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"It’s murder – and it’s not going to stop. You are not dealing with a man any more: he’s become a force!"

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Director: Robert Resnikoff

Starring: Lou Diamond Phillips, Tracy Griffith, Jeff Kober, Elizabeth Arlen, Mykel T. Williamson, Dennis Lipscomb, Carmen Argenziano, Julianna McCarthy, Sue Giosa

Screenplay: Robert Resnikoff

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Synopsis: A nun, Sister Marguerite (Elizabeth Arlen), tries unsuccessfully to convince the church hierarchy that a string of murders across Los Angeles is occult-based. Russell Logan (Lou Diamond Phillips), the detective in charge of investigating the killings, receives an anonymous phone-call from a woman claiming to know where the killer will strike next. Logan is about to dismiss the call when the woman tells him some case details that have not been made public. Before telling Logan what she knows, the woman insists he promise that in the event the killer is captured, he will not be given the death penalty. Logan agrees. After a three-day stakeout, there is no sign of the killer. Commander Perkins (Dennis Lipscomb) is about to call the operation off when word comes that the policewoman being used as bait has vanished. Logan and his partner, Oliver Franklin (Mykel T. Williamson), race to the spot indicated by the woman caller. The killer, Patrick Channing (Jeff Kober), has the policewoman staked to the ground. He is about to kill her when Franklin interrupts. As Channing attacks Franklin, Logan arrives. A chase ensues, ending in a nearby warehouse where, although severely wounded, Logan manages to hold Channing until reinforcements arrive. Channing is tried and sentenced to death. As Logan and his colleagues celebrate, Logan receives a call from his anonymous informant, who denounces him bitterly for breaking his promise to her. Logan and Franklin attend Channing’s execution. The event causes Logan a series of nightmares in which Channing breaks free and attacks him. Waking from one such dream, Logan finds the walls of his study covered in blood. Two uniformed policemen arrive at his door, telling him he is needed urgently. Logan starts to tell them about his study, but finds that the blood has vanished. Logan is taken to a murder scene. The victim is the policewoman used as bait in the initial stakeout. An inverted pentagram has been carved into her body. Meanwhile, professional psychic Tess Seaton (Tracy Griffith) has a vision in which she sees Patrick Channing. Tess goes to see Logan, telling him that Channing killed the policewoman. He is contemptuous until Tess reveals she was his informant. She reproaches him for allowing Channing’s execution, telling him that Channing’s spirit has been released, and that he is more dangerous than ever. She gives Logan her business card, telling him he will soon contact her. Logan is told that the policewoman’s killer has been caught. The suspect is a junkie who seems to be in a state of complete catatonia. Logan tests him by holding a lighter close to the man’s eyes. He neither moves nor blinks. Then, as Logan turns away, the junkie speaks to him in Patrick Channing’s voice….

Comments: Just your standard "serial killer back from the grave" film…. The First Power is a jumbled mish-mash of a horror movie that seems to have been chiefly inspired by, of all things, Wes Craven’s 1989 misfire, Shocker (Lord - can you imagine anything actually being inspired by Shocker!?). The story opens on a particularly stupid note when Russell Logan’s anonymous informant makes him promise that the killer won’t be executed if he’s caught. Now, are we supposed to believe that Tess Seaton is either dumb enough or nave enough to think that a homicide detective would have enough clout to influence the outcome of a capital case? Tess is a most remarkable psychic, by the way. She knows exactly how everyone is going to finish their sentences, recites a large chunk of Russell Logan’s back history after being with him a brief time, correctly predicts the exact spot on which Patrick Channing will strike, and knows that he will come back from the dead if executed. Yet for all this, she never manages to produce something truly helpful like, say, Channing’s name and address. (A question: since Channing’s near-victim is a policewoman planted there after Tess’s prediction, are we to assume that Tess had a vision of something that wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t had a vision of it? And if a tree falls in the forest….) And as if this doesn’t bode badly enough for rest of the film to come, the scene of Channing’s execution segues into a scene that turns out to be Russell Logan’s nightmare and which ends, seemingly unavoidably, with Logan sitting bolt upright in bed. (He doesn’t cry, "No!" though – I suppose that’s something.) Shortly afterwards, Tess is confronted by Patrick Channing in a scene that also turns out to be not really happening. And this basically sets the scene for the entire movie. Everything that manages to be even remotely scary turns out to be either his nightmare or her vision. This doesn’t exactly help to build tension. On top of this, we get not one, not two, but three instances of the Spring-Loaded Cat. And just in case that isn’t sufficiently annoying, we get a special guest appearance by a Spring-Loaded Rat! (You can’t call this "original", I guess, but it is different.) In fact, on a minute to minute basis, there may be more false scares in The First Power than any other film ever made.

Now, all of this is irritating enough, but it gets even worse. We soon learn that whenever Logan speaks to someone without a third party present, Channing will make an appearance. He leaves a message for Logan on Tess’s answering machine, for instance, but when Logan tries to play it back for Tess and Franklin, it’s – gasp! – gone. Then he goes to confession (Logan isn’t just a lapsed Catholic, he’s really, really lapsed – enough to have forgotten in which direction he’s supposed to cross himself!), and who do you suppose the priest is? And so it goes on – and on…. These "shock" scenes are broken up by interminable chases that feature Channing hopping from body to body, and flying through the air like someone who’s wandered in from a Hong Kong ghost story. It is with the "possession" plot thread that The First Power really hits rock bottom, as Channing manifests himself as a cackling, levitating, back-flipping bag lady. Whether this section of the film was meant to be funny, I’m not sure, but the fact is, it’s just embarrassing. It climaxes in a spectacular car-flies-through-the-air-flips-and-crashes car smash from which Logan, despite not wearing a seatbelt, emerges with nothing more than a cut on his forehead. (With powers like that himself, it’s hard to understand why Channing surviving his execution is so hard for Logan to believe.) Finding that Channing has abducted Tess, Logan drags Sister Marguerite, she of the opening scene, back into the story. Although she had earlier rejected Logan and Tess when they asked for her help, by now she’s swiped a holy artifact and can’t wait to use it. She also gets around to explaining the film’s title to us, stating that there are three powers that God or Satan can bestow on their disciples, the "First Power" being resurrection. (The second, by the way, is seeing the future, which presumably God has seen fit to bestow on Tess, and through the possession of which she has managed to "psychic" her way into a mansion in the Hollywood hills with a 180o view. Hey, God, send some of that "Second Power" this way, will You?) The third power is the ability to take over another person’s body (uh, isn’t that what Channing has?) and the only person who ever had all three was Jesus Christ. So saying, Marguerite brandishes her illegally acquired artifact: a crucifix-handled knife. And so off the two of them go for The Big Showdown, which takes place in an abandoned section of the LA water system. Earlier, Tess identified this as Channing’s "place", just before she and Logan were chased out by a water department employee. (In a plot point that may or may not have been a direct steal from Bride Of Frankenstein ["Don’t touch that lever – you’ll blow us all to atoms!], Tess is warned "Don’t touch that handle – you’ll flood the place!" If you think this might be a piece of Subtle Foreshadowing, go to the head of the class.) The climactic scene comprises more of what we’ve already seen too much of, but includes the only truly scary thing about the whole film: the revelation that the LA Department of Water & Power keeps huge vats of acid tucked away in its underground systems. After several false endings, each sillier than the one before it, Patrick Channing is seemingly defeated and, severely injured yet again, Logan ends up in hospital. As Tess sits beside him, he suddenly awakes, possessed by Channing! But wait – that was just a nightmare! Bet you didn’t see that one coming, right?

There isn’t too much the cast of The First Power can do with a script as derivative as the one provided by director Robert Resnikoff. Lou Diamond Phillips is - as always, apparently - totally miscast as a hard-bitten LA detective, being much too young looking for the part. (Of course, he was too young looking for his role in Bats, too, and that was ten years later. Hmm – maybe he’s sold his soul to the devil…!?). If you don’t like Lou, this is definitely the film for you: he spends an incredible amount of his screentime getting either smacked in the face or kicked in the groin (not that he’s ever got a mark on him, mind you). Wrong for the role as Phillips is, he still does what he always does, and gives it the old college try. This is more than can be said for Tracy Griffith, who as Tess Seaton is just plain bad. (She does, however, go through most of the film braless, and does a lot of running around…. Jes’ keeping my readers informed.) Jeff Kober glowers convincingly as Channing, but the role is too silly and repetitive for him to have any real impact. The only other noteworthy thing about the cast is that David Gale is utterly wasted in a role that lasts all of thirty seconds – while for the real cameo-watchers out there, Melanie Shatner appears for all of three seconds. The only other entertainment the film provides is, I’m certain, entirely unintentional. The film opens with a bit of a giggle as an overwrought Sister Marguerite quotes the Book of Revelations at various members of the church hierarchy, and is interrupted with an impatient, Yes, thank you, we have read the Bible. Even better is an elaborate chase scene that ends with Channing’s latest "host" plunging to his bloody death, the host in question being a particularly obnoxious police lieutenant. Commander Perkins responds to Logan’s involvement in the lieutenant’s death by basically shrugging his shoulders and agreeing that the guy was an alcoholic and a prick, so what the hey? (Man – everyone should have a commanding officer like that!) The highlight of the film, however, undoubtedly comes when Tess Seaton sees Oliver Franklin’s medallion turn into an inverted pentagram. "You’re in danger," she warns him abruptly. Logan dismisses this, but Franklin doesn’t. In fact, you can almost hear the poor guy’s thought processes. "Oh, man, oh, man, I’m done for. I’m a black guy in an American horror movie. Not just any black guy, but a black cop. Not just any cop, but the hero’s partner. I am a dead man!" And you know something? He is, too! Wouldn’t want you to go away thinking The First Power broke new ground, or anything. Speaking of which, the sources for this film are certainly an eclectic bunch. Apart from Shocker’s post-execution resurrection/possession plot, and Bride Of Frankenstein’s helpful handle, we have a back-story stolen from Chinatown, and an ending swiped from The Omen. There’s also some indication that although Russell Logan may not watch many horror films, Oliver Franklin does: he sends Channing to his temporary death with the immortal parting shot, "Adios, creep…."