October 4th: The First Power (1990)
The First Power is a film which stands in the shadow of the great 80s and early 90s occult thrillers: Jacob’s Ladder, From Beyond, Prince of Darkness, Candyman, Angel Heart and The Serpent and the Rainbow. While this statement may be derisive by definition, I don’t mean to say that there is never a possibility that a film like The First Power can be good; in fact, the existence of Samurai Dreams is in part predicated upon the premise that it can. While countless “me too” rip-offs crowd around superior films, this does not mean that there will not be superior “B” category films like The First Power.
I’ve actually had my eye out for this film for a while. About a year ago, I saw it for sale at a local video store for three bucks. I got something else instead, and decided to come back for it later. However, the next time I made a visit to the video store in question, it had closed its doors for good (an all-too common occurrence these days). So when I saw it for sale at Astro Video a few months ago, I was happy to throw it in my stack and take it home.
Lou Diamond Phillips plays Logan, a tough cop chasing a vicious satanic serial killer named Patrick Channing (Jeff Kober) with the help of Tess Seaton (Tracy Griffith), a psychic. Tracy has “the second power,” while Channing has the third: possession. While Tess is a reliable police informant, Logan does not come to trust her abilities fully until Channing continues killing after his execution and Logan starts seeing some pretty weird things of his own. Also around to help out is Sister Marguerite (Elizabeth Arlen), a nun who knows quite a bit about Satan and the three heavenly powers (as she holds a cross she says to Logan: “the only person in history to have all three powers,” and then pulls half the cross away, revealing a blade). The first power we can assume is held by Logan, but the film is somewhat ambiguous about this.
Lou Diamond Phillips is not a good actor in the traditional sense. That is to say, his range is very limited; Phillips can not adapt to any character. He can however play one character very well. So, like Keanu or Furlong, he can be cast well. And Phillips is more than adequate here, pulling off angry, confused, cynical and impulsive. The acting in The First Power is uniformly workmanlike. The gray and black indoor and outdoor sets are well decorated, and communicate well the kind of seedy urban (in this case L.A.) environment where occult power could conceivably manifest itself (see also: Candyman and Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent). The First Power does a lot of things right—albeit while working within a tested framework—and ends up being wholly entertaining.
The most disappointing thing about The First Power is its conclusion. So often a genre film will unnecessarily end with an ambiguous “Gotcha!” moment, which subverts audience expectation, but for no real reason. As vague as what exactly “the first power” is in the film (and who has it) the ending is even more confusing. A simple and concise conclusion would have been appreciated. But this criticism aside, I very much enjoyed The First Power.
(This review originally appeared in Samurai Dreams issue #4. Its been a busy day so I had to cop out. I haven't posted this review here, so I think I can get away with it. Luckily I don't have many such reviews on reserve, so I'll need to be more diligent in the coming weeks)