“Murdercise” isn’t quite as fun as I hoped, but this cheeky ode to the 80s offers great characters and social satire that many should enjoy.
Directed by Paul Ragsdale and Angelica de Alba (written by Ragsdale), Murdercise takes its cues from the exploitation films and the neon color schemes of the decade of excess.
Wannabe actress Phoebe, a self-proclaimed fitness fanatic, hopes to get her big break from shooting a workout video but falls foul of her supporting cast. A chance meeting with a Mafioso daughter leads Phoebe on a journey of discovery and grievous murder. Meanwhile, the Skid Row strangler is at large in the city.
If you were knocking about in the 80s, especially the early to mid-80s, then you would have seen a multitude of aerobic fitness videos as pioneered by Jane Fonda and, of course, Olivia Newton-John with the ‘Physical’ video that was banned by the BBC.
Murdercise effectively channels that 80s vibe, beginning with a credit sequence that evokes the synth-heavy music of the era and an homage to the slasher heyday, complete with a gratuitous shower scene.
The ‘workout’ video within the film world is something else. Lead by Candy (Jessica Flux), it is all lingering shots and excessive moaning while a grimy producer, Gino, observes from his booth.
Phoebe (excellently played by Kansas Bowling) is the proverbial sore thumb in this setup, outraged by what is essentially a soft-core production as well as possessing what seems like a right-wing mindset that puts her at odds with just about everyone else in the room.
The presence of Mob Wife Dominica Stromboli (Ginger Lynn, excelling here) squeezing her daughter Isabella (Nina Lanee Kent) into the video adds to her frustration with what she sees as an unfair situation.
It feels as though it is more of an attack on the politics of the 80s, shining a light on the business-is-business approach where success is ruthlessly pursued at all costs.
Phoebe’s character has been drawn up to be the complete opposite of those she is working with, setting her up to be a target for derision and to be treated as unimportant.
The portrayal of the other actresses is on point. They expertly channel that mean girl energy, while the production staff is portrayed as suitably oily and unsavory.
Bryan Hurd as Gino is pure filth.
It’s not all a horror show for Phoebe, however. Isabella takes her under her wing and loves being able to provide effective coaching to Phoebe on how to realize her dreams, even if this results in her resorting to extreme measures. There are some great moments between them that are fun to watch. Even though they are opposites, they have more in common than it first appears.
The resolution of the sub-thread involving the Skid Row Strangler comes in and changes the dynamic of the story. The tone darkens but feels at odds with what has come before. If you have watched any slasher film, you will be able to guess how it will end before we get there.
That doesn’t make it any less satisfying, and there are some neat effects on display as all the threads are tied together and wrapped up nicely.
Where the film really shines is in the way it nails the aesthetics of the era.
Each of the actors gives it their all, and the characters are sketched out enough to help them rise above the standard off-the-shelf characters you might expect in a microbudget sleazeploitation slasher. It’s clear a great deal of effort went into investing the audience in the characters, and that helps elevate the proceedings.
I really liked how each of the actresses within the story comes from a different sphere – wrestler, dancer, stripper — and these are shown as positive roles not to be dismissed. The characters are quite rightly proud of what they do and who they are. I found this very refreshing.
The film ends on a high note, but it does take its time ramping up.
Despite the first half of bitching, infighting, and flesh on display, it feels like a long time until Pheobe snaps. This gives the film a bit of a meandering pace when it should have leaned more heavily into the fun and frenzy.
Part of the challenge may have been how much ground the filmmakers tried to cover, throwing a lot into the mix, including commentary on 80’s politics, sleaze, and the portrayal of women in slasher films. While that’s admirable, it doesn’t all land as well as I wished it would have.
I think Murdercise could have benefitted from trying to do less. However, I also think it’s not the best film to watch in isolation the way I did, as it would be endlessly more fun with a large crowd or even a group of friends enjoying libations and a weekend watch.
While it’s not perfect, it’s clear a lot of heart and creativity went into making this film, and it’s got a lot to offer for fans of slashers, sleazy camp, and 80’s horror.
Make sure you stick around and watch the end video!