Valerie, a model with a promising career, heads out to the local fitness club to use their sun-tanning bed. She needs to look her best for her Cosmopolitan Magazine cover shoot. Alas, Valerie’s visit will end in tragedy when the machine malfunctions, burning her to death. Despite Valerie’s death being a public relations nightmare, things are back up and running at the club with the iron-fisted Rhonda (Marci Karr) in charge. But tragedy is lurking just around the corner when another club member is found stabbed to death. Enter Lieutenant Morgan (David James Campbell), the cop on the case. Tasked with solving the crimes, he’s in for more than he expected as the body count rises. Who’s behind the grizzly (sic) slayings? What’s their motive? And, who will be the next victim? (From Slasher // Video’s official synopsis)
David A. Prior’s Killer Workout, aka: Aerobicide, is an entry in the short-lived ‘fitness spa horror’ boom of the mid ‘80s, which included movies like Lloyd Kaufman & Michael Herz’ The Toxic Avenger (1984), Lucio Fulci’s Murder Rock (Italian: Murderock uccide a passo di danza; aka: Dancing Death, 1984), and Michael Fischa’s Death Spa (shot in 85-’86, released in ’88-’89). Prior’s original claim to fame was the director of Sledgehammer (1983), the first shot-on-video (SOV) slasher movie. Sledgehammer is a paragon of the junky SOV movement, embodying every great and horrible thing these movies had to offer. Killer Workout is not a very good movie, but as Prior’s second attempt at the slasher tradition and the improvement is downright astonishing (though it’s difficult not to improve on Sledgehammer). His instincts are impeccable enough that Killer Workout could even be confused with a real movie! Despite a number of neophytic errors, he makes really interesting choices, some of which I’m not sure were intended, others that may have been achieved via the necessity of zero-budget filmmaking.
The aerobic workout sequences are highlights, not only because they’re an excuse to blare pop music over bouncing breasts and gyrating crotches, but the camera movements and rhythmic editing are genuinely exhilarating. The murder sequences are respectably moody, verging on spooky. Sadly, though bloody, none of the kills are particularly gory, seemingly because prosthetic effects cost a lot more money than blood packets. Prior also loses points for not using the gym’s equipment to its full slasher killer potential. Amateurism comes into play where exposition is concerned. Most of the actors have been hired for their physiques, dance moves, and willingness to be nude before the camera, not for their innate performance abilities (some of them are caught looking straight into camera on a couple of occasions). Prior’s script doesn’t do much to challenge them as Killer Workout is sort of like a softcore porno that keeps getting interrupted by murders and elaborate fist fights (don’t get your hopes up, the interruptions are steady enough that hardly anyone ever gets to first base, let alone makes it all the way home plate). The plot and dialogue is exactly as integral as that description would imply. Still, I enjoyed Killer Workout. At least it isn’t boring.
Funnily enough, Prior appears to be paying homage to his health spa horror brethren on multiple occasions. The killer’s weapon of choice, a giant safety pin, practically matches that of the metal needle killer in Fulci’s Murder Rock) and, at one point, teenage vandals spray paint “Death Spa” on the window of Rhonda’s gym. Additionally, Prior makes time to show the film’s hero cleaning the locker room floor, including a lingering close-up on his mop, which may be a nod to The Toxic Avenger.
Unlike John Wintergate’s Boardinghouse (1982) and Nick Millard’s Cemetery Sisters (1987), which were actually shot-on-video, Killer Workout was shot using traditional film. This Blu-ray comes with a disclaimer that this 1.33:1, 1080p transfer was remastered from a PAL Betacam SP tape. That is a full possible resolution of 720x576 (PAL is slightly higher than NTSC) and a 90 Mbit/s bitrate. The short version of this review would read: “Nice effort, guys.” I’ll admit that I’m impressed by how much detail they were able to wring from the source material. Some of the close-up textures approach my expectations of an HD release and I’ve honestly seen worse from companies that were supposedly working from film sources. But, this is still clearly a magnetic tape source transfer. Besides a number of artifacts (aliasing, interlacing, wobble, and even tracking errors), there are major dips in quality, most consistently during outdoor sequences, where the lighting was out of the filmmaker’s control (these would probably look like junk, even from a film source). Colors are strong, thanks to Prior and cinematographer Peter Bonilla are so happy to embrace the neon and pastel extremes of the mid-’80s era (chroma noise is an expected side effect of the tape-based format). Someone appears to have adjusted gamma levels to ensure that contrast is relatively dynamic. There are a couple jagged panning shots and super-annoying strobing effects that are probably the result of working from a PAL source, as I’ve seen similar artifacts on NTSC-to-PAL conversion DVDs.
Beta SP is capable of 48KHz PCM audio quality and this DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track squeezes every ounce of that sound from the source material. Volume levels are low and inconsistent. The flatness of the dialogue and incidental effects is constantly at war with the rounder and louder qualities of the music. The results are sort of akin to trying to eavesdrop on a conversation directly after getting off of an airplane when your ears haven’t popped. Needless to say, this “listening through fluid'' sound is kind of annoying. The electronic score and the nearly one dozen pop tunes (all from groups you’ve never heard of, like The Lost Playboy Club and Pebbles Phillips) are CD quality. The PAL speed-up issue crops up a couple of times and is most obvious when a song suddenly changes pace and pitch.
Image gallery set to the film’s soundtrack (8:30, HD)
Original Killer Workout (instead of Aerobicide) title sequence (00:40, SD)