Murder Rock:Dancing Death – Lucio Fulci – 1984

I wish they still made posters like this.

Murder Rock: Dancing Death is one of Fulci’s less gory efforts, and therefore not as well lauded by the throngs of gorehounds out there. However, this film is a restrained little giallo, borrowing from Suspiria and even his previous films, The New York Ripper, and Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. In an elite dancing school in New York, someone is killing off the students, and it’s up to Olga Karlatos (Zombi), to figure out who it is.

The film begins with two extremely cheesy and dated songs, and the dancing and editing don’t match the songs very well. It’s a rocky start, but once we get to the bathroom scene where Fulci undulates the lighting and moves to a rich suspenseful score by Kieth Emerson, the film puts its’ hooks into you as a heady psychological whodunit.  The cinematography by Giuseppe Pinori gives the film a gritty, sleazy look and the light varies from hot high key fluorescents in the beginning to dark club lighting and blue and pearl shine of a bathroom, where multiple kills take place.

Like many Fulci films, the director gives us several red herrings to follow, a false confession by a student chasing celebrity, an attempted murder by a jealous peer, and even a dream in which Karlatos imagines a semi-famous film actor to be the killer. Fulci juggles this misdirection between scenes of dancers being slain with hatpins to the heart. There is a sprinkling of detective work, by a couple of actors who don’t seem to care whether or not they solve the murders. It is typical of Fulci to toss off police figures as apathetic or incompetent. The characters are never too rich, but it is an intentional distance that is necessary so that the big reveal is not given away at the end.

In both Lizard In A Woman’s Skin and The New York Ripper characters dream they see the identity of the killer. In both films those dreams are validated, Fulci’s validation of a type of second sight offered by a dreaming state. In Murder Rock however, the dreams of Olga Karlatos are a mutation of the truth. The man she dreams the murderer to be is not the killer, but rather a man responsible for an injurious hit and run on her from years before. The man effectively killed her career.  And she has either consciously or sub-consciously created a plan to both keep other dancers, (artists) from realizing their dream while simultaneously framing the man who broke her legs, and making him pay for the slew of murders. It is a brilliantly conceived obsession, and the payoff of the film is worth the investment.

It’s a nasty little scheme, but one Fulci is apt to create. Perhaps he felt someone was spiteful to him and buried his opportunities. (After Don’t Torture A Duckling, his career was in a rough place, and he never got the steam back he had.) This storyline is needle to the heart of an artists dream. It creates a hateful, cyclical world where artists would kill peers to get ahead, and rueful has-beens are equally ready to destroy those who might pursue the life they would never have. Even the polite actor has dirty hands, having driven away from an auto accident so as not to injure his budding career. Being an artist is a dirty game, but if you want to play you have to “grit your teeth and dance, even when a friend dies!”

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