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. Even Jane Fonda would catch the fitness bug, heading 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, but in a world where scantily-clad chicks walk around with purses full of condoms and break into mens’ 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 slash-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. 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 they’ll 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’re 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. And where are the security cameras? There are like four rooms in Rhondas’ Workout. Even if the place doesn’t have cameras, surely the police could spring for some in light of such a relentless and brazen serial killer.
Killer Workout isn’t concerned with plausibility, or even general logicality, which is what makes it such an indelible, low-grade experience. Where else would you find a business that continues to take on new employees while the grisly corpses continue to pile-up, or an employee willing to work for minimum wage under such conditions? It’s all so gloriously without reason.
The new face in question, Chuck, is played by David A. Prior sibling and cult bad movie headliner Ted Prior, the two teaming up for a series of outrageous, low-budget absurdities that include the mindblowingly dissonant Deadly Prey, Hell on the Battleground, Jungle Assault, Future Zone and The Final Sanction, action and sci-fi outings that give new meaning to the word cheapjack. They would also team up for another serial killer outing in 1991’s gloriously OTT Raw Nerve, but Killer Workout is the real must-see killer thriller in their gloriously kitsch back catalogue. Everyone should see at least all of their movies.
Squeezing its way into Killer Workout’s barrage of MTV-styled 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 1980s, 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, 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, I mean period. The breezy, vacuous sounds are enough to stir the nostalgia juices of any kid drip-fed a diet of bubble gum pop, though they do pang of a decade of decadence running on empty. It must have been an exhausting.
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 is truly 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.