Monday, September 26, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Power Down

Year: 1985
Director: Phil Smoot
Cast: Lash La Rue, Anna Lane Tatum, Cynthia Bailey
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

Plot: The Dark Power, naturally, follows what happens after a Native American mystic dies and his house is sold as dorms to local college girls. The dark forces he was keeping at bay - namely undead evil Toltec sorcerers - emerge one night and wreak havoc, attacking the house, which is now fully inhabited by girls, including Tammie (future Real Housewife Cynthia Bailey), the sole Black resident who is the target of racist ire from one of the other girls.

Analysis: It's really troubling that the Toltec killers, who are depicted almost exclusively using tomahawks and arrows to kill people and being drawn to alcohol in the meantime, is the second most racist thing about The Dark Power. But at least the racism exhibited against Tammie is meant to put us against the white girl perpetrating it. What they're doing with the Native American characters is just crass, but what else can we expect from a decade that also gave us Scalps and The Ghost Dance?

If that kind of screenplay gives you hives, the first hour of The Dark Power isn't going to offer you anything that redeems itself whatsoever. It's a devilishly long and boring setup that introduces as many characters as possible that it can cram into the house to be menaced. So many that it actually forgets to ever kill some of them and lets them wander off with their thumbs up their asses. While the music sporadically farts out 2 to 4 note stings that are then repeated ad nauseam and the camera frequently cuts to exteriors that are blown out by the Southwestern sun, you are treated to reels and reels of absolutely nothing happening, to the point that you almost welcome the racist caricatures when they show up (at the 48 minute mark) because that means something is actually going to happen.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the movie picks up quite a bit in its third act. It's mostly just unfortunate, because it would be convenient to be able to hate every element of this film and dismiss it entirely. But a lot of points in the Final Girl sequence kinda rule, down to the formula-busting fact that there are two main survivors and one of them is a Black woman. But The Dark Power makes a meal out of having two Final Girls, showcasing a siege sequence with both of them fighting off assailants simultaneously in a way I'd never really seen before.

There are also a couple admittedly decent special effects here, especially in the death of one of the boys, who has his face peeled apart by outstretched hands in a tremendously gooey explosion of gore. 

Also, if you didn't know that Lash LaRue was an old Western actor known for his facility with a whip, you sure as fuck are gonna know by the end of the movie. The Dark Power is wall to wall whip stunts, including an absolutely outrageous whip vs. whip showdown at the end. It's not enough to make up for the dismal slog of the bulk of the movie, but it sure is something to behold as long as you're there.

Killer: The Toltecs
Final Girl: Tammie (Cynthia Bailey) and Beth (Anna Lane Tatum)
Best Kill: Let's give Mr. La Rue his due here, because he does pull the head off a Toltec with his whip, which is fucking awesome.
Sign of the Times: When one of the girls is getting gussied up, they joke that she's acting like she's going on a date with Tom Selleck.
Scariest Moment: Holy shit the casual, virulent racism of that character who hates Tammie is bone-chilling.
Weirdest Moment: One girl sneaks downstairs to try to save the silverware.
Champion Dialogue: “As far as I'm concerned, the only gyrating around her is your big mouth."
Body Count: 11
    1. John Cody dies of old age.
    2. Uncle Earl dies offscreen.
    3. Dallas is shot in the chest with an arrow.
    4. Craig is shot in the back of the head with an arrow.
    5. Alan has his face peeled apart.
    6. Lynn is shot in the back with an arrow.
    7. Susan is tomahawked in the throat.
    8. Toltec #1 is stabbed through the back of the head.
    9. Toltec #2 is stabbed through the chest.
    10. Toltec #3 is stabbed in the back.
    11. Toltec #4 has his head ripped off with a whip.
TL;DR: The Dark Power is racist six ways from Sunday, but it does boast a stellar third act showdown.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 766

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