Bluray review: KILLER WORKOUT

Olive-Films-LOGOSome of the fondest memories I have of being a pre-teen in the 1980’s revolve around walking up and down the aisles of local mom and pop video stores and browsing video rental sections of grocery stores. My parents would shop and I would wander off and spend my time picking up VHS box after box and familiarizing myself with the backs of every single slasher film I could get my hands on. While these days you can have a myriad of films brought to your television by means of cable or various streaming services all accessible with just the push of a button on a remote control, there was something special about walking into a video store, picking up an empty video box of the film you wanted to see and physically taking that cassette home to insert into your VCR. How I wish I could re-live those days and it saddens me that today’s youth will never experience the joy that video rental stores brought to a generation of horror movie lovers like me.

Horror in particular was a genre that thrived with the advent of home video and many of the films that are so revered and beloved to this day found their way into homes because of it. Had it not been for small independent video distribution labels putting out obscure and lesser known fright films that wouldn’t have ever seen the light of day in wide-release theatrical runs, my generation would have never known about Zombi 2, I Spit On Your Grave or in this case, the fabulous Killer Workout. The first time I picked up the box for Killer Workout, I was in my mid-teens. I can recall holding it in my hands and staring at the picture of a broken bloody mirror with the image of a woman in jazzercise gear inside it and a bloody arm lain across it thinking to myself, this looks so frightening, I don’t think I’ll ever watch it. I would come across that same box a countless number of times at several stores and video shops before I finally took it home with me when I turned eighteen, got my driver’s license and was able to open up my own account as my parents would have a coronary, Lord forbid, they find that a slasher movie had been rented under their names.  I walked out of the local Hasting’s with the videocassette in my hand, excited that I was finally going to get to watch it and made sure everyone in the house was asleep before popping this in the player. When the credits rolled, I was perplexed. The film hadn’t done anything for me at all. It did not frighten me, it did not have me shut it off midway due to its graphic violence as I was hoping it would, and I felt more embarrassed that the film had left me feeling like a complete fool rather than excited. I returned the tape the next day and made no mention to anyone of the film or that I’d watched it at all.

Five years later, I would find the tape in the back room of a seedy local rental house where I was living at the time that was known for carrying the best cable porn in town. I remember how thrilled I was when we were  reunited that summer day just after graduating high school and how those feelings of being cheated out of what was supposed to have been a good time that night I’d first rented it came back to me. I decided then and there that I was going to give forgive it and give the film a second chance as I was now older and more horror-savvy and took the cassette home with me without a second thought. That night would a game-changer.

KillerWorkout

THE FILM

Someone is killing off the clients of Rhonda’s Workout. Someone is offing pretty young girls with beautiful bodies with a large over-sized safety pin and nobody is safe. A bumbling cop comes in and starts sniffing around to find out just what’s going on and what ensues is a cornucopia of brawls between meat-headed bodybuilders, mullets galore, horribly-delivered dialogue to spare, and a twist ending that will have you wondering why everyone involved in this production didn’t go into hiding after its release. I love a film that in itself is a time capsule. Also known as Aerobicide and Aerobic Killer, and set with the plot completely revolving around a gym, Killer Workout is – and remains – a fantastic reminder of the fitness craze of the 80’s complete with spandex, leg warmers, headbands and amazingly-awful (yet surprisingly catchy) synth-pop tunes that are proof that the producers spent more on the soundtrack than casting or the cheesy effects.

A young girl and aspiring model named Valerie hoping for the promising career of becoming a glitzy cover girl finally gets the call she’s been waiting for and receives an invitation to a photo shoot with Cosmopolitan. To prepare herself for the job she’s always wanted, she heads out to her local fitness club to use their tanning beds to give her body that look that will turn heads around the world. But sadly, something goes horribly wrong and lovely Valerie cooks to death while helplessly lying there due to a malfunction, a sad finale to a story that was just beginning. Of course, something like this would only end up being bad publicity for the club, wouldn’t it? In comes feisty Rhonda (Marcia Karr of Maniac Cop) who takes over, determined to make things work in spite of Valerie’s death and having to deal with half-assed employees. But things take a turn for the worse when one of her loyal members is found stabbed to death in a locker room. But she’s not the only who’s turning up dead. Who is murdering all the girls and why? Before you can reach the film’s halfway point and answer those nagging questions, not only do you end up tossing those ponderings completely out the window but you become engrossed in one of the most bungling and mind-numbing police cases you’ve ever seen unfold in front of you thanks to the inept combination of Lieutenant Morgan (David J. Campbell who was in Scarecrows) and new employee Chuck Dawson (played by Director David A. Prior’s brother, Ted) who both take it upon themselves to try and solve the mystery only to trip on each other’s shoelaces in the process.

This film is so horrible that it is one of my favorites and I’ve recently shared it and my love for it to my monthly horror-club group, VHS (Visalia Horror Society, which Icons’ own Editor in Chief, Jerry Smith is a proud member of as well). The first thing you have to ask yourself while trying to find out just where the plot is going is, why is business at the gym still up even though members are being murdered? Rhonda must have some great workout gear! Nobody seems too worried that girls are being knocked off within the same walls they are jazzercising in. Speaking of that particular fad, if you pay attention you’ll notice that there are more badly choreographed scenes of ladies dressed in leotards gyrating sexually to synth-music that would give Kim Wilde fits of jealous rage than anything relating to the plot of the film. Each sequence is about two minutes in length and it becomes clear that each of them is just filler that connect key scenes. The filmmakers were more concerned about showing off T&A to target the horny teenage demographic than delivering a solid and well-told story. It becomes more of a police thriller at times than slasher film, but the manner in which the scenes and dialogue are delivered are done so hilariously that you immediately overlook it. It salt and peppers fight scenes and obvious homoerotic tension between its male characters and laughable red herrings so that its climax and final twist make it more absurd than expected. Not that a laughable twist is a bad thing. In fact, here, it’s an exception. Some would find the ending predictable, but in this case it’s something that can easily be forgiven because everything that precedes it is nothing short of bad horror film brilliance.

THE BLU-RAY

Slasher//Video did a fantastic job in putting this wonderfully-awful horror film onto Blu-Ray. For starters, let me say that it’s getting exasperating to read reviews about films brought to BD whose transfers “don’t make the cut”, especially by fellow horror fans who go out of their way to criticize and point fingers at these small, independent companies who do their best to find the best materials they can get their hands on to use as masters. The original print of Killer Workout was destroyed years ago so a PAL Beta SP cassette was used to finally bring the film into the digital age. The final product was only going to be put out on DVD, but it was agreed to bring it to BD on the condition that a disclaimer would be emblazoned across both the front and back of the disc’s sleeve and that the buying public would be made aware from the beginning of just what type of master was used. And S//V came through, the sleeve clearly stating, “Killer Workout” is presented using the best available elements provided by Slasher//Video. Not sourced from an HD Master; remastered from PAL Beta SP and upconverted to Blu-Ray and DVD specifications”. So from the moment you pick this bad-girl up, you already know there isn’t going to be an immaculate transfer presented here. This isn’t one of those films that had a wide-release. Having found its audience and following during the home video boom, it isn’t surprising that the original film negatives weren’t obtainable. On that note let me say that the film (using the hyphenated “Aerobi-Cide” title card) looks incredible. Looking spotless compared to my muddy and flawed VHS-to-DVD dub, it looks better than it ever has and ever will seeing that the original film elements are lost forever. It sounds great and S//V deserves kudos and respect for taking the time to give a new generation of horror lovers the chance to get their hands on this gem.

SPECIAL FEATURES

Sadly, there isn’t much – if anything – when it comes to special features on this disc. It boasts an eight-minute photo gallery with stills of the film and posters from overseas with all three titles set to some of the fantastic music from the film. Side note, the music during this slideshow sounds like it was digitally remastered and comes through beautifully through my sound system. If that’s the case, someone needs to put all the tracks from this film remastered onto compact disc and release it for all of us to enjoy! Seriously, the music from Killer Workout is that good! We are also given the treat of a photograph of the actual Beta cassette from S//V founder Jesus Terán’s personal collection that was used to make this Blu-Ray happen and the original Killer Workout title sequence that was on the VHS release. A trailer is also included here but disappointingly, it is not the original theatrical trailer but a trailer for the film’s Slasher//Video release. Sure, big fans of the film would have loved an audio commentary by director David A. Prior and actress Marcia Karr, or on-camera interviews with both, but sometimes small companies don’t have the funds to make that sort of thing happen. Even a retrospective of the whole 80’s jazzercise craze complete with fashion and music would have been a riot to see here, but being a true 80’s horror fan, I have to give S//V respect and props for taking this film into consideration and spending the time and money to preserve this one for generations to come. Its companies like these that take retro horror seriously, holding these films near and dear to their hearts just as we do and making sure that they are never forgotten.

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