The Power (1984)
Pray for them. They have unleashed... THE POWER.
Year of Release: 1984
Running Time: 84 minutes (1:24)
Director: Stephen Carpenter, Jeffrey Obrow
Suzy Stokey ... Sandy
Warren Lincoln ... Jerry
Lisa Erickson ... Julie
Chad Christian ... Tommy
Ben Gilbert ... Matt
J. Dinan Myrtetus ... Francis Lott
Centuries ago, the Aztecs summoned the powerful forces of their most terrifying demons and created a new power. They embodied this power in a small clay idol and gave it the name Destacatyl.
As the small Aztec idol passes from generation to generation, it grows stronger and stronger - impervious to challenge. It is destiny and the destruction, an ancient fear and a perilous promise - it is THE POWER.
The Power, remindin' us that friends don't let friends drive Honda Civics. Course, if your friend happens to be possessed by the spirit of Quervocoatyl an becomes insistent, you may wanna be flexible with this rule if it seems like they might try stickin' your hand down the garbage disposal.
An speakin' of things that could lead to an ass kickin' at the drive-in, ever since that close call at the Grime Time a coupla weeks ago I been tellin' Skunky Hernandez that we have *got* to replace Gnarl to keep those evil demon rats from reestablishin' themselves as a threat to the drive-in way of life, but Skunky wasn't listenin'. Usually it takes some kinda blunt object an a throbbin' forehead vein before Skunky'll give ya the time of day, so Billy Hilliard, Tetnis an I ended up havin' to corner 'im at The Gutter Bowl last week an threaten to feed 'im to those carnivorous catfish he's got out in Lake Skunky if he didn't agree to get his act together. "Rats daed," was all he'd say, even after Billy an I swore on a mint condition copy of the 5th Anniversary edition of Famous Monsters of Filmland that the head rat'd escaped an was prolly already initiatin' a rat draft to reestablish 'imself as a regional power. "They jus' 'bow ay yer wife, dipthit!" was Billy's less an eloquent, yet completely accurate assessment of the situation, on top of which I added "an yer damn lucky Fannie Ogglesby never got around to takin' out that insurance policy on 'er ass or yours'd be grass right now." Tetnis don't really talk much, nor need to, cause he's about the scariest person you'll ever meet outside the Soggy Valley Women's Correctional Institution, but you could tell he was pretty P.O.'d by the way he snapped that pool cue in half an started sharpenin' the tip with his Bowie knife. "Fine! We get gato for movies, but you three pendejos on leeter box duty long as gato leeve!" was Skunky's conciliatory response. So Billy, Tetnis an I went down to Rin Tin Minh's Crossbar Hotel for Wayward House Pets and Fine Vietnamese Cuisine to conduct job interviews, an I'm not gonna sugar coat it - any *one* of those rats woulda eaten all these cats alive. We needed Heathcliff an every one of these alleged "cats" looked like somethin' out of a Snuggle fabric softener ad... that is, until Shanghai Muttley came in fightin' this thing he was carryin' in a burlap sack tooth an nail all the way to the back of the kennel where he finally pitched it into its holdin' cell. I warned 'im that if he'd captured Taz an thrown 'im in critter prison Warner Bros. was gonna sue 'im from here to Wuhan, but once this thing tore its way outta that bag I knew we had our mouser. It barely even qualifies as a cat - we're talkin' half Maine Coon/half wolverine or... hell I dunno what it is exactly, but I'm pretty sure it woulda eaten Shanghai's jugular if it'd gotten outta that bag. He's not really that bad though, matter of fact once we got Shanghai outta there we gave 'im a can of tunafish an he warmed right up to us. Ate the can an everything, it was kinda horrifyin'. We named 'im Gnash Bridges an got 'im all set up in Gnarl's old tool shed with a nappy old horse blanket an some kibble an he's about as happy as a half-wild, mutant freak of nature's gonna get in captivity. If that rodent tries to so much as set foot in the drive-in again without at least a coupla hundred troops backin' 'im up, he's gonna be in for a world of hurt.
Now, I know some of you folks're pretty P.O.'d about last week's movie, an I ain't gonna lie, it was essentially a glorified public service announcement to protect an unsuspectin' public from the horrors of turn of the century remakes. So to make it up to you, this week we got the 1984 FVI classic: The Power, starrin' a three-inch high haunted pocket knife whittlin' with ancient Mexican voodoo powers that likes to possess people an make their faces look like a wad of pizza dough that got run over by a Sherman tank. Not a lotta folks know about this flick on account of it runnin' the southern drive-in circuit in 1984 for about five minutes an then goin' more or less direct to video, but it's one of your better "cursed object ends acting careers of half a dozen promising film students" flicks ever to come outta Redondo Beach, California, so let's take a minute to get you prepped for what may be the most excitin' 84 minutes of a weekend limited entirely to indoor activities due to excessive wildfire smog. First, the Men's Wearhouse "you'll like the way you look" guarantee officially expires when you choose to don said business suit for a trip to Death Valley to meet a wise old Aztec medicine mang. Second, tabloid reporters draw the plausibility line at demon-possessed Mexican chess pieces. An third, you can blame the state of your apartment on the evil wood wraith in your desk drawer all you want, but the lease agreement won't cover acts of sadistic Treasure Trolls.
There is one thing about watchin' this flick that's a little depressin' though, an that's the simple fact that you really can't go home again. Personally, I never actually *left* home, cause when you've got all this there's really no reason to. But I think what folks're mean by "you can't go home again" is that there's no return ticket to our pasts, hard as some people may try draggin' their feet. Like I was sayin' though, there ain't a better place to witness this phenomenon than in The Power, cause this flick'd be completely impossible to make today on the basis that the old desert rat in the movie is only able to keep his haunted hoodoo figurine safe by entrustin' it to the care of a 12-year-old kid cause he's "still innocent" an incapable of bein' temped by its power. See where I'm goin' with this? I defy you to find a 12-year-old in 2017 who's still innocent. If they ain't murderin' their little pre-teen buddies in Call of Duty an rubbin' their undescended, animated testicles in the faces of their fallen foes, they're stressin' out about where they're gonna get their next black market Vicodin capsule, or what to do about the pedophile English Lit teacher who accidentally got knocked up when she was makin' a man out of 'em, or tryin' to figure out how they can possibly face gym class after their shitheel ex-boyfriends shared nekkid pictures of 'em on social media. We got serious plausibility problems even tryin' to accept the base premise of a flick that requires pre-teen innocence these days, it just wouldn't work. Now, sad as all this is, that don't mean we can't try livin' in the past, or celebratin' it, but there just ain't enough snakeskin an neon cotton in the world to bring us back to those days. I guess what I'm gettin' at is - if these kinda revelations upset you, I'm recommendin' you stop readin' this review right here, before the flood of broken memories turns into a flood of tears.
The movie begins at this college where Professor Dorky Von Wimpstache (Matthew) is teachin' one of those classes about metaphysical type stuff that conservatives love to rag on cause they lack practical real world applications, an he rambles on an on about how the ancient Aztecs were really into astronomy an believed that some prehistoric astro-demons fell down outta the heavens an formed the basis of... ya know, those things the teenagers shout out when they're summonin' Captain Planet. Then he shows 'em a slide of this little bug-eyed Buddha carvin' from a Mexican Pottery Barn that's supposed to have spooky powers, until some wiseacre in the peanut gallery starts hecklin' 'im an the next thing you know he's starin' at the kid like Bela Lugosi an causin' his nose to bleed like a hemophiliac gettin' an acupuncture treatment. That's right about the time class lets out, but once everyone's cleared outta there this fat guy (Francis) walks in an tells the professor he saw what happened to the kid an that "it's taken hold" of 'im, which seems pretty preposterous to me, cause I can't picture any situation where *anything* would take ahold of this guy without gettin' their money up front. Then the professor tells Francis that he can "control it" an decides to prove it by telepathically slicin' Francis' face like a near-sighted barber with Parkinson's Disease so the piggy'll scare an go pee-pee-pee all the way home. Cept then the doc gets a real bad case of Taco Bell Bowel an the whole auditorium starts fillin' up with smog an flashin' lights like he's inside a California roller disco, an pretty quick he floats up into the air like Peter Pan an gets impaled on a conveniently placed flag stand. So, havin' just seen this other guy get shish-kabobed to death like a hungover Spaniard in Pamplona, Francis gets the doc to tell 'im the location of Satan's dashboard dolly with his dying breath an hires a Mexican taxi driver to drop 'im off in the middle of Death Valley so he can commune with the spirits via heat stroke hallucination. Finally, after Francis's pumped out enough sweat to fill an olympic sized swimmin' pool, a kid appears outta nowhere an takes 'im to see this old fart who lives in a tent an runs a myth perpetuation/chuckwalla-chilada business, an he tells Francis that the kid charges 'im a monthly storage fee to hold onto the relic cause the last time he tried keepin' it 'imself he ended up down in Nicaragua negotiatin' arms deals with the Reagan Administration.
Francis offers the guy burros, churros, an purt'near everything in between for it, but the guy says he wouldn't give it to 'im for all the cheese in Green Bay. Now Francis is really P.O.'d cause he still hasta get up early to make that Tijuana timeshare presentation or else the Marriott won't give 'im back his passport, so he waits for everybody to go to sleep an starts riflin' through their hovel until he locates el curio de feario an asks for a demonstration of its power... at which point he finds 'imself possessed by the spirit of an executed gangbanger an watches helplessly as he murders the old guy an the kid. Next thing you know we're back in the states where these three kids (Julie, Tommy, an Matt) are sneakin' into the local cemetery to practice their ouija-boardin' so they can get their own show on the Syfy network, only the graveyard seems to be located somewhere in the suburbs of L.A. cause the ghosts're so damned snobby that all they'll say is "GO" over an over again. I guess it could be because Tommy is currently in possession of the evil happy meal memento (apparently his parents came by it somehow), but let's be realistic here - bein' dead ain't gonna make you any less crotchety. So the kids follow Captain Howdy's instructions an take off, only a few minutes later the night watchman comes by to make sure none of the local goth kids're out there stealin' markers to decorate their dorm rooms, an when he walks into the tombstone storage shed he ends up gettin' his head squished into pancake batter by an errant slab of concrete like some kinda morbid Looney Tunes cartoon. Then, just in case we didn't already have enough characters, the next day this tabloid news reporter who looks like Wendy Williams from Porky's (Sandy) comes home to find 'er Pauly Shore lookin' ex-boyfriend (Jerry) has come to attempt reconciliation an further convolution of the plot, but Sandy can't really picture 'erself with a guy whose hair still hasn't moved outta the '70s an so it doesn't really work. But later that night, Tommy's sittin' at his desk rubbin' his little bedeviled Buddha sculpture when all the sudden it starts movin' things around the room like in Poltergeist, settin' his sub-woofers on fire, eatin' his 8-track of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, an generally causin' demonic ticker-tape parade havoc until he manages to escape out the window. This goes pretty strongly against what little he's absorbed in Science class, so he gets together with the rest of the Midnight Society an they decide to talk to Sandy about it since she's opted to make a career out of writin' about supernatural happenins while she waits for the L.A. Times to call.
But while Tommy's tellin' Sandy about nearly bein' sucked into the Land of Oz by the bedroom tornado, Jerry's convincin' Julie to give 'im the idol so he can find out if it really does have gnarly powers. I suspect he's thinkin' it might be able to help 'im convince Sandy it's a nice day for a white wedding, or at least have enough juice to help rock the cradle of love. It don't rock easily, ya know, an he's got small girlish arms to begin with. But later that night, Sandy goes to bed an dreams about a light shinin' in from under 'er door like in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, an pretty quick a buncha arms spring up out of 'er bed like it's fulla zombie hookers who got sewn up in a Motel 6 mattress to keep 'em from talkin' about the lobbyin' they've been doin' with various congressmen. Eventually she wakes up to find the place lookin' like Mitch McConnell's office after the Obamacare repeal vote, an when Jerry comes home an floats the theory that the little terror trinket mighta done it she goes all snot-nose on 'im an tells 'im that line of reasonin's why she never let 'im get past 2nd base. He tries gettin' 'er to run a story about it but she says she's got too much integrity to print somethin' based upon such flimsy evidence an tells 'im to bugger off so she can finish up 'er update on the woman suin' Bigfoot for child support in time to meet Batboy for lunch. Then Jerry heads back to the house, only when he gets there an can't locate the Beelzebauble he goes apeshit an starts diggin' through the trash can with this look on his face like he's about to start muggin' hobbits an demandin' they empty their pocketses, til he finally finds it in the middle of a phone call with Julie who's tryin' to warn 'im about how the devil's knickknack gets its power by takin' over the people who possess it. Simply put, Tyler Durden was right when he said "the things you own end up owning you." So, wanting justification for having just stuck his hand into a container of curdled sweet an sour pork to retrieve his prize, he asks it to prove its power to 'im, only it won't do a damn thing cause that'd be a vulgar display of power or somethin'. At least that's how it seems until he wakes up in the middle of the night to find his face lookin' like the hospital staff in The Eye of the Beholder Twilight Zone episode, which causes 'im to question some of his recent life choices.
Then one of Sandy's friends comes over an Jerry shoves 'er hand down the garbage disposal like a bowl of Frito casserole that didn't get cooked all the way through when she won't give up 'er car keys, an he ends up hangin' a note on the door sayin' he's gone over to Sandy's Dad's place to see if he can get his consent to marry 'er now that he figures he can hit it big doin' a guest shot on Arthur C. Clark's Mysterious World. Apparently it didn't go so well, cause once Sandy figures out what's goin' on she heads over there an Jerry hasta tell 'er her Dad had an erection lastin' longer'n four hours or choked on a Werther's Original or somethin' an hadda be taken to the hospital, at which point he starts slappin' 'er around like a 1950s housewife who didn't have supper ready when he got home from work. She slaps 'im back though, an apparently flips some unseen switch on his cheek from the "manic" setting over to "depressive" an pretty quick he starts apologizin' an explainin' to 'er that he needs 'er help because he gives 'imself the creeps, an that sometimes his mind plays tricks on 'im, but when she tries takin' the demonic doodad away his face starts contortin' again like it's about to turn into a Picasso paintin' an she bolts faster'n an atheist's front door when a coupla those creepy teenagers with the white button-up shirts an ties pull their bicycles into the driveway. Meantime though, the kids've been by Sandy's house, found the note on the door, an come to try helpin' Jerry work through this little inner struggle he's battlin' an he ends up scarin' the boys off with his stigmata wounds an tellin' Julie that he's teamed up with Snap! so he could have the power, an that it apparently needed someone like him to control it cause it secretly wanted to be bound in leather an flogged with a ridin' crop or somethin', I didn't really understand that part. Anyhow, then Sandy sneaks up on 'im an snags the idol while Jerry ain't lookin' an pretty quick he starts groanin' like Animal from The Muppet Show an doin' this weird 1960s dance that looks like he's tryin' to keep an invisible hula hoop from hittin' the ground while a beam of light shines down on 'im like he's about to be abducted by aliens. Prolly better cut the commentary right here before I go an spoil the endin', but there's another "surprise" comin' if you're not especially bright, or accidentally fell asleep partway through the flick.
Alrighty, well, this one seems to have escaped detection by a lot of genre fans (and the general public, but that goes without saying), but even though it's your standard "evil object wreaks supernatural havoc" kinda movie, it's better than its IMDB rating and relative obscurity would suggest. It's a bit distracted, and has more characters (that you couldn't give a damn less about) than it needs to effectively tell its story, but it's generally well-structured, well-paced, and looks reasonably professional for a movie that probably didn't break six figures on its budgetary allowance. It was also one of the last films to be made by Film Ventures International, which produced quite a few genre titles (The Dark, The Incubus, Pieces, Pod People, The House on Sorority Row, Mortuary, Mutant, Grizzly, and Day of the Animals) before collapsing as a result of being sued by Universal for its Jaws knock-off, Great White (aka The Last Shark). Which is unfortunate, because I've given a passing grade to many of those flicks, and if not for that little calamity they might well have been churning out highly enjoyable, low-budget genre titles for another decade. The Power is definitely one of their tamer efforts, although what it lacks in ferocity it makes up for with somewhat better production values than titles like The Dark, Pod People, and Mutant. It's also one of those rare flicks that I like, and for the life of me, cannot explain why. The plot's been done time and time again, it doesn't have any fantastic acting performances, and there's not much in the way of gore or body count, yet it manages to entertain and endear itself to the viewer despite your complete lack of concern for the well-being of its characters. It's also unusual in that it features co-directors, and not in the way most films have two directors (anthology films, one guy gets fired partway through filming but retains partial credit, etc.), as this was actually the second of three flicks these two guys directed together. They also did The Dorm that Dripped Blood, and The Kindred, before eventually parting ways. Stephen Carpenter is actually credited as a writer, cinematographer, and editor in addition to his co-directing duties, and kinda puttered around in obscurity through the '90s and '00s, before eventually creating the TV series Grimm, after an extended leave of absence from his horror roots. Jeffrey Obrow, who is also listed as an editor, writer, and producer on this flick, hasn't gone on to have the level of success that Carpenter has, although that may well be a choice, given that he's spent some time teaching at USC's film school. The last little piece of bizarre trivia I'll leave you with regarding this flick (and I have no idea whether this is accurate or whether the IMDB's just gotten its wires crossed again), is that Dick Clark is credited with an executive producer's title on this thing. I'm gonna assume it's a different Dick Clark whose credits happened to get merged with his more famous namesake, but anything's possible.
Anyhow, time to get down to brass tacks and find out if this thing's still got enough power over cranky shut-ins to eke out a passin' grade, or whether said power's been checked and balanced by the passage of time. The plot, as I've mentioned, has been happening since The Twilight Zone, and even farther back than that if you wanna include short stories like The Monkey's Paw. So the crux of the movie has very little in the way of innovation or originality, while simultaneously coming up short in terms of adequately explaining the line of succession on the cursed object. Because the first place we see the idol is at the professor's lecture in the opening scene, right? It's physically sitting on the podium while he's speaking. However, once Francis shows up and the professor goes psycho and ends up impaled on the wall, he tells Francis where to find the idol, and it involves a trip to the desert. Why's he gotta go down there to try claiming it if it was on the podium? Then little Tommy ends up with it for the sake of convenience, after explaining his parents obtained it on a trip someplace. Normally I could deal with that kinda segue, except that up to this point everyone we've seen come in contact with the doom curio has ended up bleedin' out like stuck pigs, so what was his parents' secret to survival? There's more little stuff like that, but I think you get the idea. So in conclusion, the plot's less than coherent. The acting is basically a 50/50 split in terms of good performances versus bad ones, but fortunately it's all the important characters who get the most screen time that put in the best efforts. Lisa Erickson, J. Dinan Myrtetus, Suzy Stokey, and particularly Warren Lincoln all do pretty well with their characters, while Chad Christian, Ben Gilbert, and Alice Champlin come across as amateurish. So, like most low budget horror flicks, it's a mixed bag. But the good news is that the actors who really needed to deliver a good performance generally did, thus earning a passing score for this particular section.
Here's who matters and why: Suzy Stokey (Star Slammer, The Tomb, The Phantom Empire, Deep Space), Warren Lincoln (Torment 1986), Ben Gilbert (In the Mouth of Madness), Chris Morrill (The Dorm that Dripped Blood), J. Dinan Myrtetus (The Lost Boys), Gabe Cohen (Deadline), Barbara Murray (Tales from the Crypt, The Curse of King Tut's Tomb), Richard Cowgill (The Dorm that Dripped Blood), Jake Jones (The Dorm that Dripped Blood), Stan Weston (Torment 1986).
The special effects, while somewhat primitive when compared to a Walking Dead zombie, are actually damn good for the skimpy budget this film no doubt had to work with, and that's not a big surprise given that they were created by the underappreciated Matthew Mungle, who's racked up some 243 credits for his work in the makeup department over the years. Mungle's early career included work on horror flicks like Just Before Dawn, The Dorm that Dripped Blood, Mausoleum, Torment, The Kindred, and A Nightmare on Elm Street III, before moving on to more mainstream titles like Natural Born Killers, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and Dr. Dolittle, but he didn't get there by half-assin' it in the early days of his career, and The Power is perhaps just a little better than it deserves to be for his contribution. Most of the effects are facial appliances showing off the disfigurement caused by the demonic possession, and all things considered, they're pretty good. Beyond that, there's only a smattering of blood here and there (which is a little bright in color and a bit thin), as no attempt was made to actually show the night watchman's head getting crushed by the stone slab or the aftermath of the hand being forced down the garbage disposal. The shooting locations are unquestionably the least interesting and least significant factor as far as the movie's success goes, as the vast majority of the settings could be pulled off convincingly enough just about anywhere. That said, the opening scene in the lecture hall is an exception that cannot be easily or cheaply substituted, and it fits the bill. There's also a newspaper office that serves the necessary function, although I suspect it's pretty easy to make just about any big room generically conform with the addition of cubicles. The only outdoor sequences are the cemetery (which looks pretty phony), and the scene in the desert (which looks okay, although you can see snow on the mountains in the background in what's supposed to be a pretty arid location). The soundtrack is definitely the single most impressive part of the movie, having been composed by the great Christopher Young who would go on to compose the music for Hellraiser and its sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Half of the tracks actually sound a lot like some of Richard Band's stuff, but then they both tend to use the same types of instruments in their tracks, and there's certainly no missing the resemblance to Hellraiser as the movie goes on. It's not nearly as epic in scale as the Hellraiser scores are, but it's still very catchy, atmospheric, and adds a hell of a lot of class to an otherwise average flick. Overall, this film, while not outstanding in any specific way, is decent to good by most measures, and deserves more exposure than it's gotten. I'm inclined to pass it and recommend it to fans of the supernatural horror subgenre, and to anybody who recognizes the greatness of the 1980s. Check it out.