THE FIRST POWER (1990)
"Its murder and its not going to stop. You are not dealing with a man any more: hes become a force!"
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
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 Channings
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 Channings
execution, telling him that Channings 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 policewomans 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 mans eyes. He neither moves nor blinks. Then, as Logan turns
away, the junkie speaks to him in Patrick Channings 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 Cravens 1989 misfire, Shocker (Lord - can you imagine anything actually being inspired by Shocker!?). The story opens on a particularly stupid note when Russell Logans anonymous informant makes him promise that the killer wont be executed if hes caught. Now, are we supposed to believe that Tess Seaton is either dumb enough or naïve 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 Logans 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, Channings name and address. (A question: since Channings near-victim is a policewoman planted there after Tesss prediction, are we to assume that Tess had a vision of something that wouldnt have happened if she hadnt had a vision of it? And if a tree falls in the forest .) And as if this doesnt bode badly enough for rest of the film to come, the scene of Channings execution segues into a scene that turns out to be Russell Logans nightmare and which ends, seemingly unavoidably, with Logan sitting bolt upright in bed. (He doesnt cry, "No!" though I suppose thats 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 doesnt 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 isnt sufficiently annoying, we get a special guest appearance by a Spring-Loaded Rat! (You cant 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 Tesss answering machine, for instance, but when Logan tries to play it back for Tess and Franklin, its gasp! gone. Then he goes to confession (Logan isnt just a lapsed Catholic, hes really, really lapsed enough to have forgotten in which direction hes 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 whos 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, Im not sure, but the fact is, its 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, its 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 shes swiped a holy artifact and cant wait to use it. She also gets around to explaining the films 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 persons body (uh, isnt 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 Channings "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 ["Dont touch that lever youll blow us all to atoms!], Tess is warned "Dont touch that handle youll 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 weve 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 didnt see that one coming, right?
There isnt 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 hes sold his soul to the devil !?). If you dont 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 hes 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, Im 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 Channings latest "host" plunging to his bloody death, the host in question being a particularly obnoxious police lieutenant. Commander Perkins responds to Logans involvement in the lieutenants 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 Franklins medallion turn into an inverted pentagram. "Youre in danger," she warns him abruptly. Logan dismisses this, but Franklin doesnt. In fact, you can almost hear the poor guys thought processes. "Oh, man, oh, man, Im done for. Im a black guy in an American horror movie. Not just any black guy, but a black cop. Not just any cop, but the heros partner. I am a dead man!" And you know something? He is, too! Wouldnt 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 Shockers post-execution resurrection/possession plot, and Bride Of Frankensteins helpful handle, we have a back-story stolen from Chinatown, and an ending swiped from The Omen. Theres 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 ."