Meet the staff and students of New York's Arts for Living Centre, a dance school. Like its counterpart in Argento's Suspiria, it is a place characterised by petty rivalries and jealousies, where almost everyone has something to hide and the competition for recognition is fierce.
People are dying to go there
Now, following the announcement that there are only three places with a prestigious dance company available, it has turned deadly, as the naked body of the best of the students, Susan, is found in the showers with a chloroform impregnated cloth by her side and a long pin through her breast, penetrating her heart.
Could it be the school's director Dick Gibson (Claudio Casinelli), who watches all his charges through cameras connected to a bank of monitors – i.e. the Centre as technological version of the magical “living” witch-houses of Suspiria and Inferno – and is known for his penchant for taking advantage of the more ambitious / desperate female pupils. Perhaps Susan rebuffed his advances?
Or maybe her boyfriend Willy Stark (Christian Borromeo) who is also a dancer, and thereby a potential rival.
Or Bob, perhaps twisted by the disability that prevents him from dancing like the others and relegates him to the role of overworked, under-appreciated technician. (At the risk of reading too much in, might we consider him as a stand-in for director Lucio Fulci?)
Or teacher and choreographer Margie (Geretta Geretta; you will know her face even if her multiple AKAs are confusing), who resents having been subordinated to her more famous colleague Candice Norman (Olga Karlatos), whose own promising career as a dancer was cut tragically short by an accident some years back.
Or mystery man (Ray Lovelock), whom Candice first sees in one of those dream visions that are so familiar to Fulci's female giallo protagonists, from Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes and The New York Ripper, where he menaces her with a pin, and then on a billboard.
Or - well, you get the idea...
Neo-classic giallo imagery
Whoever the killer is, it is soon clear that it is not Janice as, following a suggestive dance routine in a strip club (i.e. more Flashdance than New York Ripper, for good or ill) and a visit from Willy, who again suspiciously disappears, this time with a potentially incriminating photograph, is tormented and dispatched by the unseen, inevitably black gloved killer.
More of Fulci's whited out crime scene photography, as also seen in Lizard in a Woman's Skin and Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes
This time, however, the police, in the shape of Lieutenant Borges – one wonders if the name is intended to suggest something of the labyrinthine quality of the typically giallo plot – have a clue. The killer also pinned Janice's pet canary. He and his erstwhile colleague Professor Davis – the Fulci scholar will note that The New York Ripper had the somewhat suspect Dr Davis – decide to keep this detail quiet, in the hope that the killer will betray themselves before the body count has risen too far...
Meanwhile, Candice embarks on her own private investigation into her mystery man...
Time has not been kind to this 1984 giallo, also known as Giallo a disco and, most tellingly and wince- if not lawsuit-inducingly, Slashdance. Yet, if one can get beyond the music and the lyrics; the credits sequence breakdancers and the extended leg-warmer, leotard and pelvic thrusting routine that follows it, into the first atmospheric stalk-and-kill routine – already some of you are probably thinking this sounds like a somewhat tall order – it is actually is not quite as bad as its near rock bottom reputation would have it.
Much of the problem, I think, is that its time-capsule of New York as “Kids from Fame get slain” is inherently not as interesting to the Euro-trash cultist as The New York Ripper's of pre-AIDS, pre-clean up Times Square as existential hell, even if, on closer inspection, one sees that typical Fulci cynicism and world-weariness showing through in spades.
In this respect, it certainly also helps to have seen a lot of the directors' other films and those of others working in the same generic terrain - you would not want Murderock to be someone's first Fulci, giallo or Italian horror – and have the capacity to make the intertextual connections, like those outlined above or the every-voice-has-its-own-distinctive-signature-idea from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage as explained by an oscilloscope operating policeman played by none other than Al Cliver.
Olga Karlatos about to get a wooden splinter in eye? No, but a definite Fulci moment
Signs of life?
Before Sliver, there was Murderock?
Or, as Roland Barthes once argued, that every voice had its own distinctive “grain”. And the voice which comes through here, providing what “pleasures” there are to be found in “the text,” is that of Fulci. Indeed, watching the extras on the second disc of Shriek Show's pretty impressive DVD package (from which the screen captures are culled) one gets a real sense of screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti's point, that Fulci was an accomplished technician but had the misfortune to never quite have the resources he really needed to bring his vision to full clarity.
The sad thing is, however, that whereas the gap between the idea and the realisation was minimal at the time of his near-masterpieces of the late 1960s / early 1970s and late 1970s / early 1980s, by the time of Murder Rock he would seem to have been into a losing battle with the industry, the world and his own health; a Beyond from which there would be no return...
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