You may remember seeing TV spots for the early 90s crime/horror film The First Power starring Lou Diamon Philips (La Bamba, Young Guns). You may also remember the film’s intriguing and scary bad guy Patrick Channing AKA “The Pentagram Killer“, played by Jeff Kober (Sons of Anarchy). And who could forget The Pentagram Killer signature line: “See you around, buddy-boy“- delivered as a gruff, satanic taunt to Lou Diamond Philips’ Detectice Russell Logan. Today, in honor of the film’s 30th birthday, we’re taking a look back at The Pentagram Killer and his role in one of horror’s most underrated slashers.
When The First Power begins The Pentagram Killer is a Nightstalker-esque serial murderer terrorizing Los Angeles by leaving a trail of bodies with pentagrams carved into them. An anonymous tip from psychic Tess Seaton (Tracy Griffith) puts Detective Russell Logan (Lou Diamond Phillips) on Channing’s trail, but before leaving she makes Logan swear though that Channing won’t get the death penalty for his crimes. Logan tracks down Channing and is stabbed several times in a violent altercation that leads to the Pentagram Killer’s arrest. Logan doesn’t keep his promise and Channing happily goes to the gas chamber where he is reborn as a vengeful ghost who can create illusions and possesses the living, giving them an insane degree of physical strength and endurance. He attacks Logan and Seaton throughout the film and usually when he launches a physical assault he uses his hallucinatory abilities to make the cop and psychic see his old body. So, essentially Channing is a combination of two of the best slashers: Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees.
The Pentagram Killer has the ethereal nature of Freddy, so he’s a killer that can’t be fought in the normal way. He also has Freddy’s power to warp reality but instead of controlling a dream, he makes his victims see what he wants them to see. Following Channing’s execution, Detective Logan wakes up to discover his apartment office has been vandalized. The walls are splattered with blood and decorated with crimson stars, but when he checks again a few minutes later, everything is perfectly fine.
Channing also goes out of his way to mock Logan throughout the film and it’s clear he’s having the time of his life doing it too. There’s a scene in a confessional where Logan is explaining why he no longer believes in God while asking a priest if it’s possible for the spirits of the dead to come back and possess the living. It’s a painful scene for him, bearing his scarred soul and trying to accept a frightening truth. Little does Logan know, Channing had been inhabiting the priest the whole time, waiting until Logan is at his most vulnerable to reveal himself. When someone is having that much fun, even if they are a homicidal maniac, it’s hard not to smile a little bit yourself.
Channing may be a spirit, but when he possesses a vessel he has the physicality and menace of Jason Voorhees. After he confronts Logan in the confessional Channing escapes by leaping over him and smashing through a stained glass window. Earlier in the film, he jumps off the side of a tall building and runs away seemingly unscathed. His most Voorhees-like moment though comes after he lures Logan and Seaton to a seedy hotel. While Logan is wandering down a hallway he jumps out and attacks a cop. He’s wearing a creepy mask and is armed with an axe. Later, Channing rips a ceiling fan down from its fixture and uses it to chase Logan and Seaton down another hallway. He doesn’t say anything during the chase and he takes him time pursuing them. And just when Seaton and Logan think they’ve escaped by taking off in a car, Channing jumps from the building and smashes onto the hood.
One of the elements that elevates a slasher from boogyman to iconic killer is a tragic back story like a homicidal mother or being the bastard son of 100 maniacs, and Channing has just such a history. His past is uncovered when Logan and Seaton visit the home of the Pentagram Killer’s grandmother. With the aid of a psychic, Logan discovers that Channing’s grandfather was also his father and he witnessed his mother being assaulted by the old man. They also discover an old water and power tunnel behind the house where a young Patrick Channing used to hide because “it was the only place he felt safe“.
The reveal that, as child Channing hid in a sewer tunnel feels right. It’s hinted at earlier in the film when a newscaster tells us that the Pentagram Killer worked for the City’s department of water and power. Plus, nothing is mentioned in the film, but it’s easy to imagine that the tunnel is where he first discovered his dark master, Satan. I can see a young Patrick down in the dark and feeling all alone, pleading for someone to help save him and his mom from his depraved father. To his surprise, someone (or something) answers. It offers him all the power a terrified, physically and emotionally abused child craves. He just has to start killing.
That revelation casts Channing’s motivation in a light that’s both tragic and scary. It also gives Logan something he can use to fluster him. Near the end of the film, he taunts Channing about who his father is and it’s the first time in the movie that Logan gets under his skin. It’s because he reminds Patrick that he used to be a powerless little boy, and everything he’s done, all the killing, was because he was scared and afraid.
A tragic backstory and great ideas mean nothing without the right actor to bring a villain to life, and Jeff Kober is perfectly cast as Patrick Channing. An actor’s most effective tools are their voice and their body language, and Kober makes great use of both in bringing the Pentagram Killer to life. The gleeful and malicious smile he gives when his character steps into the gas chamber at the beginning of the film is just chilling. And as I mentioned at the beginning, Kober’s gruff voice is put to perfect use. Admittedly, there are rough edges to The First Power, but its villain smoothes everything over for me. So, if it’s been a while, why not celebrate the 30th anniversary of The First Power by getting reacquainted with your buddy-boy, Patrick Channing AKA The Pentagram Killer.
Have you seen The First Power? Will you be adding it to your Self-Isolation Stream-a-thon this month? Let us know what you’re watching while the world struggles to fight back against COVID-19 over on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!