The First Power: You Can’t Keep a Good Serial Killer Down

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A serial killer believed to be dead, resurrected from the grave, continues his bloody spree? Wes Craven did it in Shocker. Lance Henriksen hunted a serial killer’s spirit in The Horror Show. Body Parts, Trick or Treat, Fallen – they’re all variations on the same premise. At the tail-end of the 80’s ‘Satanic Panic‘, The First Power surprised at the box office with a similar theme. Writer and Robert Resnikoff capitalized on not one, but two, moral panics – the perceived spread of Satanic cults across American and the rise of the serial killer. In fact, The First Power’s Pentagram Killer feels like something of a riff of of The Night Stalker, Richard Ramierz. Critics despised the movie and it’s largely faded into obscurity.

Synopsis

For several months, Patrick Channing, The Pentagram Killer, has terrorized the streets of Los Angeles. But a psychic’s tip finally leads Detective Russell Logan to Channing, putting an end to his ritualistic murders. However, Logan’s anonymous psychic, Tess Seaton, urges him to not push for the death penalty. Ignoring her warning, Logan watches what he thinks is the end of Channing’s reign of terror. Yet somehow The Pentagram Killer’s murders start up again. And Logan begins seeing Channing and hearing his voice at every corner. Tess reveals that Satan has rewarded his loyal disciple with The First Power – resurrection. Now Logan can possess hapless victims at will to continue his bloody work.

The First Power Gifts Itself The Dumbest of Two Film Genres

Imagine if Stallone’s Cobra had a child with an Exorcist-themed ripoff. Yes, writer and director Robert Resnikoff fuses 80s rogue cop tropes with pretty generic supernatural horror beats. As a result, The First Power feels like two distinct movies in one. By 1990, the action cop formula was already getting long in the tooth. Nevertheless, Resnikoff still dutifully ticks off the boxes. Lou Diamond Phillips’ Detective Logan fires his gun into crowds, commandeers a vehicle and engages in a destructive car chase, gets pulled off the case by his superior, loses his partner, etc. Just two years later, Schwarzenegger’s The Last Action Hero would poke fun at all these clichés and it’s pretty telling here.

The First Power feels like two distinct movies in one.

On the flip side, The First Power’s horror elements don’t feel fresh either. Though they weren’t their own subgenre, serial killer wreaking havoc beyond the grave wasn’t new stuff. One year earlier, Wes Craven did the same thing in the much better, Shocker. And The First Power makes up its supernatural rules as it goes along. Heavy doses of expository dialogue conveniently fill in the blanks when required. When the resurrected Pentagram Killer rips a fan from the ceiling and uses it as a weapon – in spite of the fact it wouldn’t be connected to electricity – you know to leave logic at the door. With such a silly premise, The First Power wisely sidesteps the how’s and why’s of its story.

The First Power Executes a Few Scares Amidst Fast-Paced Story

Though it’s not the Mensa of horror movies, The First Power works as a fast-paced thriller with a few creeps here and there. As a director, Resnikoff capably sets up a few decent action scenes, including one with a horse-drawn carriage. And there’s a few surprisingly decent special effects. Channing’s high-story leap actually comes off quite well in the absence of the CGI effects that would have been used today. Another scene with a possessed homeless woman floating outside an apartment window delivers the movie’s best scare. Arguably, Stewart Copeland’s soundtrack is The First Power’s strongest asset. Yes, Copeland, formerly of The Police, scores The First Power. And it adds a bit of much-needed atmosphere to the movie.

Phillips doesn’t look grizzled enough for the role …

As Detective Logan, Lou Diamond Phillips (Bats) acquits himself just fine in a role for which he’s probably not best-suited. Phillips doesn’t look grizzled enough for the role, and he doesn’t inhabit the character with the kind of weariness one might expect. For Tracy Griffiths (Tess Seaton), The First Power was one of only a handful of acting roles. While she’s not terrible, Griffiths isn’t very convincing either. At least character actor Jeff Kobler looks like he’s having a blast playing The Pentagram Killer. He has the right look and pulls off the role. Of course, Resnikoff’s leaden dialogue does no one any favours.

The First Power Possesses Enough Horror Kitsch To Make It Worth a Look

The First Power is the unholy marriage between 80’s rogue cop movies and early 90’s supernatural horror. Not surprisingly, it hasn’t aged particularly well. To be honest, The First Power was a bit out of date in 1990. But there’s still some kitsch value to it. Never boring, Resnikoff keeps things moving briskly enough to ensure you’re never bored. Throw in a few effective scares and Stewart Copeland’s effective score and you have a 90’s supernatural thriller that works as pure escapist entertainment.

THE FINAL VERDICT: WORTH A RE-VISIT

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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