Monday, 10 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: Blind Date (1984)

Director: Nico Mastorakis
Screenplay: Nico Mastorakis and Fred Perry
Cast: Joseph Bottoms (as Jonathon Ratcliff); Kirstie Alley (as Claire Simpson); James Daughton (as Dave); Lana Clarkson (as Rachel); Keir Dullea (as Dr. Steiger)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #35

Blind Date, made by the Greek director of the Video Nasty Island of Death (1975), is certainly one of the odder takes on the slasher film boom of the early eighties. Set in Greece, in vast metropolis of modernised eighties skyscrapers and streets choked with traffic, an unknown assailant driving in a taxi targets women and performs surgery on them to kill them. This is however in the background for a large part of the film, puncturing through in scenes without any actual gore to speak of and merely disturbing implication, whilst we follow Jonathan Ratcliff (Joseph Bottoms), a well off middle class guy who immediately stands out for his white "I Love My Dentist" t-shirt even when wearing a suit jacket and constantly wearing a Sony walkman as he walks around.

Jonathan is a peculiar character to side on, a voyeur with a heart of gold who doesn't exist in a film like Brian De Palma's Body Double (1984) where the director is winking back at the viewers and pointing out their own voyeurism. Jonathan, when a woman from his part called Rachel (Lana Clarkson) reappears in his life, after a traumatic episode in their past, has no qualms about creeping into her home through a hole in the roof and watching her sleep even if he has no interest in doing anything diabolical. Adding to this character is how sarcastic and snarky he is, making him an anti-hero if only because, in Mastorakis' film being played incredibly straight, there's an actual serial killer he eventually crosses paths with and tries to stop. Contrasting him is Kirstie Alley in an early role as a glamorous but distinctly confident co-worker named Claire, a girlfriend who is more than willing to trade jokes back at him; she shows a clear talent here, distinct in the cast, and makes a great contrast with her caring but salty personality next to Bottom's less than perfect figure.

The major aspect about Blind Date that jumps out the most is its technological fetish. Inexplicably, after a disastrous night following Rachel, Jonathan hits a tree branch straight in face and, much to the bafflement of medical examiners, loses his eyesight. A doctor by the name of Dr. Steiger takes a radical science fiction method to help him; a microchip implanted into the head with a piece of advance recording equipment disguised as a tape recorder allows Jonathan to have a sonar that goes directly into his brain and present the world in white outlines against black. Ridiculous or not, including the fact Jonathan has to use six regular button cell batteries to keep it charged, this becomes the most memorable aspect of Blind Date, still pertinent in the modern day in terms of the concept, including being able to even record the images he witnesses and play them back to himself for clues, but with an obsolete aesthetic beauty of the world being depicted in detailed (yet vague) white silhouette.

The technological fetish is constant throughout as both this plotline and the serial killer eventually meet. The killer themselves, probably in the most ill-advised product placement possible, constantly has a red Sony walkman with them which they put on themselves and play when ready to kill. Jonathan's own interest in technology goes as far as playing an early version of Breakout on six TVs at the same time and even attempting to go beyond virtual reality by linking the game directly to his own brain. The result of the latter is a stimulus overload that causes him to pass out, like a horrible psychedelic mind wipe of coloured blocks being destroyed by a tiny ball, but also creates a way to move forward the plot, able to gain memories lost in his subconscious back depicted like some of the early experiments in digital from Chris Marker essay films. The result is strange but it leads to the most rewarding aspects of Blind Date when its plot would be exceptionally normal otherwise. It even leads to one great scene, when Jonathan and the killer finally meet, a hair raising moment on top of a skyscraper ledge with Jonathan wandering forwards completely blind against a quiet neon Coca-cola sign as a killer with a scalpel stalks him from behind.

Whether Blind Date completely works is debatable but certainly against some of the blander slasher films of the time, it's a lot more interesting. It's warm, tropical Greek locations give it a good personality and, whilst with little blood, there's a ridiculous amount of nudity where it seems every actress on screen including Alley is naked at one point, exceptionally grubby against Jonathan's creepy voyeurism but also strangely naive too. Alongside its strange quirks like Jonathan encountering punks in a subway with some heightened mannerisms to them or the unexpected internal monologues early in the film from Jonathan, including one that goes forwards in time to a job interview as he's going to it, the result is a curious one, justifiably a Greek film in setting and look but a spin on American genre cinema about Americans in Greece that feels like it's in its own world.


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