Judge David Johnson wears leg-warmers late at night, with the shades drawn.
"You've got to grit your teeth and dance, even when a friend dies!"
Lucio Fulci, he of Zombi 2 fame, threw together this Italian slasher set in a dance studio, with a mysterious killer offing unsuspecting female dancers, righteous '70s music and enough leotards to get you beheaded in Saudi Arabia.
Facts of the Case
It's all about competition at the Arts for Living Center in New York City. Here, the most talented dancers on the planet convene to learn the craft and dance the crap out of each other. The pressure is intense and the outfits suffocating, but what soon proves to be the most lethal is the maniac running around knocking out girls with chloroform, peeling off their tops and stabbing in them heart with a needle.
Candice Norman (Olga Karlatos) is the overbearing instructor, caught in the middle of the mystery. All around her, her prized students are dying and she is powerless to do anything (except motivate her living students to focus on their routines and quit thinking about the body bag the coroner just wheeled out).
Suddenly, she starts having nightmares of a mysterious man pursuing her in a parking garage, holding a needle and ready to kill her. Could this be the murderer? Determined to reveal the identity of the killer, Olga pursues the lead, tracks down the man (Ray Lovelock) and…begins an illicit affair?!? Whatever. A few more dancers bite the dust and the killer is revealed and the end.
Murder Rock is not the movie I was expecting. After seeing Fulci's Zombi 2 and truly being wowed at the carnage he was able to drum up in that film, I was anticipating a bloodbath here. Not so. This film is a straight-arrow suspense thriller. The killings are restrained and fairly tame (once you get past the unconscious female nudity) and scenes are set up and paced to elicit suspense more than shock and disgust.
As a suspense mystery, Murder Rock is okay. Though I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed. Looking at that disc cover, with the leotard-clad girl, hunched over and screaming at some unseen malevolence had me hoping for a righteous, tongue-in-cheek horror film. Nope, the only laughs to be had here are of the inadvertent, type, to be had at the '80s chicks and their legwarmers.
The mystery itself isn't bad, and the weird inclusion of the dreamed-of maniac adds something fairly interesting. Is this guy, so vividly shown as a murderer, the perpetrator? Or is it a red herring? Fulci does a fine job in prolonging the whodunit nature of the film, and the final reveal is effective—though slightly foreseeable.
Still, it's hard for me to issue an unequivocal recommendation for Murder Rock. It's competent but not really entertaining. The drawn-out pacing is used to maximize the suspense, but the slow-going nature of the proceedings may have the opposite effect for a lot of people, and grind the momentum to a halt. It did for me. And though it's a cheap shot, the lack of gory slayings will likely hurt the film's reception further. The truth is, for a lot of these obscure, old-school foreign releases—especially something like this that seems to trumpet grisly goings-on—people expect something shocking and different. Murder Rock struck me as little more than an episode of Fame on metabolic steroids.
Media Blasters is fast becoming noteworthy distribution studio. Their treatment of this film is especially tight, with a solid 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and 2.0 stereo tracks in English and Italian that perform well. The real meat of the presentation is the wealth of extras. The set is split into two discs, with most of the bonus content placed on the second. A feature-length commentary with Giuseppe Pinori, director of photography, moderated by Federico Caddeo, is in Italian, but a subtitle track translates the interview into English. Disc two contains lots of documentaries, one highlighting Fulci, another and the others taking a look at Giuseppe Pinori and actor Ray Lovelock. Finally, a Ray Lovelock interview finishes off the extras.
A great set for a decent Italian suspense film. The movie didn't do too much for me, but props to Media Blasters for going all-out with the release.
Not guilty, because it's such a quality set. The accused is given a stern stare for Unnecessarily Getting One's Hopes Up for a Fun Italian Slasher Flick.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
• Commentary with Giuseppe Pinori, Director of Photography
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