Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Dance Dance Dance Till You're Dead

Year: 1984
Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Olga Karlatos, Ray Lovelock, Claudio Cassinelli
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Plot: Murder-Rock: Dancing Death follows a dance company training at the *checks notes* Arts for Living Center in New York City run by Candice (Olga Karlatos). The best dancers are being murdered one by one with a massive hatpin shoved straight into their hearts, so Lt. Borges (Cosimo Cinieri of Fulci's previous slasher effort The New York Ripper) is on the case.

Analysis: Among the well-known Italian horror directors of the '70s and '80s, Fulci is perhaps the most inconsistent. Sometimes he could deliver a gorgeous, disgusting fever dream like The Beyond. And other times he would rest on his laurels and deliver a sleepy, autopilot picture like The Black Cat. Usually he would stab out an eye or two while he was at it, but he was constantly crossing the line between art and trash rather than gradually backsliding from one to the other like certain Dario Argentos I won't mention.

I will give Fulci this. He seems to be really trying to make Murder-Rock artful, to the point that certain moments are mimicking the best scenes and aesthetic impulses of Suspiria. One particularly effective moment is achieved just in the sound mix, when the panting of a strung-out dancer gets mixed way higher than the music she's dancing to. There is also some excellent set design (the white tiled hallway of the locker room is something to behold), a gorgeous opening shot of the New York skyline in front of a deep purple sky, and a few shot setups that really made me perk up and pay attention. One in particular, with the camera tracking along as a body bag is being wheeled down a hallway past the watching faces of the dancers, is stunning and unlike anything I've ever seen in a slasher.

Unfortunately, his aesthetic ambition seems to be hampered by his ability. Or at least, he didn't have the appropriate equipment to make his vision happen. Even some of the best sequences are lit too harshly, with lens flares that would make J.J. Abrams' eyes roll back into his head. Most of the time the characters are lit from behind or above in a manner that completely obliterates their faces, and the motif of flashing lights is both preposterous (for some reason, the police carry around a panel of flashing lights to shine onto the body) and profoundly ugly.

Really, Fulci has ended up somewhere far closer to Stripped to Kill than Suspiria, only without the female gaze making the dance scenes tolerable at all. Now, I'm always partial to any film where I see a choreographer listed in the credits, but this dancing is terrible. It has all the intensity of Showgirls with all the precision of The Apple. The music that accompanies the frequent, extended dance sequences ranges from amusingly shitty (the uptempo disco track "Are the Streets to Blame" is an excellent slice of cheese) to ear-scrapingly abysmal (the opening theme "Tonight is The Night" sounds like "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes went to Hell and got laryngitis).

And while the killer's M.O. is appropriately sleazy and horrifying for a Fulci flick, it also leads to an extreme lack of variety, to the point that some of the kills in the second half of the film take place onscreen because Fulci probably figured you got the picture by that point. The kill to dance sequence ratio was already off, but this severe drop-off makes the second and third acts a real slog. When the best thing about your movie about dancing and stabbing is the title font, you know something has gone horribly wrong. Murder-Rock is certainly less stultifying than The Black Cat and more artful than The New York Ripper, but it's just not enough of everything that it clearly wants to be.

Killer: Candice Norman (Olga Karlatos)
Final Girl: N/A
Best Kill: The opening heart-piercing kill is the one that luxuriates the most in how goddamn disturbing that particular M.O. really is.
Sign of the Times: If you listen to even a single second of the wall-to-wall music used in this film, you'd be able to carbon date the exact month of 1984 this came out.
Scariest Moment: When Janice comes home to a supposedly empty apartment, she spots a still-smoking cigarette in her ashtray.
Weirdest Moment: The film randomly cuts to the dancer Jill babysitting a kid in a wheelchair who shows her a slideshow of dead bugs
Champion Dialogue: "You're gonna grit your teeth and dance, even when your friend dies."
Body Count: 6
  1. Susan has her heart pierced with a hatpin.
  2. DeeDee the Bird has her heart pierced with a hatpin.
  3. Janice is killed offscreen.
  4. Jill is killed offscreen.
  5. Gloria has her heart pierced with a hatpin.
  6. Candice has her heart pierced with a hatpin.
TL;DR: Murder-Rock: Dancing Death is a bland slasher that attempts to doll itself up as an aesthetically interesting giallo.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 851

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