Saturday, July 11, 2009

Killer Workout (1986)

AKA Aerobicide
Directed by David A Prior
Starring Marcia Karr, Teresa Van Der Woude, Ted Prior
Rated R

Killer Workout was directed by underrated B-mogul David A. Prior, who has an amazing resume full of cheap, sleazy exploitation, including, among many others, Death Chase, Future Zone, Mardi Gras For the Devil, and Mankillers. Here he was capitalizing on the early 80's aerobics craze, kicked off by Jane Fonda's Workout in 1982. The success of Workout spawned dozens of celebrity aerobics routine tapes. Everybody from Raquel Welch to Traci Lords released one. The horror genre is notorious for capitalizing on current trends, and chicks in leotards is no exception. Given the tight confines of a gym - to say nothing of the skimpy workout clothes - it's a fairly obvious combination. Aerobics Horror was a very minor 80's micro-genre which also included Death Spa (1988) and, to a lesser extent, Murder Rock (1984). There's also a pretty incredible zombies-invade-aerobics class scene in City of the Walking Dead (1980) and a fair amount of aerobicspolitation in Toxic Avenger (1984). And lest we forget, scream queen Linnea Quigley had her very own Horror Workout in 1990. There's a smattering of other 80's slashers and exploiters that featured gym scenes as well, but thanks to its killer combination of pseudo-porn workouts, headache-making disco, horrendous acting, and over-the-top plot twists, Killer Workout is clearly the apex of the genre.

A word, before we begin about Marcia Karr. A deadringer for a slightly-less-butch Nancy McKeon, Miss Karr appeared in a treasure-trove of 80's trash, including four undisputed classics, two of 'em with B-goddess Linda Blair: Concrete Jungle (1982), Chained Heat (1983), Hardbodies (1984) and Savage Streets (1984).

Marcia always imbued her characters with a dose of furrowed-brow intensity, even if all the script asked of her was a skimpy bikini and a toothy smile. When she wasn't actually acting in video trash like Maniac Cop (1988) or W.A.R. - Women Against Rape (1987), she was working behind the scenes as a casting director or production assistant. She left the business in the late 80's, but like Prior, remains an unsung trash star. Marcia, please drop us a line so we may tell the world of your braved and noble deeds in the grindhouse trenches.

Our story begins with Valerie, a burgeoning fashion model who we only ever see from the shoulders down. Valerie is having a good day. She just found out via her answering machine that she's going to Paris to model for Vogue. She's pretty psyched about it. Her agent reminds her to get a tan before she goes, though. They don't need any mostly-ghostly chicks in Paris, man.

Dutifully, she heads over to the Second Sun tanning salon, strips down, and gets in one of the beds. She pulls it closed behind her and settles in for a UV bath. Something goes terribly wrong, however, and halfway through her tan, the bed bursts into flames and fries her alive. Thusly ends Val's modeling career.

Cut to: Rhonda's Work Out, where a bunch of super-hot 80's chicks in leotards aerobicize.

Rhonda (Karr) is running the aerobics class herself, since her flighty instructor Jamie is late.

Even worse, Jimmy the Creep (Fritz Matthews) is leering at her. She gives him the hairy eyeball, and he shuffles off, for the moment, at least.

Class is over by the time Jamie (Teresa Van Der Woude) finally arrives, but she manages to talk her way out of getting fired. She must be seriously late, because Rhonda says, "Ok, go lock up." Imagine showing up for work ten minutes before it closes? Jamie goes to work clearing out the joint, but she forgets to check the showers. There's a black chick in there still soaping up. The lights shut off, and she naturally gets freaked out. Suddenly, some fucker with a giant safety pin jumps into the shower and jams it into her neck.

Part of Jamie's closing-up duties, besides not noticing when people get stabbed to death and dragged across the floor, is to sneak into the men's locker room, open up a locker, and sniff some dude's jock strap.

Rhonda catches her, but she "Doesn't even want to know". And then, by sheer dumb luck, Jamie finds the dead black chick stuffed in a locker.

They call the cops. Detective Morgan (David James Campbell), who looks like a blonde Frankenstein and treats everyone with equal disdain, questions Rhonda and Jamie. Jamie's still sorta in shock.
"She was so pretty," Joan mumbles.
"Not anymore," quips Morgan.
Morgan tells Rhonda that the body and the murder weapon were both found in Diane Matthews' locker. So he wants to know everything about her. Rhonda says she was the quiet type. Jamie - mascara sexily smeared all over her face at this point - says that she's seen Diane at "local bars, always sitting by herself, just kinda watching the rest of us." Guilty!

The next day - despite the fact that it's still a crime scene - it's business as usual at Rhonda's. Jamie is teaching her class - it's like porn-arobics or something - and Rhonda pulls her over to yell at her. "Listen, business is bad enough as it is," she says, "So stop shaking your tits and your little ass around."
Oblivious, Jamie goes right back to shaking her tits and ass around.

Meanwhile, some jivey fucker with feathered blonde hair named Chuck(Ted Prior) rummages around Rhonda's office. She's super-pissed to find out that her senior partner in the gym hired him without asking her, but hey, what can she do? He's got a letter from the guy. Rhonda tells him to go scrub the men's bathroom, but he goes out in the parking lot instead and starts a fight with Jimmy.

He pretty much kicks Jimmy's ass and sends him home in his super-tight sweatpants. Visor-queen Debbie (Diane Copeland, Mankillers, Surf Nazis Must Die) was watching this whole manly display, and was clearly impressed
"That was rad," she says to Chuck. "You wanna go for a ride?"

This is why guys lift weights, by the way. Because they envision exactly this scenario.
Chuck hops into her convertible. Why not?
They end up hanging out in Debbie's backyard. Chuck grills Debbie for info about Jimmy. She says she dated him a couple times, but he was too grabby for her. Chuck asks is she has his address. She goes inside to fetch it, and comes out in a bikini. How can he resist? He makes out with her.

So then we follow Diane Matthews (Laurel Mock) around for a while. She really is a lonely soul. Even Mr. Fuck-anything-that-moves Jimmy snubs her, and this is after she nearly pulls out her boob for him during aerobics class.

She goes home to her empty apartment and checks to see if she has any phone messages. She does not. She does, however, get a visit - from Morgan. He bangs on her door, but she backs away in fear. Bad move, Diane. The killer is in her fuckin' house. He sneaks up behind her and jabs her to death with the needle, and then he jumps out of the window before Morgan can catch him.

Meanwhile, a bunch of teenage hoodlums are spraypainting "Death Spa" and "Aerobicide" on Rhonda's windows, but one of the kids gets nabbed by the killer, who dispatches him with the spray can, somehow. And then he slices the kid's girlfriend's throat. Debby shows up at this point - she's looking for Chuck - and she gets chased by the madman as well.

She makes it her car, but it is, after all, a convertible, so he starts stabbing right through the canvas roof. It takes him a few tries, but he eventually gets her right through the skull.

Despite all this murder and mayhem, aerobics class still bounces along at Rhonda's.

Two weightlifters get killed in rapid succession right in the gym, but at this point, it's just more kindling for the fire, so whatever. Jimmy discovers the bodies. Jamie walks in on him and screams, assuming he did it. Chuck dashes in and punches Jimmy out. Jimmy just cannot catch a break.

Meanwhile Tommy - who the fuck is Tommy? - falls asleep in the locker room and dreams that he's fucking Jamie. This affords us the change to ogle Van der Woude's delightful floppies, but then Jimmy shows up and slices her neck open, mid-coitus.

Luckily, it's all just a bad nightmare, and Morgan shakes Tommy awake. Apparently Tommy was in the room with the other dudes when they got killed. Morgan wants to question Tommy, so he tells him to stay put, and then he walks out of the room. Naturally, the killer shows up and safety pins Tommy to death. So, we really didn't get to see too much of Tommy at all.

Jimmy goes over to Rhonda's, presumably to peek in her windows, but Chuck follows him, and they have a big rake fight. Chuck loses this time and Jimmy takes off. When Chuck wakes up, he's in Rhonda's. Morgan is there too, and he tells Chuck to spill the beans. Chuck, it turns out, is a private eye, and Morgan remembers him from an old case. Chuck shows Rhonda a pile of photos. They're all snapshots of her, taken on the sly by Jimmy. Chuck found them in Jimmy's locker, and at his apartment. Chuck encourages Morgan to go find this crazy fucker.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Jamie is discovered by one the other girls swinging from a noose. Did she killer herself? Did someone kill her? Dunno, but amazingly enough, aerobics class still goes on the next day.

Holy smokes, do things go off the rails from there. First, Jimmy stabs Chuck with a knitting needle, which means he may or not actually be the killer. Than we learn a very shocking secret about Rhonda. Looking back, you can see the little crumbs Killer Workout dropped along the way to make this revelation possible, but I never really noticed. Given this new information, Morgan arrests Rhonsda, assuming she's the real murderer, but when he gets a call about the death of Chuck, he realizes he's made a mistake. Or has he?

Like any self-respecting slasher flick, there's about seven different false-ending, each one more absurd than the one before. All in all, Killer Workout is pretty classic stuff, well worth the digging it takes to find it.

Availability: Killer Workout is available on VHS.

- Ken McIntyre

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