Tagline: Something very unhealthy is happening at Rhonda’s health club.
Director: David A. Prior
Writer: David A. Prior
Starring: Marcia Karr, David James Campbell, Fritz Matthews, Ted Prior, Teresa Van der Woude, Richard Bravo, Dianne Copeland, Laurel Mock
18 | 1hr 25min | Horror
Killer Workout is a feminist’s nightmare. Released at the tail-end of the slasher boom, it manages to freshen an exhausted genre by using its most obvious ingredients to smother you like a sopping pair of heaving bosoms. In cinematic terms, there is nothing remotely original about the film, but through sheer audacity it manages to carve out quite the niche for itself, and if nothing else it is a movie you are unlikely to forget in a hurry — particularly if you’re male.
The 1980s was a decade defined almost exclusively by image. The rise of MTV would lead to an upturn in teenage marketing, and with the sleek medium of the pop music video promoting physical perfection, adolescents would find themselves with much to live up to. But the obsession didn’t stop there. Self-improvement was the goal for all demographics of the Reagan era, and as self-styled ‘masters of the universe’ aspired to Wall Street decadence, a pumped-up Arnold Schwarzenegger became Hollywood’s biggest movie star, while Jane Fonda would lead the aerobics home video revolution for housewives across America.
Killer Workout is an exercise in shrewd marketing which plays on those fears and obsessions — that, or the commercially appropriate byproduct of an awful lot of investor-bought cocaine. The movie takes place almost entirely in a health club, where gorgeous women pump and sweat to ’80s pop music and musclebound jerks deride their mysterious in-house murderer for not raping his victims first. This is deplorable, morally corrupt behaviour for sure, but in a world where scantily-clad chicks walk around with purses full of condoms and break into men’s lockers with the intention of sniffing their jock straps, you get the impression they would get off on that kind of talk.
This is flagrant misogyny, and not just in your typical slasher-by-numbers sense of the word. Women are murdered, sure, but they are also vacuous and capricious and a dozen other adjectives that bring shame to the female species, especially since the actresses who feature, particularly the flagrantly exhibitionist Teresa Van der Woude, wow the way street walkers do and do so with pride. Ultimately, there isn’t a prudish, self-respecting final girl in sight. In the world of director David A. Prior, women are little more than accessories to spandex, a species so devoid of honour and propriety that they jump into bed with any man who blinks at them, only to puss and weep at the merest hint of rejection. When not doing everything in their power to please their male overlords, they are seething neon bitches ripe for the slaughter, ready to expose themselves at a moment’s notice in their fickle quest to stave off the competition.
It is these insecurities which act as the red herring in the room. Everyone seems to have their heart set on someone, and as come-ons fail bodies fall, leading to the involvement of the comically inept Detective Morgan (Campbell) and his badly-dressed platoon of one. Not only does Morgan wrongly finger every character in the movie, he allows potential suspects to handle valuable evidence at will, failing to isolate multiple crime scenes and refusing to provide adequate police protection as one grisly death evolves into an unrelenting bloodbath of medieval proportions.
Squeezing its way into the barrage of MTV-style pornography there is something resembling a plot, as various douchebags leave painfully obvious hints that they are perhaps the culprit, but if you haven’t figured out the identity of the killer after the first five minutes you’re either not very bright or utterly distracted by the ceaseless flesh banquet steaming up the cinematographer’s lens — and dollars to doughnuts it’s the latter. This being the ’80s, the movie also features its fair share of kung-fu action, the kind that has rarely been more inappropriate, the gym’s musclebound alpha males leaping headlong into savage battles for reasons that are too facile to elaborate on. One minute a pair of hairspray-fresh nimrods are running their mouths, the next their wholly unconvincing body doubles are indulging in lavish bouts of martial artistry, delivering the kind of stiff roundhouse kicks that must have loosened a few teeth along the way.
For those of you with a taste for deliriously vacant ’80s pop music, Killer Workout also features a killer soundtrack. Since it was never actually released asides from several promotional vinyl copies back in 1987, which are either the rarest horror movie artefacts of the era or simply no longer exist, the likelihood is you won’t recognise a single track, but that’s what makes it so great. Research indicates that the majority of contributing artists only have one or two tracks to their name; not just on this particular OST, but period. Still, the breezy sounds are enough to stir the nostalgia juices of any kid drip-fed a diet of bubble gum pop.
In the end, Killer Workout is something akin to a pornographic Scooby Doo adventure: mildly macabre, utterly haphazard and hurtling towards the kind of unlikely reveal that is both utterly predictable and so beyond the realms of plausibility it’s breathtaking. Approaching his work with the scattergun logic of Shaggy Rogers after a whole tray of space brownies, Detective Morgan even bows down to gym owner Rhonda (Karr), allowing her business to continue operating as the body count continues to soar. But if members are willing to work out day after day while their friends are brutally cut to ribbons, then who is he to argue?
Like the rest of us, he’s probably too busy enjoying the view.
In a thinly-veiled and vastly inferior homage to Psycho‘s infamous shower scene, a young woman is brutally hacked to ribbons…with a giant safety pin. I would love to elaborate on the reasons for choosing such an implement, but this is so random and devoid of meaning that I am simply lost for words. To be fair, this was 1987, so ideas for unique weapons were running just a little thin, and as you will see from the movie, it’s somehow rather effective.
Most Absurd Moment
Though the nutty reveal and even nuttier spade-orientated finale are perhaps a tad more absurd, I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll spare you the spoilers. But fear not! For there are plenty of other wacky moments on display, so much so that I was able to choose the following almost at random. Five minutes after arriving at Rhonda’s Workout for his first shift, musclebound Chuck kicks the living shit out of his colleague before fleeing to hardbody Debbie’s house for a quick bout of bump n’ grind while still on the clock. He would later form a union for the criminally overworked.
Most Absurd Dialogue
After becoming Lieutenant Morgan’s tenth lead suspect in as many minutes, a delightfully bitchy Rhonda confronts the subject of his woefully inferior detective work, the kind that he seems mercifully unaware of.
Rhonda: ‘Do you even have a suspect?’
Lieutenant Morgan: ‘As a matter of fact, I have several. It’s just the motive I can’t quite figure out.’