DVD: Power, The (1984)

February 2, 2014 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / P to R


Film: Good/ DVD Transfer: Very Good/ DVD Extras: Standard

Label: Scorpion Releasing / Region: 0 (NTSC) / Released: January 14, 2014

Genre: Horror / Supernatural

Synopsis: A Mexican idol pushes its owners into states of possessiveness, paranoia, and murder!

Special Features:  Original Theatrical Trailer / Optional “Katarina’s Nightmare” format / Bonus Scorpion Releasing Trailers: “Grizzly” + “Day of the Animals” + “Dogs” + “Lurkers” + “Sorceress”




It seemed inevitable that after the Blu-ray special edition release of Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter’s slasher The Dorm That Dripped Blood / Pranks (1982), a release would have to follow of their similarly no-budget second work, The Power, executive produced by Edward Montoro and Dick Clark, the same unlikely due behind Mutant / Night Shadows (1984).

Scorpion Releasing already put out a few films from the Film Ventures catalogue, so lucky for the directors’ fans The Power gets its due on DVD, but lacking the heavy extras – director commentary, isolated score, interviews – which made Synapse’s Dorm release such a treat. On the one hand, that makes this a missed opportunity, but it may also be a case where Obrow and Carpenter’s hearts have more affection for Dorm, the film that launched their careers.

Working from a story crafted by themselves and two others, the director-editors (with Carpenter also serving as cinematographer) still come off as narrative sophomores, starting their film with a bang, and then weaving between ideas grafted from better films, and often completely forgetting needed connective details.

The Power is essentially about a carving of the Mexican deity Descatyl, which compels each handler to go on a murderous power trip – just for fun. The handler becomes immediately enamored by the little mud statue, kills its current keeper, and becomes exceptionally paranoid until he or she is overcome by another future owner. As each one discovers, the statue can only work through its handler, but Obrow and Carpenter contradict this key in the first scene in which the statue kills its host – a professor – on a pikey flagpole.

Clearly the Descatyl has a mind of its own, but that fact is dumped aside, along with how the statue manages to move from the professor to an old man in Mexico, and then a high school student  in Rodondo Beach, California. There’s no explanation for the statue’s journey, and much of the film feels like a collection of scenes shot in advance of a finished script, with key details ignored as time and money started to dwindled.

The Mexico scenes are arguably the film’s most interesting because of the eerie desert night scenes; everything thereafter occurs in suburban California, with lesser actors and the kind of perfunctory dialogue heavy in Dorm. There is a measure of enjoyable fromage to the uneven talent that looms in each scene, but it ultimately becomes very dull, leaving any genuine scares to the finale.

Obrow and Carpenter’s pastiche also includes sleuthing high school students whose ill-fated séance in a cemetery mason shop hook them up with a beat reporter working for a sleazy city tabloid. Amazingly, everyone in the film reads this rag, and amazingly, the teens are soon on a first-name basis with reporter Sandy (every-cheerful Susan Stokey) and her ex-boyfriend Jerry (mighty-haired Warren Lincoln); calling either on the phone at home is as easy as pie.

While Sandy shrugs aside the kids story of a supernatural experience, Jerry does more: he lies to get hold of the statue, and soon starts to murder people. The film’s finale takes place in Sandy’s family home, and not unlike The Evil Dead (1982), Jerry’s face changes according to the level of spiritual possession – just not really scary.

Obrow and Carpenter do manage to stage some effective shocks – a wonky answering machine, Jerry forcing the hand of Sandy’s co-worker into a garburator, and the final shot – but there’s the film’s middle’s a slog because nothing interesting happens, and character discourses are dreadful. One of the teen’s bedroom is turned upside-down, but its familiar wind pyrotechnics, and its recurrence in Sandy’s home (heavily inspired by the ‘redone kitchen chairs’ scene in Poltergeist) clearly wasn’t enough to goose the film so the directors inserted a quickie shock scene.

The inserted reshoots – hands grabbing Sandy from her bed – is obvious because Stokey’s long hair is now much shorter and curlier, and the nightmare sequence is very redolent of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (although Power was released a good 9 months earlier).

The reason Power manages to work in spite of its major flaws is Christopher Young’s score, which gives this no-budget film a ridiculously underserved scope. Having worked out his need to emulate Bernard Herrmann almost to the theme in Dorm, Young crafted a more original work, and his intricate instrumentation and orchestrations are really beautiful. Mediocre scenes have actual mood and tempo, and meandering montages almost have purpose. (Young’s music did enjoy a commercial LP release, but there’s never been an expanded edition, making the lack of an isolated score a real shame, because it’s that good.)

Scorpion’s source is a relatively clean print, and like Dorm the filmmakers likely shot their movie on 16mm or Super16 and blew it up to 35mm, because it shares the same heavy grain and washed out colours, and oversized burnt-in subtitles for the Spanish dialogue in the Mexico scenes. The audio mix is fine, but every reel change is signaled by scratches in the sound mix, so there’s much work to do if this is a rare surviving print in need of restoration.

The label’s B-movie matron, Katarina, provides a short intro & outro which are as scarce on production details as exist online – there’s very little info on this film, except what was written on the old soundtrack LP (and maybe in some genre magazines) – so there’s a missed opportunity for getting some lesser known facts.

The Power has moments and cheese, not to mention a pair of amusing gaffes (the doomed professor’s wire rig is visible, and one of the directors is visible in a mirror just as Stokey walks from her bedroom into the Poltergeist-affected kitchen) but like Dorm, it kind of disappoints by not being sufficiently gory, or ridiculous (although Sandy leaving a notepad on her front door telling Jerry she’s not home is amazing for telling any curious / enterprising passersby / robber that the home – always unlocked – is open for pilfering).

Warren Lincoln also appeared in the Young-scored, Carpenter-photographed Torment (1986), and Chris Morill appeared in Dorm, after which both actors vanished from the film scene.

Carpenter and Obrow would collaborate on one more film The Kindred (1987) before tackling their own projects.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan


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