Some guys n gals are born to be B movie stars, they don’t have the draw, profile or presence of A listers but they are appealing enough to garner a small following which they then sometimes turn into a respectable mid-level career. I’m thinking of guys like Jean Claude Van Damme, William H Macy, Joe Pesci, Danny McBride and Dan Hedaya…
And Lou Diamond Phillips. Show anyone over 25 a picture and they’ll know who he is. Ask the same person to name more than 3 of his films and they might struggle.
Strange, as LDP has no less than 95 imdb acting credits since his 1984 debut as “Punk 1” in Interface – yeah I missed that one too. Many of them are starring roles too, though since his big break in La Bamba in 87 none are bigger than his supporting role in Young Guns. Running down his list of credits shows several familiar films where you sorta think you might’ve seen it but can’t be sure…
(From a personal perspective I think I have seen around 15 of LDP’s films, NONE since the 90s finished. But I quite like a few of his 90s efforts: Renegades / The Big Hit / Young Guns / Disorganised Crime)
But especially The First Power. Watching this film provides all the evidence that you might need to write it off as a disposable B movie, only it is so much better than that. Sure there are cheesy moments and a couple of botched ideas, but in between there are some frankly inspired sequences and a couple of really effective parts.
According to me this is the most underrated film in recent history. So there’s that. That should make LDP sleep a little more soundly in his cardboard box by the side of the road.
LDP is a cop named Russell Logan with a reputation for nabbing the big bad guys. Early in the film Logan nabs a guy known as the Pentagram Killer, a guy named Patrick Channing (Jeff Kober) after a lengthy investigation, a knife to the guts and an anonymous tip. It garners big press because Channing is the most notorious serial killer going, a guy who kills all his victims after various satanic rituals are performed, and he has taken many, many victims.
When Channing gets the electric chair it is seen as good riddance to bad rubbish, only Logan receives a call from the anonymous tipster reminding him that the death penalty wasn’t part of the deal.
Too late, barbecued Channing for all! Who wants the lips, they’re considered a delicacy? The only problem is that far from dreading and resisting his fate Channing seems to relish his early exit. Gee wonder why? (Kober as Channing is one of the strengths of the film, he is legitimately creepy looking and plays his role to the hilt.)
So that’s that then? A 25 minute film! I knew it was low budget but geez…
No wait: there’s more. After the execution Logan begins having visions and hearing things, If that wasn’t bad enough someone has started killing again in the same way as the Pentagram Killer, all the way down to the locations and rituals.
Curioser and curioser.
To explain matters a red-headed psychic named Tess Seaton (Tracy Griffith) shows up unannounced at the station one day asking for Logan. After a brief back and forth Seaton gives information that only the cops or the killer would know; Logan is of course very intrigued. That is until Seaton claims that none other than the Pentagram Killer himself, Patrick Channing is behind the new batch of murders… obviously a wacko.
But then people close to Logan start getting bumped off, mainly cops. He has a change of heart and revisits Tess Seaton for her thoughts along with his partner Ali (Mykel T Williamson). Tess explains that Channing’s spirit has been released by his execution and is now free to roam free and possess whichever body he wants in order to perform his naughty acts.
Channing preys on the weak and vulnerable, alkies, junkies and the homeless and destitute mostly, and if his “host” dies – or if he just gets bored – his spirit simply jumps to the next blissfully ignorant person. This makes him practically immortal and almost invulnerable, a welcome side issue seems to also be that the inhabited body is granted near superhero status. At times during the film they leap cars, walk through huge fireballs and jump off buildings unharmed, not a bad trade off for having one of Satan’s disciples along for the ride.
After finally coming around and realising there may be a grain of truth to Tess’s story, helped along by him witnessing some of Channing’s handiwork in person (so long Ali!) – and having a chat with him no less – the pursuit is on.
So for the remainder of the film Logan and Tess are at turns hunting and hunted by Channing. They follow the trail to his childhood home, and consult with a local religious expert who explains the lengths they must go to kill him. All the while Channing keeps on killing and leaving a trail of previous discarded “hosts” in his wake.
There are two spectacular stunts, a couple of quality setpieces and a few quotable lines, and thankfully the ending is also strong.
Perhaps it is because I first saw this when I was in my teens, I guarantee it helps that I am a sucker for quasi-religious theological type stuff (The Prophecy / Constantine / The Exorcist etc), but I genuinely think this is much better than it is given credit for. Sure it isn’t a world beater and there are a couple of moments that show poor judgment, but if you like the vaguely sci-fi, supernatural genre there is much to admire about this film.
Final Rating – 8 / 10. LDP might not have been kept too busy in recent years – at least in high profile gigs – but there is some cinematic gold hidden away in the 90s that too many are yet to discover. Combine this film with Renegades and you have a great DVD night at home.