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Director: Lucio Fulci
Shriek Show/Media Blasters

It’s official: the Lucio Fulci well has gone dry on region 1. Other than BEATRICE CENZI and ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER, all of the Italian director’s best work has already appeared on the digital format. So what of MURDER ROCK? Long requested by Fulci completists, those are unfortunately the only people who should add this one to their collections. Fulci is on autopilot for this 1984 giallo lite, considered by some to be his last gasp in the genre. And a dying gasp it is.

The female students of a dance class at the Arts for Living Center in New York City are being mysteriously killed by a black-gloved murderer using a hatpin to pierce their hearts. Because a big-time audition has made everyone antsy for their big chance at stardom, the killer could be anyone, man or woman.

Try to remember during the first 10 minutes of MURDER ROCK that this is supposed to be a murder mystery. You couldn’t guess by the breakdancing and dance routines out of “Fame”, complete with demanding black female instructor a la Debbie Allen, and breakdancing showing the influence of BREAKIN’. In fact, the oh-so-1984 musical numbers are so much fun you’ll wish there are more of them! And just when you think it’s dancing for dancing’s sake, you’re reminded this is an exploitation flick with the consistent close-ups of bouncing and jiggling asses, thrusting pelvises, and grinding hips. One dance number, shot in a nightclub with spectators, finds the solo performer drenched in water from a sprinkler (a rip of Jennifer Beals from FLASHDANCE), her ass popping out of her Vampirella-look spandex, breasts flying every which way. There just aren’t enough moments like this in the film!

OK, so enough of the dancing, is the rest of the film any good? Sadly, no. All of the murders are atypical Fulci in that they’re completely bloodless (he most likely shot his wad with NEW YORK RIPPER 2 years previously), so the audience must focus on the mystery. It’s disturbing to think that four people wrote the mess of a screenplay, but that’s Italian exploitation for you. The most irritating aspect of the film is the number of false reveals: one character is shown to be calling and mocking the police and claiming responsibility for the crimes, then is given a ridiculous reason for doing so; another character chloroforms a woman and tries to kill her with a hatpin, then breaks down in tears and explains it away as a copycat murder attempt. This goes on for some time, and the investigation by two grizzled cops makes no progress, making this giallo a quite boring affair with glacial pacing. To add insult to injury, Fulci shot parts of MURDER ROCK in New York, but doesn’t make as good use of the location as he did with RIPPER and MANHATTAN BABY. The whole thing could have been shot in Rome and made no difference to the production. As a capper, a quote from John Huston’s THE ASPHALT JUNGLE finishes the film. Why? Just because.

Fulci cast this film with a number of veterans from previous works, including Olga Karlatos (ZOMBIE), Cosimo Cinieri (MANHATTAN BABY), Silvia Collatina (HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY), Claudio Cassinelli (THE NEW GLADIATORS), an uncredited Al Cliver (just about every Fulci film), and Giovanni de Nava (THE BEYOND). Karlatos would go Hollywood by playing Prince’s mother in PURPLE RAIN the same year she made this trash. Cinieri has had a long career in Italian cinema, and continues to work today. Collatina, a precocious redheaded child actress, had a short-lived career, but plays a nasty wheelchaired brat in MURDER ROCK, an interesting comparison to the ghost child in CEMETERY and the talkative youngster in GREAT ALLIGATOR. Where is she now?? Cassinelli would perish in a helicopter crash a year after appearing here. You’ll also recognize Christian Borromeo (TENEBRE, HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK) as one of the dancers, though during the opening dance number his double is painfully obvious, and Ray Lovelock (LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE) as an actor who appears in Candice’s dream, then enters her life as a romantic interest. It’s great to see Geretta Giancarlo, aka Janna Ryan, the unique black actress from DEMONS, RATS, and several other Italian schlock classics, as the bitter dance instructor! Fulci turns in another Hitchcockian cameo as a casting agent. The four main dancers, played by Maria Vittoria Tolazzi, Carla Buzzanca, Angela Lemerman, and Belinda Busato are all gorgeous, but aren’t in the film enough, as Fulci instead focuses on Karlatos and her personal drama. Buzzanca actually resembles Robbie Lee from SWITCHBLADE SISTERS!

Because the best moments of the film are the eye-popping dance numbers, filled with 1980s cheese value, the soundtrack becomes instantly memorable. The primary theme, “Are the Streets to Blame”, is a great 1980s cheese song that is actually more enjoyable than the film deserves, and as a whole, Keith Emerson’s synthesizer-driven score is a real hoot. Buy the CD soundtrack pronto! The film does excel in the editing department, thanks to expert Fulci veteran Vincenzo Tomassi, and the photography by Giuseppe Pinori is crisp and well-done, but when what is being cut and shot is boring and uneventful, there’s only so much one can do to save the film.

Media Blasters’ transfer of MURDER ROCK, anamorphic and letterboxed at approximately 1.77:1, looks great! The colors are bold and beautiful, the image consistently crisp and clear, and blacks solid and deep. There are no complaints to be had with the remastering given this atrocious film. You get two audio options, either English or Italian (without subtitles). The English mix has a few audible pops during a reel change near the end of the film; the Italian mix sounds muffled and tinny, and at some points over-recorded.

The supplements of this special edition release are spread over two discs. The first disc contains an audio commentary with cinematographer Giuseppe Pinori, moderated by journalist Federico Caddeo, in Italian with English subtitles. The commentary is actually quite interesting, with insightful anecdotes about Fulci’s work habits, memories of the actors and shooting on-location in New York, and Caddeo also interjects background info on the various talent involved with the film and its release history. Not an excellent commentary, but it’s a decent listen/read for Fulci fanatics. A trailer collection includes previews for Media Blasters’ in-house project SHADOW: DEAD RIOT (showing influences from both PRISON and THE DEAD PIT, with outrageous gore and fight sequences and an awesome muscle-bound black villainess!), ZOMBIE 2 (Fulci’s first and only major international hit), THE BEING (Bill Osco’s oddball monster mash), WITCHERY (another crazed Filmirage production that actually looks pretty interesting; the trailer opens with a nanosecond message about the trailer’s bad quality), and HIRUKO THE GOBLIN (grab this Japanese spider-demon masterpiece immediately!). The trailer for MURDER ROCK is in German, and looks to have been taken from the German Cult Cinema DVD.

Continuing on to the second disc, the many special features continue with “Tempus Fugit”, a 28-minute featurette produced and directed by Daniel Gouyette that is a real mixed bag. Designed as a tribute to Fulci, the piece fails because it interviews only a smattering of people, several of whom never even worked with or met the man, but succeeds because it provides some interesting insight into what made Fulci tick. Director Dario Argento introduces the piece via phone intercom (!) and reappears later to briefly mention his friendship with Fulci, director Luigi Cozzi recounts his brief interactions with Fulci when he almost directed Cozzi’s script of THE BLACK CAT and actually reveals he was not a fan of Fulci’s type of cinema, writer Dardano Sacchetti praises Fulci’s technical prowess as he has in countless other interviews, composer Claudio Simonetti never met Fulci when composing the score for CONQUEST (but tells an interesting story of how Fulci abandoned the project after shooting), producer Claudio Argento remembers Fulci’s work ethic (though they never worked together), director/special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti compares Fulci to Argento, actor Ray Lovelock recalls Fulci’s behavior with actors. The most interesting anecdotes come from writer Antonio Tentori, who gives a full appreciation of Fulci’s work in all genres and proves that he was also a big fan of Fulci and his history, not just one of his co-workers. He’s so passionate about Fulci that I wish he would do a few commentaries of his own!! Cozzi also lent his shop, Profondo Rosso, to be used for several of the other interviews, adding ambience to the proceedings. It’s not a bad featurette, it merely tries to accomplish more than it can with such limited resources.

An interview with MURDER ROCK cinematographer Giuseppe Pinori doesn’t discuss Fulci as much as the commentary with Pinori on disc 1, but Pinori’s memories of the Italian film industry of the time and how he entered the business are very interesting and worth hearing. Ray Lovelock appears in a video interview to discuss how he entered the film business and working with the various directors and actors throughout his career. It’s actually one of his more interesting interviews. Lovelock also appears in a separate interview specifically discussing MURDER ROCK, how he was cast in the film, and remembering the shooting of the film, including his interaction with director and co-stars.

A brief photo gallery contains international posters, video art, and soundtrack covers. A Lucio Fulci trailer reel includes previews for HOUSE OF CLOCKS and SWEET HOUSE OF HORRORS (both God-awful Italian TV movies), A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN (one of Fulci’s finest gialli), THE TOUCH OF DEATH (a surprisingly funny, gore-filled cheapie), ZOMBIE 3 (nonsensical mishmash of action, zombies, and gore), CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (an oblique masterpiece of atmosphere and violence), and ZOMBIE (again). As a bonus, Media Blasters has included lengthy selections from Emerson’s MURDER ROCK soundtrack on all of the menus for both discs. (Casey Scott)