David A. Pryor
Review by Megan Weireter
Posted on 18 October 2008
Source Academy Entertainment VHS
Categories 31 Days of Horror V
The slasher formula is so simple that it can be imposed on pretty much any setting, from the obvious choices of high schools and sleepovers and creepy houses, to slightly more adventurous locales like coal mines and malls and hospitals and radio stations and the dimly lit alleys of New York. Really, no matter where you set your slasher, the bare minimum you need is a cast of characters so stupid and shallow that the audience can cheer as they get picked off. And when you consider that the stupidest and shallowest people in the world can frequently be found in 1980s-era gyms, you start to see how Killer Workout might not be as much of a shoehorning exercise as it initially sounds.
Still, the execution is by and large clumsy, and though Killer Workout has more than its share of wildly entertaining moments, they’re never entertaining for the right reasons. In fact, the film would be downright forgettable if it weren’t for its datedness. What I remembered afterward was a neon wash of legwarmers, perms, gratuitous roundhouse kicks, ethically questionable police work, and songs that sound like a cross between the Flashdance soundtrack and the tape that came with Barbie and the Rockers.1 But I had to think for a second to remember the killer’s signature weapon. So it’s clear where the filmmakers’ priorities lay.
Aerobics were apparently pretty cool in the 1980s. Pretty radical, you might say, if you were one of the regulars at Rhonda’s Workout. The gym seems to have aerobics classes going pretty much all day for the women to participate in and for the men to gawk at. From the outset, there’s a motif established in which a roomful of aerobicizing women squat in unnecessarily suggestive ways and jump around rhythmically in an attempt to get just the right bounce to their boobs. They all wear super-fashionable skin-tight leotards and work out to quintessentially ’80s workout songs, which manage to defy parody while still being really, really catchy. Best of all, when the camera even bothers to stray from crotch closeups and show the women’s faces, they have a tendency to look right at the camera and smile. Now, by “motif,” I mean we see the same little workout scenes at least 20 times. They break up action scenes - I think just about every death is followed by a cut to the waggling butts - and they always diffuse the horror of what’s preceded them. I have seen a lot of crap in my day, but it’s hard to think of anything that embodies the concept of gratuitousness so well.
Still, though, this is a slasher, and the film makes some halfhearted stabs (tee hee) at being a decent, if derivative, frightfest. An opening sequence involves a horrible tanning bed accident, which did genuinely scare me a little. If you’ve ever been in a tanning bed (don’t judge—I was too young to know better), you know that they’re basically electric coffins that could theoretically burst into flames at any moment, as this one does very dramatically in a scene that probably blew most of the budget.
But that’s just a prologue. Soon we settle into the business of horrible murders in the gym. As I say, you can tell the filmmakers are familiar with the slasher formula: we get some good shots from the Killer’s POV during the first death scene, which involves the killer turning out the lights in the locker room and attacking a woman in the shower. Slasher killers frequently have a favorite weapon, and this one is no exception—the killer uses a gigantic novelty diaper pin. It is absolutely as silly as it sounds.
Rhonda - her face locked into a permanent sneer that makes her look like a poor man’s Gina Gershon - owns the eponymous Rhonda’s Workout. She’s shaken to learn that there’s been a murder in her gym, but even more shaken by the cop assigned to the case. Detective Lieutenant Morgan is my favorite character, a walking embodiment of every dumb cop show you’ve ever seen, a man who desperately wishes he were T.J. Hooker. Morgan snarls rather than speaks - “I’m not just some other cop!” is pretty much how he introduces himself to Rhonda - and lives in a perpetual state of rage and ineptitude. “Get on over to the lab and tell that college boy that if he doesn’t have that report in thirty minutes, I’m going to come over there and do an autopsy on his face!” he screams into his car radio in one of his best scenes.
Morgan hangs around for a while pissing off everyone who he doesn’t scare to death, establishing a contentious relationship with the equally horrible Rhonda, and preventing zero deaths. In quick succession, murder after murder takes place. (One moment that makes Morgan all but gnash his teeth: the mortician carrying out the most recent body bags cheerfully calls to him, “See you tomorrow!”) As expected, the victims are exactly the shallow morons who always have it coming in slashers. Two dudes lifting in the weight room talk gleefully about one of the victims. “She’s dead?” one says. “Well, that sucks, ‘cause I wanted to screw her—total babe!” Ha ha ha! They’re both dead two scenes later.
While the killer goes diaper-pin happy and Morgan yells at everyone, there are other meaningless subplots involving a mysterious blond meathead who starts working at the gym and a potentially crazy dark-haired meathead who seems obsessed with Rhonda. As with most of the other characters, needless aggression is the order of the day, and these two guys beat each other up in extended fight scenes that involve the aforementioned roundhouse kicks as well as the throwing of trash cans. Killer Workout owes a debt of sorts to ’80s action schlock in scenes like this, as well as in the climactic gunfight in an abandoned railyard. I’m not much of an action fan, and I found myself mentally wandering off during these scenes—not to mention wondering why on earth the climax involved cops and meatheads and guns and not, you know, the killer running around with a diaper pin, which is theoretically why we’re here, right?
Even if Killer Workout sometimes forgets its genre and veers into action-film and fitness-video territory, it’s got a pretty high body count, and some decent payoff in the form of a not-too-surprising surprise ending and some halfhearted commentary on the shallowness of the so-called beautiful people, or something. Killer Workout has little to offer that you couldn’t find in a typical Miami Vice episode, but by the modest standards of late-night VHS horror rentals, you could do far worse. And considering the quantity of aerobics footage here, you could practically get in a workout while you watch, thus offsetting the softening of your brain tissue that the dialogue induces with the strengthening of your abs. Then all you need is a leotard and you, too, can be one of the beautiful people—just watch out for crazies with diaper pins.
David A. Pryor
This Workout’s a Real Killer
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Brides of the Beast1968
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Dark Night of the Scarecrow1981
Moon in Scorpio1987
The Legend of Hell House1973
Grave of the Vampire1974
Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake1975
Attack of the Beast Creatures1985
Humanoids from the Deep1980