Color, 1984, 92 mins. 57 secs.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Olga Karlatos, Ray Lovelock, Claudio Cassinelli, Cosimo Cinieri, Christian Borromeo, Giuseppe Mannajuolo, Geretta Geretta
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Media Blasters (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Marketing-Film (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), CCI (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Creative Axa (DVD) (Japan R2 NTSC)
A giallo that owes more to music videos than Bava, Murderock (or more properly listed on screen as Murder-rock: Dancing Death) is one of the most divisive films from beloved Italian director Lucio Fulci. It marked a distinct shift in his approach to horror films after the completion of his golden, scope-lensed era in 1982 with Manhattan Baby, sticking with the New York setting but going for a pop-horror aesthetic meant to inaugurate a new wave of thrillers set in the world of performing arts. Health issues waylaid those plans with Fulci only returning to the director's chair two years later with the outrageous The Devil's Honey, but what remains here is a visually striking and entertaining little diversion that satisfies as long as you aren't expecting buckets of gore.
At a New York dance academy obviously inspired by a recent viewings of Flashdance and Fame, tough-love dance instructor Candice (Zombie's Karlatos) pushes her aerobicizing charges to new heights of glory when three spots open up at a prestigious agency. Unfortunately their routines are disrupted when one young lady winds up getting a long metal pin fatally shoved into her breastplate during a nocturnal shower in the locker room, and everyone becomes a suspect. Meanwhile Candice suffers from surreal dreams in which she's chased by a sinister man (Lovelock) whose face happens to pop up on a billboard. A little detective work reveals he's a waning actor with ties to the victim, and soon the body count rises. Who's responsible? And who will live to dance another day?
Fulci got a lot of flack over the years for this one, primarily for its back-to-back opening musical sequences seasoned with some trendy breakdancing (intercut with shots of the Big Apple skyline), both to songs that will linger forever in your memory ("Streets to Blame" and "Tonight Is Your Night," for the record). In the film's defense, it pretty much throws out the whole '80s dance fixation after that and goes into proper thriller mode complete with the illogical plotting and flat-as-paper characterizations you might expect. The plot is really a thinly-veiled rehash of Fulci's New York Ripper (complete with a similar dream-motivation tactic and red herring ploy), but this time Fulci leaves the gore back in Italy and focuses instead on lots of nudity that can't be classified as gratuitous since, well, the killer likes to poke the dancers in the chest. Late prog rocker Keith Emerson returns from Inferno for his second Italian horror score, and it's certainly memorable though no one will ever confuse it with his Argento masterpiece. Easily the most successful aspect of the film is the striking cinematography by Giuseppe Pinori (Contamination), who uses strobing lights and filters to a surprisingly rich effect throughout in a manner similar to The Fifth Cord. Interestingly, the lighting and compositions in the dance school sequences also foreshadow a similar approach in Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria, particularly its central "Volk" number.
After years of substandard video transfers (and complete dismissal in America after a fleeting theatrical release as The Demon Is Loose), Murderock got its first respectable home video release courtesy of Media Blasters' 2006 DVD edition. The anamorphic transfer is rich and colorful with some of that '80s grain still intact where it should be. Audio is presented in a fine but dated English stereo mix (canned but appropriate since it matches most of the actors' lip movements) and the original Italian mix, which features much less channel separation and is tinny mono and pretty much indistinguishable from the ancient Domovideo VHS tapes. No English subtitle options are provided on this one. Media Blasters somehow managed to bless this unlikely title with a double-disc set, and along with the film itself, the first disc contains an audio commentary with Pinori and writer Federico Caddeo (in Italian with optional subs) that covers the basics of the film's productions and memories of working with Fulci. You also get a fake, video-era Murderock preview from the European release (too bad as the real Japanese trailer is far superior -- and did an American one ever even exist?), plus an international trailer for Witchery and promos for other titles including The Being, Hiroku the Goblin and Shadow: Dead Riot. Disc two features a tribute video to Fulci entitled "Tempus Fugit" (28m11s) with a variety of luminaries including Dario Argento (via phone), Luigi Cozzi, Claudio Simonetti, Lovelock, writer Antonio Tentori and others sharing their memories of the director, albeit most of them briefly given the compact running time. Lovelock gets more breathing room in two separate pieces reflecting on his career in general (14m33s) and his work with the director (21m38s), and it's a nice companion piece to his appearances on previous Italian genre releases. Pinori also returns for a video interview, (14m8s) mostly rehashing material from the commentary but also covering his views on the entire industry as a whole during a period when Italian horror was generally considered to be going downhill (and is now unfortunately pretty much extinct). Other extras include a small photo gallery of promotional art and a hefty selection of Fulci trailers including Zombie, City of the Living Dead, Touch of Death, A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Sweet House of Horrors and House of Clocks. It's also worth noting that the Media Blasters disc runs 92m54s but with lengthy DVD production credits appended at the end.
In 2018, Scorpion Releasing brought the film to Blu-ray complete with a limited edition (mini-poster and gorgeous slipcover of the new artwork by Wes Benscoter) sold via Ronin Flix and (internationally only until 12/9) Diabolik. The disc boasts the usual idiosyncratic claims about the work put into it, in this case a "new 2018 film scan with over 45 hours of color correction done here in the States." In any case it's quite a stunner if you're familiar with the film, featuring far more clarity than ever before and some really wonderful primary colors on display throughout. Even the deliberately hazy dream sequences look great with the grain resolving here far better than NTSC could have ever provided. The framing shifts here to 1.66:1 versus the 1.85:1 on the DVD, with composition comparisons between the two varying throughout as different slivers of horizontal and vertical info shift depending on the scene. The English DTS-HD 2.0 stereo track is the default option and sounds quite good for what it is, with the flatter Italian track also provided in DTS-HD 2.0 mono -- this time with properly translated, yellow English subtitles so you can finally follow along. A new audio commentary by Splintered Visions author Troy Howarth brings his giallo expertise back into play as he extols the neglected pleasures of this film including its lustrous cinematography, its thematic ties to New York Ripper, a defense of the often maligned Emerson soundtrack (including one cue inexplicably recycled on the soundtrack release of The Sect), and more than a couple of funny exclamations along the way. ("Holy shit, it's a Ray Lovelock billboard!") A new video interview with the always vivacious Geretta Geretta (25m11s), also seen in Demons and Shocking Dark, is excellent stuff as she chats quite a bit about her love of working with Karlatos and her memories of Fulci including a family member falling victim to Rome's heroin epidemic at the same time as this film. There's a very funny bit about Fulci trying to come up with an impromptu line of dialogue during an interrogation scene, too, and she even mentions some friction between Fulci and the inquisitive Christian Borromeo on the set. Also on hand is makeup artist Franco Casagni in an interview called "Pins through the Heart" (13m40s), also featuring a few archival audio comments from Fulci himself (with feline-themed visual accompaniment) for a discussion about the treatment of genre in Italy where a director could easily hop around from one type to another with fewer restrictions than the U.S. He chats quite a bit about how the retractable pin was created for the murder scenes, though it still ran a bit of a risk since it tended to clog sometimes. A French trailer is also included along with bonus ones for The Psychic, Opera, The Devil Within Her, The Church, and The Gates of Hell.
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray)
Media Blasters (DVD)
Updated review on November 20, 2018