The First Power

  • 1990
  • Movie
  • R
  • Horror

Original ideas are hard to come by in mainstream Hollywood. If it's not a father and son switching bodies, it's a group of scientists battling monsters underwater. The latest trend (in horror films at least) seems to be the resurrection of condemned psycho-killers who can enter people's bodies at will--not a particularly brilliant plot device, but one that...read more

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Original ideas are hard to come by in mainstream Hollywood. If it's not a father and son switching bodies, it's a group of scientists battling monsters underwater. The latest trend (in horror films at least) seems to be the resurrection of condemned psycho-killers who can enter people's

bodies at will--not a particularly brilliant plot device, but one that resurfaced in at least two films during 1989 (SHOCKER and THE HORROR SHOW), and that now returns again in THE FIRST POWER. This time out, Lou Diamond Phillips plays Russell Logan, a police detective with a reputation for

nailing serial killers. Presently, Logan is hard at work on the case of the "Pentagram Killer" (Jeff Kober), a madman who ritualistically murders his victims and carves inverted pentagrams (the mark of the devil) on their chests. After receiving an anonymous tip concerning the killer's

whereabouts, Logan and his partner, Oliver Franklin (Mykel T. Williamson), go to a park and confront the killer, who is about to murder an undercover policewoman (Sue Giosa). After a long chase on foot, Logan catches the killer and is stabbed in the ensuing fight. Reinforcements arrive and take

the killer away, while Logan is taken to the hospital. Time passes and the killer (whose name, we now find out, is Patrick Channing) is brought to court. Logan wants him to get the death penalty, even though the detective was ominously warned by his mystery informant not to let Channing die. After

the psycho is sentenced to the gas chamber, Logan gets a call from the informant telling him the problems with the killer are just beginning. Channing is executed, and faster than you can say "apparition from beyond the grave," he begins showing up in the visions of Logan and of Tess Seaton (Tracy

Griffith), a psychic who has been following the case. Tess meets with Logan to discuss their weird visions and, in addition to admitting that she was his informant, tells him that Channing is a being with "The First Power." This power, apparently granted by Satan himself, gives Channing the

ability to come back from the dead and enter the body of any innocent victim he chooses (though drug addicts and street people seem to be the most susceptible). "His body may be dead, but his spirit is released," Tess tells Logan. Needless to say, Logan is a bit skeptical, but he soon changes his

mind when Detective Franklin is trampled by a horse-drawn carriage, and the escaping driver of the carriage jumps from the roof of a 10-story building and strolls away. After several more such possessions and killings, Logan and Tess enlist the aide of Sister Marguerite (Elizabeth Arlen), a nun

who has been following these events with apocalyptic vigor. It seems the only way to stop this satanically empowered being is to stab him with a powerful bladed crucifix, which the sister just happens to have access to. The film climaxes with a battle between Logan and Channing (whose original

body has fully materialized for some obscure reason) that ends with Logan stabbing Channing and then being shot by the police. In the final scene, as Tess visits the hospitalized Logan, Channing makes another appearance that may or may not be a dream.

Religious mumbo-jumbo and psychic-power nonsense have always been a part of the supernatural horror genre, but it is becoming increasingly hard to suspend one's disbelief when the same mumbo-jumbo is repeated in countless movies. THE FIRST POWER not only resembles THE HORROR SHOW and SHOCKER

(which in turn resembled THE HIDDEN), but there are snatches of THE SEVENTH SIGN, elements of THE EXORCIST, and heaping portions of THE OMEN (from which the climax is stolen outright, almost shot for shot) present throughout the film. Admittedly, THE FIRST POWER is entertaining and the action is

nicely filmed, but the overall lack of originality and the downright silliness of the plot finally sink it. Aided by good work from cinematographer Theo Van de Sande (CROSSING DELANCEY), writer-director Robert Resnikoff exhibits a flair for visuals in his feature-film debut, but his handling of

the suspense sequences is weak, as is the film's whole horror angle. THE FIRST POWER's script is essentially a combination of two genres: the occult-horror film and the cop-action movie. Clearly, Resnikoff prefers the latter; his direction exhibits the most conviction in the action sequences.

Resnikoff has also found a fine action lead in Phillips, a strong screen presence and very capable physical actor who is convincing in his hard-guy cop persona. True, Phillips isn't given much to do, but the little that is required of him is done in grand style. By contrast, the other performances

seem bland: Griffith fails to impress, and Kober, although he has a wonderfully evil face, seems a wee bit tired and uninterested, lacking true menace.

But for all its problems and flaws (and it has many), THE FIRST POWER remains a very entertaining movie. The religious hokum and crazy plot twists get so wild that they soon become fun, and when Phillips and Griffith are attacked by a possessed bag lady (Nada Despotovich), things get downright

hilarious. Wacky moments like the heroes' visit to the killer's grandmother's house (which ends with the grandmother raving like a lunatic) are terrifically off-the-wall, while certain images, such as that of a nun crawling through a sewer armed with a deadly crucifix, have got to be seen to be

believed. Strange dialog and unusual actions abound, and the pacing is so fast you may not be able to catch your breath. After a while, Resnikoff starts throwing everything at the viewer, some of which sticks and some of which doesn't. Unfortunately, most of this fun appears to be unintentional,

since Resnikoff (who was inspired to write the script by real-life convicted killer Gary Gilmore's belief that he would be reincarnated after his execution) surely wants it to be taken seriously. He has supplied countless reasons for everything that happens in the film and, at least for the first

40 minutes, it's all delivered with a straight face. But regardless of his true intentions, Resnikoff has made a screwy horror movie that, despite itself, is fun to watch. (Violence, profanity, adult situations.)

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  • Released: 1990
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Original ideas are hard to come by in mainstream Hollywood. If it's not a father and son switching bodies, it's a group of scientists battling monsters underwater. The latest trend (in horror films at least) seems to be the resurrection of condemned psycho… (more)

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