Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Murder Rock (1984)

AKA Slashdance
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Olga Karlotos, Maria Vittoria Tolazzi, Gerette Geretta
Rated R

"You've got to grit your teeth and dance, even when you're friends die!"

The work of Italian splatter-master Lucio Fulci has been praised, critiqued, damned and dissected for decades thanks to the enduring cult appeal of gut-spillers like Zombie (1979), Gates of Hell (1980), The Beyond (1981), and the notorious New York Ripper (1982). But like many Italian directors, Fulci was incredibly prolific, and he dipped his toes into many different genres over his five-decade career, from spy thrillers to post-apocalyptic gladiator romps. He also helmed his share of giallos, as well, including this high 80's pseudo-slasher, a sort of spandex-packed Suspiria-lite that plays like a jazzercize-y workout video with bonus boobs and bloodshed. While it is certainly not the grue-stained maestro's best work, this restrained little whodunit does show a more mature side to Fulci, especially given his  proclivity for show-stopping ultra-violence. But how well does ol' Lucio wear maturity? Let's find out.

 One of Murder Rocks's most dominant traits is its godawful soundtrack, composed by Keith Emerson - a long way from ELP - and performed by Emerson and a caterwauling singer named Doreen Carter. The titles are a good indication to the banality of the songs - "Tonight is the Night", "You Are Not Alone Tonight", "Not So Innocent", etc.Ick. Emerson manages to squeeze out two of these disco/AOR/synth-rock mashups within the first ten or so minutes of the movie. At least the second song is accompanied by girls in leotards.
  The film takes place at a prestigious New York City ballet school, where a clutch of overachieving dance students are up for a career-making spot in some Broadway-bound dance revue. Only three of the eight (or so, I lost count) girls are getting picked for the show, so there's a major rivalry going on. Like in Fame. At the same time, a killer is on the loose.

 Said killer finds one of the girls, Susan (Angela Lemerman), in the shower (right before she's running around in the killer combination of leg warmers and nothing else) and, after chloroforming her, sticks a bejeweled pin through her boob and stabs her right through the heart.

 Seen-it-all detective Borges (Cosimo Cinieri) is summoned to investigate, while the rest of the troupe attempts to carry on without their fellow student.

Another student, Janice (Carla Buzzanca), does an awesome Flashdance rip-off routine at what looks like a piano bar.

 The camera mostly focuses on her vagina, which is nice. Afterwards she goes home and finds Susan's boyfriend Will (Christian Borromeo) lurking around.  But then he vanishes, and somebody stabs her canary to death. And then she gets snuffed, too.

 Borges continues his investigation. "Could it be a paranoid who hates dancers?" He muses. Don't all paranoids hate dancers?

 Dance coach/potential victim number 3 Candace (Olga Karlotos) has a dream about a dude chasing her around and sticking her with her pins. She sees the dude on a billboard, figures out who he is - he's an actor/model named George (Ray Lovelock) - and goes to visit him at a flophouse. He spooks her when he stumbles in the room drunk, and she splits, leaving her purse. Seems random, but it makes sense later.  Meanwhile, Det Borges visits the boys in the lab, who tell him they've got the killer's voice on tape, since he's been calling and taunting them, ala Zodiac. So that's happening.

Candace calls George, and he brings her purse back. Then they have lunch together. Chemistry! Borges drags the gay kid in the dance troupe in, and after slapping him around, he confesses to the murders, even though it wasn't really him. He just made the phonecalls to get famous. Seems viable.

 Meanwhile, Candace and George get it on. He comes by to see her at the school, and one of the students, Gloria, (Belinda Busato) runs up to him and makes-out with him. So that was weird.

 He tells Candace that he and Gloria used to model together. If that's not weird enough, a Chinese fortune teller calls George a murderer, and later that evening, Candace's agent calls her and tells her that once, a few years back, George was banging an underage girl and she died mysteriously soon after. So things aren't looking good for George.

And then Candace almost gets the pin-death courtesy her co-coach Margie (the awesomely named Gerreta Geretta), who hates her. She figured she'd copycat the killer, and no one would expect. But it turns out she doesn't have it in her.

And then another dancer, Jill (Maria Vittoria Tollazi), gets it! But her paralyzed little sister takes photos. So there's a clue involved.

 And then Gloria - who's the last girl-dancer left -  rides to school on her bike, while wearing a fur coat. Classy! Meanwhile, the boys at the lab develop the kid's pics, but all they get is the killer's torso. Not too helpful.

 And then Jill's brother Bob yells at Gloria for being a whore, and then limps away. Seconds later, she gets the booby-pin.

 So then only Candace and George are left. So it's got to be one of them. And it is!

There's a couple of red herrings tossed into the mix here, but the motive for all the killing is fairly obvious, and there's not enough suspects to keep you guessing, so the mystery quotient of Murder Rock is pretty thin. Also, unlike the majority of Fulci's horror films, there's no real gore and very little bloodshed. Nudity is minimal as well. So what's left? Well, pretty girls. And dancing. There's plenty of dancing. Dancing and Keith Emerson's awful giallo-jams. That may be enough for Fulci obsessives, but sleaze-beasts looking for a primo spandex-slasher will want to skip this tepid workout and head straight for the sleazy, sexed-up Killer Workout instead.

- Ken McIntyre

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