ON DVD & BLU-RAY
The First Power (1990) Blu Ray (88 Films)
In Los Angeles a series of murders take place where the victims have pentagrams carved into their chests. A nun, Sister Marguerite (Elizabeth Arlen) senses that the killings are the harbinger of Satan’s return to earth, but she is dismissed by the church elders.
Meanwhile, Detective Russell Logan (Lou Diamond Phillips) receives a tip-off from a mysterious caller about where the next murder will take place. However she stresses that, if he catches him, he is to ensure that there is “no killing, no death penalty”. A police unit is on standby to pick up the killer, and a female officer named Carmen (Sue Giosa) is sent out as a decoy to entrap him. Carmen is soon pounced upon and abducted, so Logan and his partner Franklin (Mykelti Williamson) rush to the scene. They get there just in the nick of time and manage to catch the monster.
In the courthouse the judge - despite the prior pleas of the mysterious caller - mandates the death penalty. Big mistake: soon after his execution Carmen turns up dead with a pentagram carved on her chest. Logan is visited by a psychic named Tess Seaton (Tracy Griffith) who admits to being the mystery caller that phoned him previously. He is immediately suspicious and places her in his custody. However when his partner is killed by a stampeding horse and cart it becomes clear that Logan and Seaton must work together to stop this all-the-more-dangerous adversary.
Action/horror hybrid The First Power provided a starring role for Lou Diamond Phillips, an actor whose mixed ethnic background (part Scots-Irish American, part Cherokee, part Phillipino) landed him parts as Hispanics (La Bamba, Stand and Deliver), Native American (Renegades) and a mixture of both (Young Guns). Unfortunately here he is miscast; he just doesn’t have the right kind of cocksure charisma to make his “tough cop” role anything other than surly and unlikeable. Tracy Griffith isn’t a lot better. She’s Melanie Griffith’s half-sister, and while (at least in my eyes) a lot more beautiful she lacks the acting talent; her delivery comes across as forced and awkward. The best performance here is from Mykelti Williamson; he really shouldn’t have been killed off so soon into the movie since he brings some real spark to his scenes. However… such is the fate of black actors in too many horror films.
The First Power’s problems run far deeper than the casting. These kinds of horror/fantasies don’t have to be true to life, but at the same time they need to have some semblance of internal logic to work. This one however is just riddled with inconsistencies and oversights. If Seaton can sense the killer’s actions before they happen, this seems to be an ability that comes and goes at the whim of screenwriter/director Resnikoff. There is no consistency as to the defined powers of this satanic killer either; reincarnation and the ability to jump between human hosts are mentioned, but there also seems to be (unmentioned, but demonstrated) abilities to jump and fall great distances, to disappear and reappear in different locations, to fly and to taunt Logan with a series of hallucinatory visions. These latter abilities again come and go as the script feels it’s convenient. Later on there is a disturbing revelation about the killer’s past - but it just feels “thrown in” and rather inconsequential as a part of the film’s flow.
Resnikoff is somewhat better as an action director than a writer. He didn’t make another film after this one, but could have turned in something decent had he been given the chance to work with a better screenwriter (i.e. not himself). The action scenes are lively affairs with plenty of energetic camerawork and excellent stunts. In particular there is one pre-CGI jump from a skyscraper that’s jaw-droppingly dangerous looking. The horror elements though are somewhat trite, with the usual jump scares that have been done to death in other movies (oooh… a cat suddenly jumps into frame, aaaah… it was all a horrible dream).
On the whole, The First Power is a head-scratching mess. It’s the kind of film that probably worked OK when rented from the local video store back in 1990 and watched with a couple of mates, a few cans and a takeaway. Seen in the cold light of day however it’s pretty powerless.
Watch a trailer:
Runtime: 98 mins
Dir: Robert Resnikoff
Script: Robert Resnikoff
Starring: Lou Diamond Phillips, Tracy Griffith, Jeff Kober, Mykelti Williamson, Elizabeth Arlen, Dennis Lipscomb, Carmen Argenziano, Sue Giosa
It looks quite fine. I particularly enjoyed the look at the killer’s well-kept childhood room; all vivid pastel colours. Tracy Griffith’s rusty hair is stunning.
Decent enough, with the jump scare cues booming away effectively in stereo.
The usual 88 Films trailers, plus a pamphlet with an interview with Robert Resnikoff. He mentions, amongst other things, that while he was at film school he was inspired by Goddard, Antonioni and Fellini, and never thought he would end up directing a horror film.
It’s a pretty bad movie that’s entertaining if approached in the right (probably non-sober) frame of mind. Extras are nothing to write home about either.