Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Aerobicide (1987) dir. David A. Prior

a.k.a. Killer Workout

Logline: Someone is stalking and slashing the members and instructors of Rhonda's Workout gym. Worse yet, those who aren't showing up dead are canceling their memberships. Who is the killer skewering all those glistening, toned bodies with her big honking safety pin?

Crime in the Past: A young model snags her first big cover shoot, decides to take a quick hop into a tanning bed, winds up with 80% of her body horrifically burned. Suffice it to say, her career sort of nosedives thereafter.

Bodycount: 11, mostly sweaty.

Themes/Moral Code: Probably the most consistent theme is "the human body is an intriguing object in motion." The movie supports this with much evidence. Otherwise, thematic content is scant. A recurring motif would have to be men refusing to take "no" for an answer and being big creeps. (Actual line of dialogue/someone wrote this: "Did he screw her before he killed her? I would have!"). There's also, momentarily, a theme of men attempting to reassert power over powerful women in the workplace, but that gets all shot to hell when the powerful woman is revealed to be a homicidal maniac and oh god why am I trying to discern anything that a film titled Aerobicide is trying to communicate? On the simplest level, let's say it's claiming "Excessive personal vanity is destructive." On another, "Women are envious backstabbers. They utilize men, then dispose of them." Complex stuff. Spoiler: I'll be watching director David A. Prior's Sledgehammer (1983) later in the month. It has even less to say.

Killer's Motivation: So it turns out that the killer is none other than Rhonda herself, the half-owner of Rhonda's Workout. I generally find female killers to be more interesting than their male counterparts, as their massacres occasionally contain within them the seeds of some struggle against male dominance. In Aerobicide, that's a tough seed to uncover-- according to the film's rather pedestrian psychological profile, Rhonda kills the beautiful, physically fit women of her gym because she was once beautiful and can't stomach the thought that other beautiful, physically fit women carry on post-her disfigurement. A model severely burned in a freak tanning bed accident, Rhonda exists as a sort of uncomfortably androgynous figure. She spends most of the film fully concealed in sweatshirts and sweatpants, but it's eventually revealed that every part of her body barring her face is burnt to a crisp-- she has no hair, and ever her nipples have been burnt off. I almost want to label her as being akin to a similarly androgynous slasher villain like Angela in the Sleepaway Camp series, calling her a threat to the diegetic world she exists in because of the confusion she presents to the traditional oppositions of gender. That feels like a a reach, though. Moreover, I can't escape the fact that her motivation is weak: it's not as if she carves off her victims' unburnt skin and makes a creepy human skin suit or anything-- killing nubile bodies is simply cathartic for her. (Which means there's no real endgame for her rampage. At the close of the film, after she's killed basically every other character, Rhonda is informed by an employee that gym membership is bound to take an upswing--Rhonda beams at the promise of more bodies to knock off). Rhonda also kills most of her victims with an over-sized safety pin. Why? We can't be certain, but perhaps she's looking back at her tanning bed catastrophe and coming to the realization "safety first."

Final Girl: There isn't one. There's a Final Female Killer, but that's a cheat. I was excited for a while, because I thought the film was setting up an atypical final girl in the character of Rhonda's lead aerobics instructor, Jaimy. Over the course of our first day spent with her, Jaimy shows up for work late with no excuse, stumbles out of her car while spilling the contents of her purse (mostly condoms) onto the pavement, changes into the sort of aerobics outfit Vampirella would find acceptable, and sneakily sniffs some jockstraps stashed in the Men's locker room. She's plain interesting. Unfortunately, one of the film's men has a fantasy featuring her topless, and--per the requirements of the slasher code--she soon after shows up dead, strung up all asphyxiated from the ceiling. She isn't even granted the consolation prize of an onscreen death. Poor form, Aerobicide.

The Good, the Bad, & the Cheese:  Everything. Admittedly, this is inept trash on almost every conceivable level, but I can't deny my thorough enjoyment of it. It is a gleeful, incoherent distillation of everything late '80s: the hair, the spandex, the pop music, the casual obsession with aerobic workouts. The film's cloying soundtrack is such an integral part of its general atmosphere that it nearly never ceases blaring, mixed in at precisely the same volume as the characters' dialogue. The aerobics scenes become perpetual refrains, allowing us to leer at the gyrating spandexed bodies (and marvel at how little support spandex truly provide for certain assets in motion), as do the frequent high intensity quasi-martial arts fight scenes that the male characters often lapse into. One stray thought: the opening tanning bed catastrophe would be repeated (and doubled!) decades later in the almost equally blissfully inane Final Destination 3 (2006). Aerobicide is an acquired taste, and I'm afraid I possess that questionable palate.

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