Deadly Dancer (1991)

I can already imagine your response.

“Hey, Mark,” you say. “I know you’re trying to watch all the David A Prior movies, but his only credit in this is story. He didn’t write or direct it, or even produce it. What gives? Are you feeling okay?”

I understand, and my voice will become calming as I say it’s another AIP movie, directed by Kimberley Casey (who also directed “Born Killer”), and Ted Prior has a “casting” credit, which at least keeps it in the family a little. Then I’ll try and help you explain that the completist’s curse is on me, and we’re over the halfway point so let’s just get through the rest of it together.

“Okay, I guess? You’re the idiot watching these movies”.

Welcome to “Deadly Dancer”! One of the criticisms I levelled at Ms Casey’s previous directorial effort is that it seemed edited very strangely, like she was uninterested in showing why things followed on from other things, and that tendency is very strongly in effect here too. Even if you’re really closely paying attention, there’ll be many moments where you’ll wonder what’s going on, why person A and person B are in a scene when five seconds ago they were in the middle of different conversations in different scenes. So a lot of this review is sort of a best guess as to what she’s aiming for.

Credited first, but maybe fifth in terms of screen time, is one Shabba-Doo. Our younger readers (like, below 50) will probably have no idea who this man is, but he’s one of the pioneers of hip-hop dancing, was in a ton of music videos, and was on “Soul Train” for many years; he’s also a perfectly reasonable actor, playing here Tony Penter, the boss of a dance club. He’s not in the first scene, but later we see him look on approvingly as a black woman dances in a leopard-skin outfit, while the white women get to wear less racist gear.

Okay, this movie goes confusing right away, so, let’s see if I can unpack it for you. We see a guy post a mysterious device in a small flimsy envelope, then walk into a club and pull a gun on the head dancer. Someone who’s sat there having a drink says “no!” but we don’t get a resolution to this scene, cutting straight to the two of them chasing down some bad guys. They’re cops! But does scene 2 follow scene 1 or is it a flashback? “Deadly Dancer” doesn’t worry itself with making sense!

This isn’t even the most confusing thing in the first ten minutes, though. Mike (Walter Cox) and Jack (Jeff Herbick) are doing their police chasing thing in a pretty well-shot, fun little segment. Jack tricks a criminal, there’s some banter, it’s all fun. But then, for some reason, a hitherto unseen third cop dressed identically to Jack takes over the second half of the chase. Here’s Jack:

And here’s the other guy:

As we’re operating in the only-ever-released-on-VHS hinterland here, information about this movie is very very hard to come by. But, in the next scene, when Jack keeps his back to the camera throughout, we start to realise something’s not quite right – then, later on, when he has romantic scenes and we only see his back, or his head’s not in shot, or the camera moves round him to ensure we never see his face…it appears that, for a solid half of his screen time, Jeff Herbick was not around for filming, so they just replaced him with the only other guy on set who had a moustache, despite Jack 2 being several inches taller, 20 pounds heavier and less tanned. This is weird, even for a low-budget movie, and makes the “lead actor wore a wig during reshoots” stuff from “Samurai Cop” look almost normal.

(the scene above, by the way, feels like they added an extra bit in reshoots to bulk the running time. Jack’s “never trust a cop” line is a perfect ending to that scene, but it goes on for an extra minute with the other guy)

I’ve not even mentioned the plot yet, which is kind of appropriate as the plot listed on the video box doesn’t really get going til the last half-hour. And, I’ve not mentioned the second really weird thing about this movie, but we’ll get to both of them soon.

Mike and Jack are told by their captain to take some R&R time, so decide, obviously, to go to a strip club (the same one we saw in the first scene, so we’re in “72 hours earlier” territory). Except it’s not a strip club. There are lots of women in the audience, and none of the dancers take their clothes off. It’s basically small groups of people, or solo women, doing pop-video style dancing to pop-style songs. Wait, what? That was a thing? Later on, Penter tells a dancer who auditions by taking her top off (the only nudity in the movie) that this is a “couples club” and they don’t do that here. Now, the internet is not all-knowing but I searched for any evidence that couples’ clubs were a thing that existed and found a lot of pages about swingers clubs but absolutely nothing about ones where couples went to watch fully clothed dancers in this sort of milieu.

Anyway, Jack takes a fancy to lead dancer Kaycha (Smith Wordes) and despite her not being interested at first, wears her down quite quickly. While the two cops are at the club, though, one of the other dancers is murdered, and so the plot sort of lumbers into motion. Jack starts a relationship with Kaycha while Mike sort of tries to solve the increasingly large number of murders, all of which happen while both Jack and Penter are nearby.

There are tons of odd editing choices to make you think both Jack and Penter are the murderer, so even though you’re fairly sure it’s neither of them, the movie goes through the motions for half an hour or so. The twist isn’t much of a twist, but it does make a lot of the previous scenes really confusing in retrospect – like, why did that character behave that way? Hell, why does Penter have such a large part in the movie? Other than being the most famous name, I mean.

“Deadly Dancer” feels like someone just wanted to film a bunch of dancers (who are all really good, by the way) but then was told to find a plot to fit round the dancing scenes. I’d love to ask Jeff Herbick what was going on that they needed to find another guy to play him in half his scenes…I’m also fairly sure he’s the same guy from Amir Shervan classic “Killing American Style”, but in that movie he went by the name “John Lynch” – perhaps a union thing.

This is a really good one. I don’t mean good like a normal movie enthusiast would use the word, but good like it makes no sense but is entertaining as hell. Enjoy every weird b-movie choice in this brief detour from the movies of David A Prior, why don’t you?

Rating: thumbs up