Back in my college years (you wouldn’t know it from speaking to me, but yes, I went to college), I tipped the scales at about two-hundred-and-sixty pounds, soaking wet. This wasn’t because of a glandular condition or emotional issues. I loved eating (and still do, make no mistake). The problem was I would eat any crap that hovered under my nose for long enough, with nary a vegetable in sight (the lettuce on Taco Bell’s soft tacos notwithstanding). Combine this with a binge drinking mentality and a sedentary lifestyle (let’s simply call it laziness), and it’s really little wonder that I reached the proportions I did.
I went to work in an office a while after graduating, and it was only then that I began to lose weight. You see, I had a nervous stomach due to certain anxieties over working in that setting, so a large portion of my diet (at work, anyway) consisted of pretzels. After several months of eating those crunchy, golden-brown, salty glories almost exclusively, I discovered that I had accidentally begun to drop weight. From there, I began to actively monitor what I would eat, and I also started to exercise, going so far as to join a gym (something anathema to my worldview until then). I won’t say that the weight melted off, but I did get down to a more healthy poundage. Naturally, I continued drinking and smoking during all of this, so I won’t pretend like I was the picture of healthy living, nor was I what anyone would consider a physical specimen at any time. I guess the point (if there is one outside of the nebulous connection to (the late) David A. Prior’s Killer Workout [aka Aerobicide]) is that sometimes good things occur simply by happenstance. Because I know for a fact that things rarely come together the way I’d like them to if I actively plan for them (your mileage may vary).
Valerie is a young model who just scored the cover of Cosmopolitan. Hooray! To celebrate, she treats herself to a tanning session, but things go horrible awry when the machine malfunctions and bursts into flames. Some time later, Rhonda (Marcia Karr, whom you might know better as Stevie in Savage Streets) tries to keep her shit together as some maniac runs around her gym, killing her clientele willy-nilly. Enter craggy Lieutenant Morgan (David James Campbell) and beefy Chuck Dawson (Ted Prior) who may just get to the bottom of things if everyone hasn’t already been killed first.
Transitions can be a tricky thing in films. They can be invisible or conspicuous, stylish or modest, depending on the device the filmmaker chooses to use, but above all, their purpose is to create chapter breaks for the audience. What Prior does in Killer Workout is give us aerobics montages for his transitions. So, whenever the story needs to take a pause and move forward a tiny bit in time (or just because why not?), we get to watch extensive scenes of women in spandex gyrating, splaying their legs, and dry-humping the air, all set to some fantastic Eighties pop. Well-played, sir! Aside from the surface greatness of these interstitials, they do serve to reinforce part of the film’s major theme: vanity. The women doing their aerobics are very concerned about how they look, and the film’s audience loves to look at them because of this. They’re two sides of the same coin; one wanting to watch, the other wanting to be watched. This extends to some of the men working out, particularly our introduction to Chuck, who is first shown doing barbell curls, and there are several closeups of his large, glistening biceps, hitting the nail directly on its head.
The killer, who we already know is going to turn out to be Valerie since we’re never shown her face in the prologue, has a hatred of the beautiful people (and the beautiful people at this gym are pretty easy to hate). This despite the fact that in order for her to walk among the gym’s patrons undetected, she would also have to be outwardly beautiful. More than this, I think that Valerie’s hatred stems from her own vanity rather than from simple resentment. After all, the whole reason she got burned is because she was doing something in order to make herself look better outwardly. Her inability to recognize this is interesting to me as a metaphor for beauty being only skin deep.
The film is also focused largely on the male characters’ assertions of their dominance (aka dick swinging). The men at this club gossip like they’re bragging about their latest sexual conquests and blatantly hit on the female members in the most meatheaded ways imaginable. Chuck loves getting into fights at the drop of a hat, going so far as to jump a set of stairs (read: to conclusions) in order to whale on Tommy (Richard Bravo), whom he suspects may be the killer (due to some specious reasoning, naturally). Chuck also thinks nothing of taking a ride with Debbie (the voluminous Dianne Copeland) and banging her right in the middle of his first day at work. More than all of this, he chomps at the bit to throw down with local sleazeball Jimmy (Fritz Matthews) at every opportunity, and he really can’t be faulted for that, because Jimmy is truly an odious dickweed (after one altercation between the two, Debbie exclaims, “That was rad,” thus summing up all you need to know about these scenes, I think). Jimmy is dying to get into Rhonda’s pants, and from the aggressively skanky way he goes about it, you really have to wonder how he’s allowed to remain a member at the gym at all. The tension between Chuck and Jimmy is, appropriately enough, where the majority of the film’s action is. There is more time spent showing these two guys beat the crap out of each other than there is showing the murders, some of which are only shown momentarily and one major one which is handled completely offscreen.
Killer Workout is a movie disconnected from reality, aside from its world being entirely centered on flesh (an intriguing commentary by itself). Morgan handles evidence with his bare hands. The killer’s weapon of choice is a giant safety pin (yes, really). Gym employees routinely work with the lights off. Chuck blatantly tells Morgan that he committed breaking and entering, and this not only passes like it was nothing, but later on after catching Chuck doing it again, Morgan gives him the keys to waltz right into the gym. Morgan tries to protect a potential victim by pounding on her door and barking that he’s a cop. The film doesn’t have a central character. It has characters who run through the story, but none of them are all that interesting, and we don’t follow any of them in any sort of depth (again referring to the notion of a superficial meat culture). They just pop up now and again to do whatever it is they do and then kind of move into the background until they’re needed again. The film’s last act is absolutely insane, with mind-numbingly improbable twists and turns flying in rapid succession. Nevertheless, Prior and company keep things so breezy and loaded with interesting visuals (read: hot bodies in tight clothing, because, let’s face it, we’re all shallow in this regard to one degree or another), the whole thing somehow transcends its flaws and, in fact, incorporates them all into one of its greatest strengths. I suppose sometimes two (or three, or four, or…) wrongs do make a right.
MVT: The characters are the sort of forcefully vapid, sneering, catty people you love to watch butt heads. And they’re almost uniformly batshit crazy.
Make or Break: I still cannot wrap my head completely around the big reveal of the killer’s identity, the offhanded reasoning given for the killing spree, and the events that transpire around and after it. And this makes me love it all the more.