Murder Rock: Dancing Death

You gotta grit your teeth and dance
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1984
Director: 
Lucio Fulci
Starring: 
Olga Karlatos, Ray Lovelock, Claudio Cassinelli, Cosimo Cinieri
The Setup: 
Series of murders at Manhattan dance school
Discussion: 

Sorry for the downtime, folks, and thanks for sticking with me! We're back with this Lucio Fulci film, which is an attempt to ride the coattails of Flashdance, centering its story around a series of murders in a Manhattan dance school. The dancing's not fun, the murders aren't scary or exciting, the story seems to have ben made up as it goes along, and it's just a dreary mess.

So having swung back toward Gialli with The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and then the wonderful Spasmo, I found this appearing in "related movies" and thought: how could I have missed that? An 80s Giallo attempting to trade on the popularity of Flashdance and with a lot of goofy 80s dancing? How could you go wrong? Well, the lameness and incoherence of the movie to follow will demonstrate the numerous ways.

We open with a shot of Lower Manhattan as seen from the Brooklyn Heights promenade. This is intercut with footage of a group of dancing African-American teens, none of whom will ever appear again in the film to follow. We see some students enter the "Arts for Living Center" and then have a group of them inside executing a group dance routine that is very much of the Flashdance era. We are told that these dancers are the "Best of the Best," but unfortunately none of their dancing will contribute to that assessment. They are led by Candice, played by Olga Karlatos, best known as the one who experienced eye trauma in Zombie. She is managed by Claudio Cassinelli as Dick. He is known for his work in The Big Alligator River and Slave of the Cannibal God. This is one of those movies in which the exteriors were shot in Manhattan, but the interiors were all shot in Italy and the cast is all Italian. This film has perhaps more exterior Manhattan shots than most, but none of the people seen here seem remotely like New Yorkers.

So Candice delivers the news to the dancers that only three of them will be selected for some big break or whatever, and the rest of them will have to go into softcore like Coco from Fame. This causes a hubbub, and they all repair to the locker room, to discuss. An announcement says that the building will close in 15 minutes and at that point all doors will be locked, at which point all of the lights start slowly blinking, alternating between bright light and total blackness. Thus the illusion that this is happening anywhere within the United States is thoroughly and permanently shattered, but you go with it. A busty blonde renders herself topless and pulls out her Mickey Mouse stuffed toy and gives it a kiss, before finding herself confronted with a hand holding a chloroformed rag. She falls unconscious, and the killer pulls out a hat pin and skewers her breast with it. Those familiar with Fulci films such as The New York Ripper will not be surprised to find him trafficking in mutilation of female sexual parts, although we can thank him for being relatively discreet about it this time, compared to the breasts slit open through the nipple of New York Ripper.

The next day, all the dancers are in a tizzy. Candice has a notable line when she tells them that they've "Gotta grit their teeth and dance--even when a friend dies!" That night, one of the dancers has already made inroads to her fallback softcore routine as she performs a Flashdance-like erotic routine, complete with dripping water, in a club. She returns home to have a creepy feeling and find a still-smoking cigarette in her bathroom. Someone seems to be there, but--it's only Willie, sensitive blond dancer! They chat, then she goes into the other room to find her pet canary, alive just a moment before, impaled on a hat pin. The cigarette is smoking more than ever before, and Willie seems to have gone home without a goodbye. The dancer is once again confronted with a gloved hand holding a rag, and again is pierced through the heart. By now we're seeing a pattern, and thus hopes for the rest of the film are falling, as we see that the killer will always hold the hand with the rag up in front of the women, giving that rational person a big head start to get away, and they will all be killed by being stuck with a hat pin, not the most interesting method of death, although perhaps if you're into genital mutilation--?

We now introduce Cosimo Cinieri, the extremely intense detective with the so-thick-it's-kinda-gross beard (and I like thick beards), and who does not seem like a New Yorker for even a fleeting instant. He has an assistant who holds the dead bird in his hand and pulls out the hat pin and you're like "Ummm--Evidence!" Maybe let's not corrupt the evidence? You think? Also... apparently the killer brought along an extra hat pin to leave behind with the bird? Apparently.

Then Candice has a dream in which a man is stalking her with the hat pin in question. She then sees that guy on a billboard--he's a model! She then locates said model, and gets let into his fleabag hotel room. She snoops, then he comes home! He's drunk, but soon they've arranged a date! Yeah, I mean, when a woman goes to all the trouble of breaking into your room, why not ask her out? Meanwhile, the cops bring in Willie, sensitive blond dancer, and have some tapes that make it seem that Willie is the killer! We have some police brutality. Then, oops, Willie's not the killer. Please proceed with your movie.

SPOILERS > > >
Candice and George, the model, have a date. He comes in to the dance school, and we see that he knows some of the dancers. Suspicious! Then Dick is jealous, but Candice says he wouldn't understand what's between her and George, because "all women are just sluts to you!" to which he replies "And you think I'm wrong." Dick, by the way, has a reputation of screwing all the dancers. Candice and George have an intimate dinner, during which she confides that her own dance career was sidelined by a hit-and-run by a guy on a motorcycle. Then the Chinese fortune teller drops by, and his results say that George is the killer! Candice feels funny and excuses herself for the night, but soon they're having another date, and about to get down to it when--Candice gets a call saying that George is the killer! So she begs off again. It seems that one of the dancers he knew back in the day vanished without a trace. Candice is scared--yet intrigued!

She goes to the dance school one night to mope when--the hand with the chloroform! You might be like "About time, I was wondering if anyone else was going to get killed in this thing!" She's unconscious, the hat pin is brandished, and we pan up to see... it's her African-American assistant! SHE was the killer all along, because she's been jealous of Candice's success! Then Dick shows up and the assistant breaks down (with a great many funny anguished faces) because--she can't do it! Dick holds her and you're like "So she's in cahoots with Dick, and they're killing everyone off together?" Well no, another false alarm, the assistant isn't the killer. She just tried to kill Candice in the exact manner of the killer. I can see where it would be easy to confuse the two. Candice, apparently, just wakes up and goes about her business, because we never hear about it again.

Meanwhile one of the dancers is babysitting a wheelchair-bound girl, and they have a bit of a snit before someone arrives downstairs and--it's the killer! The dancer gets it, but the girl upstairs photographs the whole thing! Dick is caught fleeing the scene--so HE'S the killer! This is all shot at the South end of the promenade in Brooklyn Heights, and the chase concludes right next to the house made famous by The Sentinel. Then another dancer is in the locker room late enough that the lights start doing their flash-thing, alternating bright light and total blackness, and the dancer gets killed! So Dick is NOT the killer!

Then Candice is at George's house, ready to finally allow him to access her garden of delights, when she finds the hat pin and bottle of chloroform in his drawer! She is quite a snoop! She excuses herself once more, and heads to the police, while he heads to the dance school. The police have looked at approximately three of the thirty pics the wheelchair-bound girl took, and decided that they're useless. Candice tells them she found the hat pin at George's, and that he's the killer!

She then goes to the dance school, where someone puts video of all the slain dancers on multiple screens, causing Candice to freak out. No, I mean, FREAK OUT (see photo). Then George is there, and Candice sees it all now--George was the one on the motorcycle, all those years ago, who hit her and ruined her career. How she knows this is unclear, but he pulls out the hat pin, and Candice impales herself on it, because--are you ready?--SHE was the killer all along! It was CANDICE, the whole time. Forgot why. Jealousy at those young dancers, or something. Then the movie ends with a quote from John Huston (of all people?) saying "Often crime is a distorted form of human endeavor." You see, this movie has an insightful message about humanity. I've really learned so much.
< < < SPOILERS END

Well, it was crap. Not one of the better Giallos, and not very fun. The dancing, which had raised hopes, is not very amusing, and there's not very much of it. When there is dancing it is invariably accompanied by this one awful Italian disco song about "paranoia" which becomes annoying fast. It seems to be the only song the dance school has access to. Then the murders are not fun, nor scary, and a hat pin is not the most fear-inducing of weapons. Then things are just confusing--the killer brought an extra hat pin to leave in the bird? How many hat pins are there? And then having everyone seem to be the killer at one or another point seems to be an attempt to create wide, it-could-be-anyone suspicion, but just ends up coming across like the movie has no clue what's happening, and is throwing anything out there. Like the one person we caught trying to kill someone with the chloroform and hat pin... yet they're not the killer. It's just a hazy mess.

I don't have unpleasant memories of it, and it was still somewhat engrossing, but if I had it all to do over again, I probably wouldn't.

Should you watch it: 

Probably not.