Something special happens when you mix horror and religion. The things we fear mix magically with the tenets of faith because both are steeped in the mysteries of the unknown. The Exorcist (1973) was one of the earliest films that scared the ever loving bejeezus out of me. It shook me to the core, in fact. The concept of demons having easier access to people who lacked faith was truly inspired. This started my long love affair with religious horror. Films like The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and all of their sequels pervaded my childhood. I couldn’t get enough of them. One of my favorites from this genre, which came along much later, was Robert Resnikoff’s The First Power (1990). Take a look back with me, some 30 years later, as we examine one of the best religious horror films from the 1990s.
First, let’s check out the trailer!
The First Power (1990) Synopsis
A dedicated L.A. police detective and a female psychic must stop a demonic serial killer who was given the powers of resurrection, teleportation, and possession.
The movie stars Lou Diamond Phillips (La Bamba 1987), Tracy Griffith (Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland 1989), Jeff Kober (The Walking Dead TV series), and Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump 1994). Robert Resnikoff (Collision Course 1989) wrote and directed the film.
Orion Pictures produced The First Power on a budget of approximately $10 million and released it on April 6, 1990. It opened in 4th place behind holdover number one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pretty Woman, and Ernest Goes To Jail. The film took in approximately $5.6 million opening weekend in 1,332 theaters en route to a $22.4 million lifetime gross. It was originally called Transit while in development, so the marketing could focus on the supernatural elements. Stuart Copeland, drummer for The Police, scored the film.
Check out the official poster art!
A Rising Action Star
Fresh off the success of La Bamba (1987) and Young Guns (1988), Lou Diamond Phillips was a hot commodity. The First Power made him a leading man. His charisma and intensity serve the film well. Viewers can easily relate to his character, Detective Logan, and his quest to bring down the serial killer stalking Los Angeles. This is, in fact, the third serial killer Logan has tracked down in recent years. He seems to be a magnet for these weirdos! He receives an anonymous tip from a local psychic, Tess Seaton, played by Tracy Griffith. She wants to see the killer brought to justice, but only if Logan promises to bring him in alive.
Let’s talk about the killer. The First Power has a GREAT one in the form of one very creepy Jeff Kober, who has the physically imposing stature, intense eyes, and creepy voice to deliver chills in this truly unsettling performance. When Kober’s Patrick Channing is captured in the film early on, he nearly kills Detective Logan by stabbing him in the stomach. Once Logan has recovered, the two meet face to face on execution day. Watching Kober eagerly breathe in the gas while facing death in the gas chamber tells you all you need to know about what a crazy lunatic Patrick Channing is.
Death Is Just The Beginning
As with Wes Craven’s Shocker (1989) a year earlier, death is just the beginning for the executed killer. Detective Logan and Tess Seaton soon find themselves hip deep in new bodies while being stalked by the supposedly dead killer. It’s a wild, creepy ride that takes the unlikely duo all around Los Angeles, through the religious community, and even to the killer’s mother’s house. Channing always manages to stay one step ahead of them. Or, maybe it would be more accurate to say that he’s always just a literal step behind them?
Channing ultimately kidnaps Tess. Logan’s search leads him to a convent, where he meets Sister Marguerite (Elizabeth Alren), who explains how Channing has “The First Power.” According to the Bible, there are 3 powers which can be bestowed by God or Satan. The Third Power is the ability to take over someone’s body aka Possession. Tess has The Second Power, which is her psychic ability to see the future. The First Power is Resurrection. (Note: To be fair, it sounds like Channing has the First and Third Powers here. But why quibble?) Margeurite suggest the only way to defeat Channing is by using the only person who ever had all three powers: Jesus Christ himself. To that end, she produces a rather wicked looking crucifixion artifact that contains a killer, hidden blade.
Can Logan and Marguerite find Channing in time and save Tess before one final showdown? It’s a wild finale, for sure, one I think you’ll enjoy when you check this one for yourself!
A Fun, Nostalgic Ride
I was 16 when I first saw this film. My friend, John, and I had just gotten our driver’s licenses. Gas was about $1 a gallon and theatrical movies were only about $5, so we saw a lot of them. It was a great time to be alive (and old enough to drive). The trailer instantly sold us on this one. We drove to the next town over, which had a multiplex that dwarfed our one horse town’s theater. We saw this movie on a Friday night and we were absolutely blown away. Loved it! I just watched it again recently, for the purposes of this review, and I can honestly say it still holds up pretty well. It’s got that unsettling religious horror vibe I was raving about earlier, as well as a solid villain, creepy music, and some really well done action scenes. The late 80s/early 90s was an interesting time for fashion and cars, so be warned that that might take you out of it a bit if you didn’t actually live through that era.
Lou Diamond Phillips and Jeff Kober went on to have successful careers. The two met up at Horror Hound Weekend in 2018 for an impromptu The First Power reunion! Lou Diamond Phillips tweeted about the meet up. Good to know they can still have fun and look on the filming as a positive experience! Be sure to follow them both on Twitter (and follow us, too, at @PopHorrorNews)!
I’m sad to report The First Power is not currently available on digital platforms other than iTunes. I’m really hoping it shows up to buy on VUDU at some point. Physical media fans should be fine, though. You can find the film on DVD and on multiple Blu-ray editions through Amazon.
If you’re a fan of religious horror and you’re looking for something along the lines of Shocker or Fallen, you could do a lot worse than The First Power.
As always, thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts on the film in the comments!