There is nothing quite like a good Satanic neo-noir police procedural horror film. Boy, that sure is a mouthful, right? Throwing every one of those subgenres of film into one blender of greatness, Robert Resnikoff’s 1990 gem of a film, The First Power is celebrating its 30th birthday this year, and as a 39-year-old looking back on one of my favorite theatrical experiences of all time (what kind of weird parents did I have that let a 9-year old me go see this ALONE?!), I felt inclined to write to you, Dread Central readers, to tell you about a film that I unabashedly love. It’s the only film in existence that involves Lou Diamond Phillips, Bubba Gump, a psychic, a nun, and the big man downstairs. Let’s take a look back at The First Power!
Check out the trailer embedded at the top of the article.
Showing off so many of the tropes we all both loved and loathed, The First Power begins with the tried and true undercover police sting, complete with a cop pretending to be homeless in the park with a walkie talkie, another cop pretending to be a prostitute and our protagonist, Russell Logan (Lou Diamond Phillips, La Bamba, Young Guns, a movie called effin Bats!), all doing their best to somehow catch the ever-elusive “Pentagram Killer”, one Patrick Channing. Channing is half Richard Ramirez, half Zodiac killer and all psychopath. Played by the always reliable Jeff Kober (one of the most underrated character actors around), Channing is creepy and almost begging to be caught, for reasons we don’t quite know. Performing rituals on his victims, including using blood to paint a, you guessed it, pentagram on them, Channing wears a creepy mask during his kills and there’s a feeling of “Oh man, I can’t wait for Logan and Channing to square off against each other” that as a viewer, is front and center right away. That throwdown does transpire, and Channing stabs the hell out of Logan, but is shot and apprehended while doing so. Logan recovers and all is right in the world. The end.
Yeah, right. During a celebration with his police pals, Logan, now recovered from his stab wounds, receives a phone call from Tess (Tracy Griffith, Melanie’s sister), a psychic warning him not to let Channing be sentenced to death, a warning Logan and his pals disregard. Channing is put to death via gas chamber and the film hits the ground running from there. Readers, you might be thinking, “What gives, Smith? You just gave away most of the movie!,” But Dreadites, the party hasn’t even begun at that point. Soon after, we’re given a film full of the standard trope of a lead protagonist not believing his psychic source, a complete skeptic who soon realizes that not only was Tess right in her reason for not wanting Channing executed (he is then able to jump from body to body, making Russell’s life a living hell) but that the Satanic killer is now targeting all of Russell’s friends and his partner, played by Bubba Gump himself, Mykelti Williamson. The film is jam-packed with so many entertaining sequences, one of which involves a possessed man riding a horse-led carriage, mowing down Williamson’s character in front of Russell. The editing is so tight and perfectly executed, that it’s nerve-wracking to watch. Though that scene is a lot of fun, it doesn’t even hold a candle to a scene that will always be one of this writer’s ten favorite scenes of all time, one that involves Tess’s psychic powers seeing Russell murdered via an axe to the head. Racing to help that vision NOT happen, Tess makes it to Russell just as Channing, wearing his mask, swings the axe at Russ’s face, missing it. The two begin to run and what does Channing do? He grabs a ceiling fan and via the power of the devil (god, this makes me laugh), makes the fan’s blades spin with a vicious anger. It’s viscerally amazing and easily one of the most innovative looking scenes around.
What makes The First Power so hellishly fun, is how serious it tries to come off throughout the entire running time. LDP (that’s what I’m calling Lou from here on out, we’re best friends in my mind) gives 200% to his role of Russell; it’s as if he was trying to win an Oscar with a film involving a serial killer wearing a mask, jumping into homeless people and nuns and saying, “Buddy Boy” about a trillion times and LDP (see, I’m doing it again) never scoffs at the silliness we’re seeing on screen. It’s a cross between Law & Order and The Devil’s Rain and if that sounds wild, trust me, it is. There is nothing like seeing your antagonist jump off the roof of a building and land on his feet running, a serial killer hiding in an abandoned water tunnel and a budding romance between a detective trying to solve killings carried out by what is every ‘80s parent’s Satanic Panic paranoia rolled into one character actor performance and a psychic tormented by her abilities. It’s hilarious to see two characters hate each other at the beginning and so into wanting to bed each other by the halfway mark, all while a possessed homeless person jumps through a window, slams LDP’s head on a table and does a backflip like they’re a stuntman from Mortal Kombat.
This might sound like the film falls into a “So bad it’s good” arena, but that’s just not the case. No, The First Power is all killer, no filler and an exciting ride from start to finish. Its absurdity is swept away by performances that all come off genuine and without irony. I truly miss films like The First Power, films that didn’t care about making sense per se, but more about entertaining their audiences with concepts and plots that had no desire other than to give you 98 minutes of wild, crazy, bonkers popcorn greatness. Thank you LDP, thank you Jeff Kober, thank you Tracy Griffith and most of all, thank you Satan for giving us a silly but, fun ride in the form of The First Power. Now, make good on that hook of an ending and give us a sequel!!