Pinori aided by a moderator and more. Without a doubt the gem of the commentary is when Pinori says Argento and Fulci were friends, not rivals, with Argento delivering a ďstupendousĒ speech at Fulciís funeral. The transfer is very appealing and light years ahead of the VHS. The movie is not too far above the average, but for most slasher fans that is enough and the packed disc makes it all the more appealing. Most everything in the film is done right, but the fatal flaw of uninteresting characters combined with a lack of blood and violence prevent it from bringing it to the next level. It was a very tough call, but it needs at least one of these qualities for me to endorse a full priced purchase unless youíre completely comfortable with a lack of slice and dice. Rent it!
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