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Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

Killer Workout

(1987)
Valerie, a model with a promising career, heads out to the local fitness club to use their sun-tanning bed. She needs to look her best for her Cosmopolitan Magazine cover shoot. Alas, Valerie’s visit will end in tragedy when the machine malfunctions, burning her to death. Despite Valerie’s death being a public relations nightmare, things are back up and running at the club with the iron-fisted Rhonda (Marci Karr) in charge. But tragedy is lurking just around the corner when another club member is found stabbed to death. Enter Lieutenant Morgan (David James Campbell), the cop on the case. Tasked with solving the crimes, he’s in for more than he expected as the body count rises. Who’s behind the grizzly (sic) slayings? What’s their motive? And, who will be the next victim? (From Slasher // Video’s official synopsis)

David A. Prior’s Killer Workout, aka: Aerobicide, is an entry in the short-lived ‘fitness spa horror’ boom of the mid ‘80s, which included movies like Lloyd Kaufman & Michael Herz’ The Toxic Avenger (1984), Lucio Fulci’s Murder Rock (aka: Dancing Death, 1984), and Michael Fischa’s  Death Spa (shot in 85-’86, released in ’88-’89). Prior’s original claim to fame was the director of Sledgehammer (1983), the first shot-on-video (SOV) slasher movie. Sledgehammer is a paragon of the junky SOV movement, embodying every great and horrible thing these movies had to offer. Killer Workout is not a very good movie, but as Prior’s second attempt at the slasher tradition and the improvement is downright astonishing (though it’s difficult not to improve on Sledgehammer). His instincts are impeccable enough that Killer Workout could even be confused with a ‘real’ movie! Despite a number of neophytic errors, he makes really interesting choices, some of which I’m not sure were intended, others that may have been achieved via the necessity of zero-budget filmmaking.

The aerobic workout sequences are highlights, not only because they’re an excuse to blare pop music over bouncing breasts and gyrating crotches, but the camera movements and rhythmic editing are kind of exhilarating. The murder sequences are respectably moody, verging on spooky. Sadly, though bloody, none of the kills are particularly gory, seemingly because prosthetic effects cost a lot more money than blood packets. Prior also loses points for not using the gym’s equipment to its full slasher killer potential. The amateurism comes into play where exposition is concerned. Most of the actors have been hired for their physiques, dance moves, and willingness to be nude before the camera, not for their innate performance abilities (some of them are caught looking straight into camera on a couple of occasions). Prior’s script doesn’t do much to challenge them as Killer Workout is a sort of like a softcore porno that keeps getting interrupted by murders and elaborate fist fights (don’t get your hopes up, the interruptions are steady enough that hardly anyone ever gets to first base, let alone home plate). The plot and dialogue is exactly as integral as that description would imply. Still, I enjoyed Killer Workout. At least it isn’t boring.

Funnily enough, Prior appears to be paying homage to his health spa horror brethren on multiple occasions. The killer’s weapon of choice, a giant safety pin, practically matches that of the metal needle killer in Fulci’s Murder Rock) and, at one point, teenage vandals spray paint ‘Death Spa’ on the window of Rhonda’s gym. In addition, Prior makes time to show the film’s hero cleaning the locker room floor, including a lingering close-up on his mop, which may be a nod to The Toxic Avenger.

Some of Slasher // Video’s November output (which was held back from September) has been culled from less than ideal sources. Some of these movies, like John Wintergate’s Boardinghouse and Nick Millard’s Cemetery Sisters, were actually shot on video, meaning that they couldn’t possibly meet even the modest standards of a DVD release. However, other films, Killer Workout included, were shot using traditional film. This Blu-ray comes with a disclaimer that this 1.33:1, 1080p transfer was remastered from a PAL Betacam SP tape. That is a full possible resolution of 720x576 (PAL is slightly higher than NTSC) and a 90 Mbit/s bitrate. The short version of this review would read: ‘Nice effort, guys.’ I’ll admit that I’m impressed by how much detail they were able to wring from the source material. Some of the close-up textures approach my expectations of an HD release and I’ve honestly seen worse from companies that were supposedly working from film sources. But, this is still clearly a magnetic tape source transfer. Besides a number of artefacts (aliasing, interlacing, wobble, and even tracking errors), there are major dips in quality, most consistently during outdoor sequences, where the lighting was out of the filmmaker’s control (these would probably look like junk, even from a film source). Colours are strong, thanks to Prior and cinematographer Peter Bonilla are so happy to embrace the neon and pastel extremes of the mid-’80s era (chroma noise is an expected side effect of the tape-based format). Someone appears to have adjusted gamma levels to ensure that contrast is relatively dynamic. There are a couple jagged panning shots and super-annoying strobing effects that are probably the result of working from a PAL source, as I’ve seen similar artefacts on NTSC-to-PAL conversion DVDs.

I wish I had access to DVD copies of these three releases so I could compare them to their Blu-ray counterparts, because, despite the large file sizes, I suspect that the resolution is basically the same.

Beta SP is capable of 48KHz PCM audio quality and this DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track squeezes every ounce of that sound from the source material. Volume levels are low and inconsistent. The flatness of the dialogue and incidental effects is constantly at war with the rounder and louder qualities of the music. The results are sort of akin to trying to eavesdrop on a conversation directly after getting off of an airplane when your ears haven’t popped. Needless to say, this ‘listening through fluid’ sound is kind of annoying. The electronic score and the nearly one dozen pop tunes (all from groups you’ve never heard of, like The Lost Playboy Club and Pebbles Phillips) are CD quality. The PAL speed-up issue crops up a couple of times and is most obvious when a song suddenly changes pace and pitch.

Extras include:
  • Image gallery set to the film’s soundtrack (8:30, HD) [i]Original [i]Killer Workout (instead of Arobecide) title sequence (00:40, SD)
  • Trailer


 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature


Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

Deadly Prey

(1987)
The sadistic and psychopathic Colonel Hogan (David Campbell) is a mercenary for hire who finds a benefactor in Don Michaelson (Troy Donahue), a ruthless businessman in need of skilled killers for a special assignment. It’s a win/win for both sides. Michaelson will finance Hogan’s training camp and Hogan will use his trained mercenaries to help out Michaelson. Hogan has the manpower. What he doesn’t have is the prey to hunt in preparation for the big day. His solution: troll the streets of Los Angeles and randomly abduct people. What Hogan didn’t count on was that one of those people would be Mike Danton (Ted Prior). Danton, a Marine with killer skills, doesn’t take too kindly to being kidnapped. (From Slasher // Video’s official synopsis)

The same year he shot Killer Workout, Prior returned to the B-action roots of his second movie, Killzone (1985), which was clearly inspired by Ted Kotcheff’s First Blood (1982). With more money in his pocket and a new First Blood sequel to draw influence from (George P. Cosmatos’ Rambo: First Blood Part II, 1985), Prior set out to make a more ambitious pseudo- Rambo entitled Deadly Prey, which he shot back to back with the female-centered Mankillers. In case the title wasn’t a clue, Prior’s screenplay is an adaptation of Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game (published in 1924). By the ‘80s, Connell’s story was already embedded in the pop-culture and, for whatever reason, had a slight resurgence throughout B-action, including Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot (aka: Escape 2000, 1982) and Robert Clouse’s Gymkata (1985). Even so, Prior’s take on the material – essentially B-list John Rambo is the Most Dangerous Game – may have inspired studio pictures, like John Woo’s Hard Target (Jean-Claude Van Damme vs. The Most Dangerous Game, 1993) and Ernest Dickerson’s Surviving the Game (the ‘urban’ Most Dangerous Game, 1994).

Deadly Prey is junk, but it does demonstrate random signs of ingenuity and creativity within the confines of its crudely constructed walls. This time, Prior can freely indulge in extended and surprisingly adept fistfights and shoot-outs. The death toll goes well into the double digits and the final victim is beaten with his own arm and then scalped. There’s also plenty of unintentional charm in the stiff deliveries of hackneyed lines, as well as some good laughs at the expense of star Ted Prior’s mullet-headed, hot-shorted appearance. Oh, and the homoerotic manner that the director shoots his own brother’s oiled and chiseled body is brimming with more delicious Freudian subtext than a thousand Rambo sequels. That said, Deadly Prey cannot be confused with a ‘real movie’ – it is the kind of do-it-yourself jumble that you’d see semi-talented high schoolers making in their backyards. Again, the dialogue-heavy sequences are the weakest moments and, because there are so many more of them, the space between action beats becomes a chore. The pacing is so terrible that, at one point, it takes Mike’s wife literally a minute and a half to explain what she saw, including an excruciating bit where she tries to recall a license plate number. Poor Cameron Mitchell is forced to ask her to repeat the digits three times. Later, she is kidnapped by the bad guys between cuts (so that she can be beaten and raped and recaptured and beaten and shot in the face – it’s actually a shockingly misogynistic movie, even by genre standards). I can’t imagine what would lead a filmmaker to keep 90 seconds of someone trying to slowly remember a license plate number, then skip a potentially suspenseful sequence. It’s the kind of insane decision that should be mulled over in film schools and critical circles for generations to come.

Like Killer Workout, Deadly Prey was not sourced from an HD Master – it was remastered from from PAL Beta SP and upconverted to BluRay and DVD specifications. As a result, this 1.33:1, 1080p transfer is more or less the same as the Killer Workout disc, meaning that those previous complaints about artefacts and resolution still apply, so go and read them again if needed. In terms of a more direct comparison, Deadly Prey falls behind in part due to its ambition. Almost the entire film is shot out in the elements, so cinematographer Stephen Ashley Blake isn’t able to hide the bitty budget behind stylized lighting rigs. The contrast becomes more difficult to moderate, the colours aren’t as vibrant, and the lack of detail is a bigger issue, because so much of the footage is shot using wide angles. Beta-to-1080p simply cannot support the business of medium shots. The full-frame aspect ratio, which worked for Killer Workout’s largely vertical compositions, looks completely wrong in this context. There is way too much headroom. The cover art claims that, unlike Killer Workout, Deadly Prey was shot on video (SOV), but I don’t think it was. Or, at least, I can’t find any verification that it was. All available information claims it was shot on film. I welcome any reader corrections in regards to this.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack is minimalist to say the least. Not only does the Beta source compress and flatten the audio, but the original sound design is already so weak (possibly the result of unusable on-set audio) that the sound falls out altogether when guns aren’t being shot and characters aren’t speaking. The lack of effects in some places seriously tricked me into thinking that I had accidentally turned off my receiver. I suppose that the dialogue is a bit more consistent this time, but it’s still awfully muffled. The electronic score is credited to Tim Heintz, Tim James, and Steven McClintock. The volume and clarity of their music isn’t as punchy as the Killer Workout disc, making me think that Slasher/Olive had access to separate musical tracks in that case (maybe there was a Killer Workout soundtrack release planned?).

Extras include:
  • Image gallery set to the film’s soundtrack (6:40, HD)
  • Dubbed Prey (6:10, SD) – Clips from a Spanish language version of the film
  • Interview Jack Hojohn (14:50, HD) – A short sit-down with the film’s special make-up effects tech/artist
  • Trailer
  • Outtakes (3:50, SD)


 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature


Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

Shock 'Em Dead

(1991)
Manager-on-the-rise Lindsay Roberts (Traci Lords) has a rock band in the spotlight with guitar god Angel Martin (Stephen Quadros) as its newest member. Lindsay and the band are on the road to success. But all is not as it seems. Angel, as it turns out, has made a pact with the dark forces to make him a rock star, having quite literally sold his soul for his talent. But there’s a catch: fame and fortune come at a price. In order to sustain his talent, Angel must feed on the souls of others. Lindsay’s growing attraction to Angel soon turns to fear as she finds herself pulled further and further into a terrifying world of unspeakable evil. (From Slasher // Video’s official synopsis)

Mark Freed’s Shock ‘Em Dead (aka: Rock ‘Em Dead) belongs in the company of a short-lived (though not completely dead) horror subgenre often known as rock ‘n roll horror. These films proliferated during the latter part of the ‘80s. In just over a year, fans had half a dozen satanic, soul-selling, heavy metal movies to choose from, including Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat (1985), John Fasano’s Rock n Roll Nightmare (1987), John Fasano’s Black Roses (1988), Dimitri Logothetis Slaughterhouse Rock (1988), and, at the very bottom of the already deep barrel, Freed’s film. If Trick or Treat is the progenitor of the heavy metal Faust revolution (complete with endorsements by actual metal performers Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons), Shock ‘Em Dead is its made-for-TV equivalent.

There’s plenty of gratuitous nudity, naughty language, and even a bit of violence (the lack of real gore is disappointing), but all of Freed’s lopped-off camera, lax editing, and even title font are straight out of the early ‘90s sitcom playbook. And not the ‘good’ ‘90s sitcom playbook – he borrows filmmaking techniques from Saturday morning, kid-friendly equivalent. Picture a very special Saved by the Bell episode, as produced by Troma, for broadcast on late nite Cinemax and you get the jest. The dull images are counteracted by woefully over-the-top performances and scatological jokes that might give Lloyd Kaufman pause. Seriously, a young Traci Lords, who was coming off of a John Waters film at the time, is the film’s stoic and professional center. Still, just because I don’t personally appreciate this brand of camp, doesn’t mean it is an objectively bad movie. As a director, Freed makes lazy choices, but Shock ‘Em Dead isn’t a free-floating blob that bides time between set-pieces. He keeps the jokes, boobs, and general goofiness coming strong and fast without ever betraying his initial tone or intent. It achieves exactly what it sets out to do within the confines of the purposefully silly premise.

A further glance at Freed’s career reveals interesting ties to a series of instructional guitar videos known as Star Licks. Some readers may remember a notoriously cheesy entry in the series entitled ‘Speed Kills,’ starring a speed metal virtuoso Michael Angelo Batio, who did impossibly impractical fetes, like playing two guitars at once or the ‘over/under’ technique, where he flips his hand around either side of the neck during a finger-tapping run. It turns out that Freed, who only directed one other movie his entire career ( Lovers and Liars, 1998), was a founding member of Star Licks. Besides contributing songs to Shock ‘Em Dead’s soundtrack (along with Star Licks co-founder Robert Decker), Freed exploited his relationship with Batio to use the virtuoso as star Stephen Quadros’ guitar solo double (along with Dave Celentano). This fact is abundantly and amusingly clear, because the filmmakers didn’t bother to match the footage.

According to an interview in the special features on this disc, Shock ‘Em Dead was shot on 35mm film, but, because they knew it would be going straight-to-video, they decided to scan the footage and edit on video. Freed claims that the 35mm prints were lost. So then, this Blu-ray was sourced, remastered, and upconverted from ‘1" Tape,’ which I assume means Type A, B, or C reel-to-reel analog tape. It’s another magnetic format, not film-based, but Type C has a high enough resolution that it was used for mastering early LaserDisc titles. I think that ‘LaserDisc quality’ is an apt descriptor of this 1.33:1, 1080p transfer, though the overall effect is basically the same as the two PAL Beta releases. There are still loads of analogue tape artefacts (I didn’t notice any tracking effects this time), detail is soft, edges dance with noise (some scenes are caked in white haloes). The lavender, red, and green lighting gels, coupled with fluorescent spandex, gives the transfer plenty to do in terms of colour, though chroma noise/bleeding is still a huge problem.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo soundtrack is terribly mixed. There’s no aural continuity in the sound effects or performances. Location noise (wind, traffic, sometimes particularly noisy jewelry) overwhelms some dialogue and, even when the words are clear, the stereo spread pulls them into the right or left channel. The added effects are often tinny and occasionally echoey. The music fares better, thankfully, given that it is a central element in the film, but is also very inconsistent.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with director Mark Freed and associate producer Martin LePeur (he isn’t credited anywhere, so I have no idea how to spell his name?) – This info-packed commentary makes no illusions to the film’s quality, but the commentators don’t waste too much time with false modesty. It’s all very down-to-business, including verification that Shock ‘Em Dead is a heavy metal, T&A horror comedy, because they approached four different producers, each of whom told them to make a different kind of movie. There’s also a lot of casting info, tales of union woes, and even some Michael Angelo Batio stories (though Freed doesn’t talk about Star Licks very much). Unfortunately, energy levels begin running low around the one hour mark and never really pick back up again.
  • Interview with Freed (4:50, HD) – This newly recorded interview with the co-writer/director has slight overlap with the commentary, but also features new information (like the fact that they did shoot on film).
  • Cast reunion 2015 (23:00, HD) – A round table (round couch) with co-writer Dave Tedder, guitar doubler Dave Celentano, and actors Stephen Quadros, Laurel Wiley, Tyler Bowe, Mark Richardson, and Christopher Maleki.
  • Director's Cut (1:40, SD) – A supercut of film’s nude breasts.
  • Deleted/extended scenes (5:20, SD)
  • Actor audition tapes (6:20, SD)
  • Behind-the-scenes photo slideshow set to music from the film (8:30, HD)
  • Footage of the cast watching their audition tapes (6:20, HD)
  • Footage of the cast watching the deleted scenes (5:40, HD)
  • Poster/art gallery slideshow set to music from the film (13:40, HD)
  • Trailer (that really makes it look like a dirty episode of Saved by the Bell)


 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

 Slasher // Video Triple-Feature

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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