How did it take so long for Greydon Clark and Menahem Golan to work together? Well, their team-up started with The Forbidden Dance and certainly another dance movie had to follow. Originally developed as a sequel to the earlier 21st Century Robert Englund-starring vehicle The Phantom of the Opera — it was called Terror of Manhattan — it was still released in Japan as a follow-up.
This movie is a collection of so many of my movie obsessions. It’s a horror dance academy movie, which makes you want to compare it to Suspiria as much as Etoile. It has Englund seeking another role that isn’t Freddy. It has Josef von Sternberg’s son Nicholas Josef von Sternberg as its cinematographer. It was produced by Harry Alan Towers. And, most of all, it’s a Menahem Golan movie.
At a dance academy outside Saint Petersburg run by crippled Madame Gordenko (Englund!) and staffed by American-born teacher Anthony Wagner (also Englund!) and Olga (Irina Davidoff), a new student by the name of Jessica Anderson (Michelle Zeitlin, who shows up briefly in Showgirls). She struggles through the first class, but Anthony sees something in her, as she looks exactly like his lover Svetlana, a Russian ballerina who was injured in a motorcycle crash and became the twisted Gordenko.
Claudine (Nina Goldman) tries to help her learn the moves, but Jessica is better at dancing to rock music. As Claudine goes to the spa, she’s drowned in a hot tub. Meanwhile, Jessica falls for a photographer named Alex (Alexander Sergeyev) who is sneaking around taking photos and has a cool motorcycle. The rest of the school is a mess, as there’s a girl named Ingrid (Marianna Moen) who stays in the attic dancing non-stop while she does drugs.
While dancing with male dancers the next day, Jessica grabs one of their crotches. This upsets everyone, including Angela (Julene Renee), who walks right into a noose. No one notices. In fact, everyone just decides that anyone who dies has decided to leave the school, like Natasha (Natasha Fesson), who is pushed into the path of a train. And oh yeah — when the students all go to a nightclub, Anthony watches Jessica and Alex kiss — it’s a prelude to him sneaking into the dorms and dancing horizontally with her — and starts crying.
The film then reveals that Gordenko is killing the girls as we watch her launch Ingrid from her attic window. Almost everyone leaves the school as the deaths become too hard to get past. Anthony tells Olga that Jessica is the only good dancer left, so she must represent the academy at an upcoming special audition.
Jessica then catches Alex sneaking into Anthony’s quarters. She tries to find him but Olga finds him first. and then they open a cupboard filled with Claudine and Angela’s bodies. Gordenko appears and stabs Alex, getting away in time for Olga to pull the dagger out and Jessica to see her with the murder weapon, just in time for Anthony to arrive. Oh man, red herrings abound, but Olga accidentally stabs herself and Anthony whispers in her ear, telling her that the secret is safe.
Anthony begins to transform Jessica into his long-dead ballerina girlfriend and she soon learns that he and Gordenko are the same person — Svetlana’s dead body is in the attic — as he drugs her and awakens her just in time to dance for the audition, calling her Svetlana. Yet when she rips off the wig and starts her Flashdance moment, dancing to the music that she wants to perform to, Anthony and Gordenko battle for control of his body. That can only end with Anthony throwing himself off a balcony to save Jessica, telling her as he dies that “You danced for me.”
Wow. This movie is absolutely wild with Englund acting as an old wheelchair bound woman with a voicebox when he isn’t being a lovesick dance instructor. And did Harry Alan Towers love Ten Little Indians plots or what?