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  First Power, The Stuntman Satan
Year: 1990
Director: Robert Resnikoff
Stars: Lou Diamond Phillips, Tracy Griffith, Jeff Kober, Mykelti Williamson, Elizabeth Arlen, Dennis Lipscomb, Carmen Argenziano, Julianna McCarthy, Nada Despotovich, Sue Giosa, Clayton Landey, Hansford Rowe, Philip Abbott, David Gale, J. Patrick McNamara, Grand
Genre: Horror, Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: There is a serial killer at large in Los Angeles who may have murdered fifteen people so far, but rest assured citizens, the police are on the case and should be able to track him down, especially with Detective Russell Logan (Lou Diamond Phillips) on the trail since he has already proven adept at finding and arresting these types of criminals. Tonight he has assistance from his colleagues who have arranged a stakeout where one of their number will pose as a potential victim to bring the killer out of the woodwork and be brought to book by the cops. However, all does not go to plan as the policewoman is kidnapped and brought to a cave in a local park, where she is tied to the ground and prepared for sacrifice - can Logan reach her in time?

Er, no, he can't, and so began yet another serial killer movie, this one from the start of the nineteen-nineties when this kind of villain was dominating thrillers and horrors. We had not had The Silence of the Lambs at the point The First Power was released, but that notion of the genius multiple murderer who could mastermind all sorts of mayhem was already gaining traction in genre efforts. The killer here was Francis Channing, played with quite some relish by Jeff Kober, who not only had his own ingenuity when it came to tormenting the innocent, but had the backing of Old Nick himself, Satan who apparently guided his every move and certainly gave him a list of abilities (or powers if you prefer) to conjure with.

After a stock tussle with Logan, as this was an action movie as much as it was a horror yarn, Channing was caught early on and sentenced to the gas chamber, which made a change from the electric chair that was the execution method of choice for cinematic baddies at this point in time. But the celebrating Logan has been receiving telephone calls from Tess Seaton (Tracy Griffith, Melanie Griffith's half-sister) who warns him that putting Channing to death is a bad idea, though unhelpfully refuses to say why: he does come across as oddly eager to enter that chamber, but when he does the event goes without a hitch, unless you count Logan suffering a nightmare about it later a hitch (where he sits bolt upright in bed on waking, natch).

However, it seems this is one of those tales like the later and more popular (but not as amusing) Denzel Washington vehicle Fallen had where the supernatural killer could enter the bodies of the living to get them to do their bidding; you'll see this device in everything from Twin Peaks on TV to The Hidden in science fiction movies to Stephen Gallagher's cult horror Valley of Lights in books. There was even an executed serial killer movie the year before that featured it, Wes Craven's Shocker, but what few of these promoted that The First Power did were some very impressive stunts, in particular the feat where Channing leapt from a tall building and landed on his feet then immediately ran away, thus foiling Logan's efforts to recapture him, was cited across the board as a great example of how stunts could lift a film.

Especially now in these days of CGI where stunts are crafted on a computer, far safer but also significantly less spectacular when you knew some daredevil was not risking life and limb; it's up to you which is preferable. Add in an excellent car crash and flip, or some frankly bizarre gymnastics that Channing gets those he possesses to demonstrate (the bag lady being memorable, for instance) and you had some very decent trappings for what was, once you boiled it down, was a pretty ordinary fright thriller. Phillips looked decidedly young to be a detective with five arrests of serial killers under his belt, Griffith was supposed to be psychic but remained a rather flat presence that never suggested concealed depths of insight, and the plot settled early into a series of chases peppered with admittedly entertaining lines and antics, though you were never very sure if you were laughing at it or with it (or if any of this was supposed to be funny whatsoever). Still, for a work with no nutritional value but some fast food qualities, cinematically speaking, The First Power was not bad for a "Holy shit!" movie, a film whose dialogue could have been made up mostly of characters exclaiming "Holy shit!" to no great detriment to the rest of it. Music by Stewart Copeland of The Police.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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