Monday, June 3, 2019

"Do an Autopsy on His Face" - Aerobi-Cide aka Killer Workout (1987)

It is time to follow the career of late director David A. Prior and his actor brother Ted Prior with Aerobi-Cide (1987) aka Killer Workout. We have discussed their first film, Sledge Hammer (1983), but it must be said that his third film, Aerobi-Cide, could be considered an even more accomplished film.

Unfortunately, not all of your universe's critics can be unbiased about Aerobi-Cide. For example, a reviewer coincidentally named KillerWorkout writes, "This movie is without a doubt the worst horror movie I've ever seen." Similarly, reviewer runiously writes, "This is the worst slasher film I have ever seen." And reviewer impossiblehim writes, "The plot is paper thin and ridiculous, the acting is an abomination, the script is completely laughable."

Read on for a deep discussion of this classic film, including the lyrics to several of its memorable workout songs...

The film begins as model Valerie enters her house, accompanied by a classic tune whose lyrics I present here:

“Alone in the dark, I hide my face.
Afraid of the spark I chase.
There’s no turning back, I know ‘cause I’ve tried.
The hunger I feel just won’t be denied.

The moon rises in your eyes.
I’ve looked and I’ve seen inside.
The power is you, the power is me.
The touch of your hands is all that I need.”

Valerie checks her answering machine, which for some reason is at least as big as a contemporaneous laserdisc player, to find a message from a friend who needs to borrow a sexy red dress because she has a date with a man from a lighthouse with an incredible bulge in his pants. A more important message follows: She got a modeling job that will take her to Paris. “I told ‘em you’ve got a great tan,” the message says, “so make sure you do.”

Valerie heads straight to Second Sun, a tanning parlor. Although she is the only person in the place so late at night, she strips down to a thong and lies down in a tanning bed, whose lid closes. Suddenly, the controls spark and she is lit on fire.

The film cuts to an aerobics studio, Rhonda’s Work-Out, the next day where an exceptionally long class is in session to another 1980s hit song (though one that includes a slightly nonstandard use of the word “incite”):

“Hey, baby, you sure look sexy
Standing there watching me.
I can see the hunger in you
Reaching for your fantasy.
Only you tonight.
My one desire.
Only you tonight.
Could make me incite the fire.

Hey, baby, I got the apple.
Red and juicy, warm and sweet.
All the laughter and the loving
That your hungry lips can eat.
Only you tonight.
My one desire.
Only you tonight.
Could make me incite the fire.

What you see ain’t what you get.
The truth don’t always show.
Love will blind you and you forget
The things you want to know.
Only you tonight.
My one desire.
Only you tonight.
Could make me incite the fire.”

After the class, both aerobics instructor/studio owner Rhonda and instructor/employee Jaimy rebuff the musclebound Jimmy, who glares at them angrily.

A second murder occurs when one of the studio’s patrons is stabbed with what appears to be a large safety pin.

Seconds later, Jaimy reveals she has a crush on the musclebound Jimmy when she breaks into his locker and fondles his athletic supporter. Later, she finds the second murder victim’s body stuffed into a locker in the ladies’ locker room, precipitating  the traditional police investigation, which begins when Lt. Morgan picks up a bloody knitting needle with ungloved hands and drops it into a baggie.

Interviewed by Lt. Morgan, Jaimy says, “She was so pretty.”

“Not any more,” says Lt. Morgan, somewhat insensitively.

The next day, after another aerobics montage, Rhonda meets Chuck Dawson, played by Sledge Hammer’s Ted Prior, who was just hired by Rhonda’s senior partner, Mr. Erickson, fact that Rhonda resents. Chuck makes himself useful, however, by beating up the musclebound Jimmy in an alley, a fight witnessed by an aerobics student named Debbie. Despite the fact that he is in the middle of the work day, Chuck rides off with Debbie in her car. We follow them to Debbie’s house, where he asks questions about the studio regulars. When she goes inside to change, Chuck uses her outdoor phone (which is either questionably connected to a phone line or a technologically advanced precursor to the cellular telephone) to call Mr. Erickson about his investigation into the murders.

There follows a classic aerobics montage set to a catchy tune with the following lyrics:

“If your body’s feeling much too big
And you look just like Mr. Hippo and Mrs. Pig,
You gotta work out, you gotta work out,
Animal workout.

You say your breathing’s too fast but you’re moving too slow.
Listen to me, baby, ‘cause there’s somewhere you should go.
You gotta work out, you gotta work out,
Animal workout.
You gotta work out, you gotta work out,
Animal workout.

Reach for your toes and hit the stars.
Well, you reach your limit, you got to do
Some more and more and more and more and more.
Sweat. Reach. Bend. Up. Down.”

At night, the perpetually angry Lt. Morgan follows someone named Diane Matthews, who was briefly mentioned earlier as the owner of the locker into which the body was stuffed. Calling back to headquarters, he asks about a report on the bloody knitting needle. “Tell that college boy if he doesn’t have that report in 30 minutes, I’m going to come over there and do an autopsy on his face.”

Lt. Morgan knocks on Diane’s door to question her, but she is murdered by the safety pin, and the killer escapes by throwing himself (or herself) through a window.

Morgan returns to his car, where the dispatcher at headquarters informs him that the bloody knitting needle was not the murder weapon. (The bloody knitting needle is never mentioned again.)

Later, three teenagers pull a prank they think is hilarious: They spray graffiti on the window of Rhonda’s Work-Out that says both Aerobicide and Death Spa (perhaps the inspiration for the title of the similar film Death Spa, released two years later). The teenagers are stalked and killed, now with a knife instead of a safety pin. In the filmmakers’ most creative sequence, one victim is stabbed through the roof of her convertible.

With the murder, it is time for another entertaining aerobics routine set to a classic pop song, this one called “Rockin’ Rock.”

When the montage is finished, two more studio customers, this time men, are killed, one with the safety pin and one with a dumbbell (not, to be clear, a euphemism for actor Ted Prior.)

After an extended fight sequence at Rhonda’s house in which Jimmy beats Chuck up and kicks him into the pool, we learn that Chuck is really a private investigator hired by Mr. Erickson. It seems Jimmy has been obsessed with Rhonda for years, a fact Chuck learned by breaking into Jimmy’s house.

Back at the studio, more murders are committed, including poor Jaimy, who is hanged in a doorway.

The filmmakers cut to a new aerobics montage, demonstrating that the almost constant murders at the studio have not hurt attendance. The song this time is called “Aerobicide”:

Working out until you die.
It’s the perfect body you’re trying to find.

In the parking lot, Jimmy crashes into Chuck with his Mustang and kills him with an ice pick.

In the film’s most shocking twist, Lt. Morgan finds out that Rhonda is really Valerie, the woman who was burned up in the tanning bed in the film’s prologue. Lt. Morgan helpfully explains what is happening. Speaking about the victims, he tells her, “All of them were good looking, beautiful people in great shape, perfect bodies, one might say.”

“All except me,” says Rhonda/Valerie.

“All except you, Rhonda Johnson, who used to be the perfectly beautiful Valerie Johnson until 70% of her body was burned in a tanning spa accident five years ago. Valerie Johnson, who was to become the modeling world’s newest young star, but suddenly couldn’t get a job starring in a freak show!”

After exposing her burned body to him, she says, “That doesn’t mean I killed all those people.”

“I think it does. I think it eats you up inside to look at those young, beautiful bodies, knowing that you have to spend a lifetime hiding yours, knowing that any man would get sick if he tried to make love to you.”

“You bastard,” she says, quite rightly.

Seconds later, Lt. Morgan finds out over the radio that Jimmy really is the killer, so he lets Rhonda/Valerie go and chases Jimmy through a suburban apartment complex and into the adjacent cement factory. After a long chase, Jimmy knocks Lt. Morgan out and gets away, but Lt. Morgan reveals he still thinks Rhonda/Valerie is the killer and Jimmy is trying to take the fall for her.

Just handcuffed and accused of being a psychotic murderer, Rhonda/Valerie goes to take a shower in her studio, unaware that Jimmy is continuing to stalk her. In a shocking scene, the naked, burned Rhonda/Valerie pulls a handgun from her locker and shoots Jimmy, proving herself an excellent markswoman even though she appears to be aiming too high and to the right even as Jimmy falls to the ground.

Confirming that Rhonda/Valerie is the slasher, she kills Jimmy after he confesses that he killed Chuck to throw the police off her trail.

The film’s climax occurs when Lt. Morgan drives Rhonda/Valerie to the woods. She follows him, wearing her baggy gold lame dress while he carries a big shovel (the presence of which many people might consider suspicious).

Lt. Morgan breaks into a long, long monologue about the line between good and evil before he pulls out a gun. Fortunately for Rhonda, however, she is able to grab the shovel while the lieutenant is endlessly talking, and she smacks him with it.

In the film’s coda, Rhonda/Valerie returns to her studio. Her co-worker has cooked up a new ad campaign. “By mid-week, this place will be packed to the walls with gorgeous bodies.”

Rhonda/Valerie says with a chilling smile, “I’m counting on it.” She also reveals the giant safety pin murder weapon is her ever-so-slightly impractical keychain.

Aerobi-Cide might not have the visceral impact of the Priors' first feature Sledge Hammer, but it is a more confident, expansive, and colorful horror film. The mystery is well structured, as the audience is kept up in the air about the identity of the killer until the final moments. The police investigation is also handled quite well; particularly clever is the physical and behavioral resemblance of Detective Morgan to David Rasche, who was starring in the TV police comedy Sledge Hammer! at the same time as Aerobi-Cide was being filmed.

Aerobi-Cide is famous for many things, but probably its most famous component is the massive safety pin that Rhonda/Valerie wields as a murder weapon. The film is perhaps the only slasher movie in history in which the murder weapon also serves as a key chain. Well done, Prior brothers!

I must admit, however, that the film contains one mystery I have never solved. Is Valerie's tanning bed accident in the opening truly an accident? What if it is actually a murder attempt, perhaps by one of Rhonda/Valerie's future employees in Rhonda's Work-Out? Perhaps Jimmy was responsible for all the murders after all, having failed to kill Valerie in the beginning. Or perhaps the mystery is unsolvable after all. In any case, I will have to leave such speculation to the fan-fiction writers, of which there must be many toiling away, penning their clever stories and homages to one of David A. Prior's finest films, Aerobi-Cide.