Scrawny negro breakdancers with butt tight jeans and gaily leaping multicultural dancers in unflattering black leotards and grey sweatpants are probably the last things you would associate with the gloriously grotesque giallos of Guido ‘Godfather of Gore’ Lucio Fulci (Don't Torture a Duckling, Zombi 2 aka Zombie), but near the mid 1980s the director made one of his most shameless attempts at commercial success by attempting to jump on the Flashdance (1983) bandwagon with his shockingly kitschy Americanized retrograde giallo-musical hybrid Murder-Rock: Dancing Death (1984) aka Murderock - Uccide a passo di danza aka Giallo a disco aka The Demon Is Loose, which was sometimes released under the alternate title ‘Slashdance’ for no reason. One of Fulci’s first films following his arguably career-crashing split with his longtime collaborator, screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti (who was rather resentful that Fulci failed to let him in on the would-be-lucrative deal of working on the failed 1983 ‘sword and sandal’ Conan the Barbarian rip-off Conquest), Murder Rock was apparently forced on the director by the monetary-motivated producer, hence its absolutely horrendous score by English keyboardist Keith Emerson of the dreaded pro-rock ‘supergroup’ Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP). Unquestionably, Fulci’s somewhat misanthropic musical (virtually all the characters are bitter scumbags, including the ostensible ‘good guys’) is, upon a superficial glance, the sort of the film that you would think would appeal to preteen girls with big dreams of becoming dancers, as well as the most uncultivated of proletarian cocksuckers who like saying silly and sassy things like, “you go girl” and other forms of lisp-addled linguistic savagery but, ultimately, the film will only probably appeal to Fulci completists, nihilistic aesthetes, and decidedly demented dudes who have a special fetish for 1980s girls with big stupid poufy hair, leotards, and spandex. Out of all of Fulci's films, Murder Rock is probably the only one that would more appeal to fans of camp than Fulciphiles and gorehounds. Indeed, the film has more dancing than death and less blood than an old school Universal Horror flick, but that does not mean it is not a stereotypical dirty 1980s dago affair that seems to slightly channel the seething hatred and moral retardation of gutter auteur Andy Milligan, albeit in a flashy and rampantly heterosexual Mediterranean sort of way (who knows, maybe being in NYC ‘touched’ Fulci the same way it did to mad sadomasochist Milligan).
Penned by semi-distinguished goombah screenwriter Gianfranco Clerici (Cannibal Holocaust, Fulci’s The New York Ripper), Murder Rock is a glaringly uneven piece of deadly Dancesploitation that is easily one of the most visually pleasing films ever made as a work with ethereal dream-sequences and armies of scantily clad young blonde beauties, yet it is drastically despoiled by its audience-degrading score and lack of Fulci-esque gore. Indeed, to think that Fulci hailed from the land of Italo-disco and could have probably easily included tracks like “Faces” by Clio and countless Cyber People songs instead of Emerson’s enraging audio excrement makes the film all the more of a cinematic tragedy, as it could have just as easily been an idiosyncratic masterpiece of murderous Italo-excess. The would-be wild-and-whimsical ‘whodunit?’ tale of a mysterious mad man (or in this case, woman) who begins randomly killing off the best dancers of a prestigious dance school with the rather ironic name “Arts For Living Center,” Murder Rock is a inexplicable abortion of a movie that somehow manages to be reasonably entertaining due to its undying kitsch character, understated performance by Anglo-Guido leading man Ray Lovelock (Plagio, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) and marvelously misogynistic conclusion that puts the movie misogyny of Dario Argento to shame. Arguably Fulci's very last ambitious film as a work created right after his relationship with screenwriter Sacchetti concluded somewhat bitterly and just before the director developed critical health issues (right after finishing the film, Fulci was hospitalized in NYC after become critically ill from hepatitis, only to become hospitalized again the same year for cirrhosis and spend most of 1985 recuperating a home, only to become plagued by diabetes-based illnesses in 1986), Murder Rock gives you a good idea where the goombah goremeister might have headed artistically had he not spent the rest of his career churning out pathetically directed low-budget celluloid bile like Il fantasma di Sodoma (1988) aka Sodoma's Ghost and Demonia (1990) aka Liza.
Opening with a flashy scene of little negroes breakdancing in a jubilant fashion juxtaposed with shots of NYC as if to absurdly insinuate that the rotten Big Apple is such a nice and happy place that people just dance around all the time due to a pleasant plague of perennial happiness that has engulfed the superlatively shitty city, Murder Rock then cuts to a show of a group of girl dancers entering a high-tech building called the “Arts For Living Center” where they soon dance their asses off for their bitchy buxom brunette overseer Candice Norman (Greek actress Olga Karlatos of Fulci’s Zombie, as well as more mainstream works like the 1984 Prince musical Purple Rain and Sergio Leone’s 1984 Jewish gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America) and their negress choreographer Margie (Geretta Marie Fields aka Geretta Geretta of Lamberto Bava’s 1985 hit Demons aka Dèmoni). When the dancers stop dancing cunt Candice bitches them out and tells them their routine “needs perfecting.” Indeed, unbeknownst to the dancers, the academy director Dick Gibson (Claudio Cassinelli of Massimo Dallamano’s highbrow giallo What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974) aka La polizia chiede aiuto), who is also banging Candice and probably some of the dancers, is in talks with two TV producers, some assumed Hebrew named Steiner and his shabbos goy bud, about hiring the three best dancers to be on an upcoming TV show. Of course, Candice is jealous of these dancers’ talents just as she is jealous that her sleazy bastard beau Dick might be putting his dick in one or two of them. The students also hate Candice, with one of the few male dancers, Willy Stark (Christian Borromeo of Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 classic House on the Edge of the Park), stating of her to his dancing comrades, “You think it would kill her to be happy just once.” Of course, little does Willy realize that Candice is a much bigger bitch than he ever could imagine.
One night, little Willy stays behind with his fuck buddy/fellow dancer, busty blonde Susan (A. Lemerman), after the dance academy closes so they can have some carnal fun together, but the fun ends before it even begins when someone violently attacks the little lady while she is in the shower, knocks her out with the old (and scientifically unsound) movie cliché of a rag covered with Chloroform, and drives a large needle into one of her tender wet tits, thus killing her. Needless to say, it seems that the high-tech security system at the dance academy is worthless, or else it is someone with access to it that is the one responsible for the killing. A majorly misanthropic and callously cynical NYPD Lieutenant named Borges (Cosimo Cinieri of Fulci’s two 1982 NYC-based flicks The New York Ripper and Manhattan Baby), as well as a police profiler and psychotherapy professor named Dr. Davis (Giuseppe Mannajuolo of the 1988 pseudo-Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) sequel Vampire in Venice starring Klaus Kinski) are brought in to solve the murder and they soon conclude that the killer is someone at the dance academy. When a second dancer, Janice (played by Carla Buzzanca, whose sole other film credit was Michelangelo Antonioni’s obscure failed 1980 Cocteau adaptation The Mystery of Oberwald aka Il mistero di Oberwald), who moonlights as a degenerate dancer at an exotic erotic bar, is killed, Lt. Borges and Dr. Davis decide to interview some of the dancers and the former finds them so revolting in character that he states to the prissy little dancing prima donnas, “have you considered the possibility of some paranoid among you who hates dancers and has decided to do you all in? You know, I’ll tell you all something…. He’d have my heartfelt approval.” Dr. Davis is slightly more sympathetic to the degenerate dancing troupe and uses his cultivated background as a criminologist to label the dance academy a “viper’s nest” as opposed to boorish cynic Borges, who describes it in a more frank manner by calling it a “school full of sons of bitches.” When one of the male dancers, a blond bitch boy named Bert (Robert Gligorov of Michele Soavi’s devilishly delightful debut feature StageFright: Aquarius (1987) aka Deliria), leaves an anonymous message for Dr. Davis calling him a “first class nerd” and threatening to kill again, Borges uses a voice analyst to identify him. When they bring in Bert for questioning, he acts like a sniveling little pompous shit and claims he killed Janice because, “She was a lousy Puerto Rican and I don’t like spicks.” Although Borges concludes that Bert is not the killer, he locks him up anyway so that he can be raped by swarthy untermenschen because the little shit pissed him off, stating, “You’re not going to like spicks for a long time…you shouldn’t have provoked me.” What actually happens to Bert is anyone's guess, as he never reappears in the film.
Meanwhile, Candice has a nightmare about an unnaturally pretty blond beastess (Ray Lovelock) coming after her with the same needle that killed the girl dancers. Not long after the ominous nightmare, Candice spots the same man, who turns out to be an ex-actor turned model named George Webb, on a giant billboard. After doing some research, she tracks down George’s apartment and sneaks in after paying off a sleazy front desk attendant, but she is in for quite a surprise for the dipsomaniac model arrives and yells in a boorish manner, “Relax, lady…haven’t you ever seen a drunk before?,” so the startled dance teacher runs away and leaves her purse behind by accident. After meeting up with George to get her purse back, Candice confesses to him that she looked him up because she had a nightmare about him killing her. Needless to say, the two soon start a lurid love affair and jealous academy director Dick Gibson attempts to convince Borges and Dr. Davis that pretty boy George is the killer. As their love affair progresses, Candice reveals to George that her dancing career was ruined by a hit-n-run accident, explaining to him, “there I was ready to take on Broadway when some idiot on a motorcycle slams into me and ended my career before it even started.” Naturally, things get a bit complicated when an elderly Chinaman with traditional chink garb and large chopsticks does a fortuneteller reading of George at a Chinese restaurant at Candice’s insistence and accuses him of being a “muda-erer.” Of course, things only get worse when Candice gets a call from a talent agent named Phil (played by director Lucio Fulci in a cute cameo role) who she had do a background on her new boyfriend and he reveals that George was the suspect in the murder of an underage girl that he was defiling.
As the film progresses, more dancers are killed and George seems more and more like the culpable suspect. At one point, black choreographer Margie also goes to kill Candice and frame the mysterious killer, out of jealousy, but she does not have the gall to execute the execution and director Dick eventually walks in on her. Director Dick also becomes a suspect after they find him with the corpse of one of the dancers, Jill, that he was banging and deeply in love with. Of course, Candice is no victim. In the end, Candice confronts George in the manager’s room at the dance studio while he is watching footage of all the dead dancers and confesses that she is the killer and she has known all along that he is the motorcyclist that committed the hit-and-run that ruined her budding career. Jealous of all the young dancers and their very promising careers, Candice could not help killing the best of the best dancers and frame George for it. Since she already blames him for her figurative death and wants him to suffer the lifelong guilt of being a murderer, Candice begs George to kill her because he “has to pay,” but he refuses to do it. Considering herself more or less ‘metaphysically dead’ ever since the hit-and-run accident ruined her career, Candice kills herself right in front of George with the needle hoping that he will be charged with the murder as she considers him a murderer. Luckily for George, Borges and Dr. Davis have already come to the conclusion that Candice is the killer. In the end, George is riddled with the guilt for ‘murdering’ Candice by destroying all her “hopes and ambitions.” In the end, the film closes with the following quote from the classic John Huston film noir flick Asphalt Jungle (1950): “Often crime is a distorted from of human endeavor.”
I might be the only one in the world that would have the balls to admit this, but I found Murder Rock to be one of Lucio Fulci’s most fun, unbelievable, and wildest films, even it is a piece of blatant cheesy celluloid crapola with one of the most patently preposterous premises in film history. An excellent example of Fulci’s undying dedication to whoring himself out to producers for financial gain, it is only fitting that the work features a scene where the cynical lieutenant Borges—an arguable stand-in for the director himself—states as to the reason why one of the dancers, Bert, would falsely take credit for the murder, “Because he’s an artist. He’d sit on his mother’s head for a laugh. It’s like a disease, he’s a born liar […] he’s an asshole […] the kid’s an idiot, just another punk.” Indeed, in Murder Rock, Fulci—a perennial artisan who seems to never have had an interest in being a real cinematic artist—declares his hatred for the ‘artiste.’ Of course, Fulci is not just critical of ‘serious’ artists, as the film also blatantly attacks Bernaysian advertising and the sinister power of the ads and commercials to manipulate the psyche and plant ideas in a person's subconscious (for example, the man of killer Candice's nightmares first appears in the physical world in the form of a billboard). Ironically, unlike Dario Argento, who famously told the ballerinas starring in his masterpiece Suspiria (1977) that he couldn't care less about their ballet talents, Fulci made full use of the talents of the performers with the help of choreographer Nadia Chiatti. Indeed, Murder Rock is certainly the Flashdance of giallos and is completely deserving of its alternate title Slashdance, as a decadent and Dancesploitation flick of strangely erotic deaths that perfectly epitomizes the nihilistic excess of the Reaganite 1980s. If you’re looking to contaminate someone’s Halloween spirit this year, show them Fulci’s misbegotten filmic freakshow and have them bask in the unintentionally schlocky splendor of sweaty 1980s spandex and hairsprayed to hell hair, as well as some of the most sickeningly banal and malevolently (anti)melodic synth sounds imaginable. Pseudo-Borgesian in its depiction of dark coincidences spawned from chaos, chaotic labyrinthine visuals and plot structure, and rabid cynicism (after all, one of the characters is named ‘Borges’), Murder Rock is a work that, although clearly made to appeal to the lowest common denominator (e.g. teenage breakdancers and braindead teenyboppers), will probably be more appreciated by misanthropic cinephiles, softcore cultural pessimists, and cultivated culture junkies. Murder Rock is also a great film to show to your lady friend because, aside from being rather misogynistic in its depiction of a crazed cunt who kills young blonde beauties out of jealously, it also features some of the most titillating yet tit-terrorizing scenes in cinema history. Indeed, I know because I showed my girlfriend, who is rather ample in the bosom department, and she was absolutely scared stiff and discernibly unnerved by the scenes of the needle entering the forlorn dancer’s big bare boobs. As for me, I was more petrified by the busty bosomed victim's big goofy legwarmers. As Murder Rock vulgarly demonstrates, if you want to take away attention from a voluptuous young blonde girl's dangerously curvy body, have her wear a pair of Flashdance-esque legwarmers.