Monday, October 11, 2021

Short Takes: Al tropico del cancro (1972) ★★★

Poster for AL TROPICO DEL CANCRO
Dr. Williams (spaghetti western star Anthony Steffan, who also has a story credit), chief surgeon at a Port au Prince hospital, as well as the city’s meat inspector (?), has created a new drug during his free time, and since that drug is a powerful hallucinogen and not a vaccine, everyone wants to get their hands on it. But the doctor has no reason to suspect his friend Fred (Gabriele Tinti, before he married—and started doing softcore sex flicks with—Laura Gemser) of having any motives beyond enjoying an exotic holiday with his wife Grace (Anita Strindberg).  Fred, however, definitely suspects Grace of wanting to bump uglies with Williams. (Who would blame her? Not only is Steffan ruggedly handsome, but unlike Fred, he is not an raging asshole.)

This one was a pleasant surprise. True, there are better giallos out there, but I found  El tropico del cancro (a.k.a. Tropic of Cancer or Death in Haiti) a lot of fun, with generous helpings of sex, violence and weirdness. Directors Giampaolo Lomi and Edoardo Mulargia make the most of their film’s location, juxtaposing the exotic glamor of the tourist spots with the poverty of the people who live there. The locals themselves seem to be little more than colorful background, however, performing voodoo rituals, serving drinks and, in the case of the young manservant for flamboyant businessman Mr. Peacock (Gordon Felio, giving us a Divine-out-of-drag performance before Divine was even a star), providing more intimate services, or so it’s heavily implied. El tropico del cancro isn’t worthy of a NAACP award, but considering the time in which this was made it isn’t nearly as problematic as I feared it might be.

The movie’s most notorious scene — the one reviewers on IMDb bring up the most, anyway — is when Grace is drugged by Stewart’s potent hallucinogen and embarks on a trip that has her fleeing a colony of tarantulas and running down a deep red hallway, wearing nothing but a sheer dressing gown, while naked Black men reach for her. The scene culminates with Grace losing her gown and stepping into the arms of a well hung voodoo priest, a moment prominently featured in the poster. Some of the negative reviews I saw cited this scene as the movie’s nadir, but I suspect that might have more to do with sequence featuring a lot of penises. (Calm down, fanboys, this movie features plenty of tits, too.)  The sequence is kinda’ silly, but it’s also trippy and sexy and deliciously ’70s— it looks like porno chic perfume ad — so I found it to be one of the movie’s high points. Also, did I mention the scene features a lot of penises?

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Short Takes: Delitto carnale (1983) ★ 1/2

Poster for the 1983 giallo DELITTO CARNALE
The amoral family of a deceased, wealthy man gathers at the hotel he owned, but the next funeral any of them is likely to attend will be their own. So, might as well get laid!

This movie’s a.k.a.’s include Killing of the Flesh and Sex Crime, but it should be known as Drink, Fuck, Repeat, because that sums up about two-thirds of this sleazy giallo from director Caesar Canevari. As intriguing as that sounds—it was enough to get me to seek out a gray market copy—the actual movie is a slog. Save for some lesbianism and incest, the couplings are pretty much vanilla and very repetitive. One gets the feeling that most of the script just instructed actresses to walk into a room, take off their clothes and act hysterical until a fellow fully clothed actor falls on top of them. Oh, yeah, this is yet another softcore movie where sex only requires women to remove their clothes. Then again, only a couple actors — Marc Porel; poor man’s Franco Nero Vanni Materassi — piqued my prurient interests, and mildly at that. If you like staring at tits and vaginas, however, Delitto carnale has plenty of them (future porn star Moana Pozzi is one of the featured cast members). It’s an even worse giallo, with the murders not happening until well-past the movie’s halfway mark, as if Canevari suddenly decided he wanted to make a giallo instead of a sex film. If you like your giallos on the sleazy side, check out Giallo a Venezia or Play Motel instead. They’re not much better but at least they aren’t as boring. If you like looking at tits and vaginas, well, you know were to go. 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Hot, Horny and Depressingly Relevant

1984 Panther/Granada edition of MIAMI GOLDEN BOY by Herbert Kastle
The 1984 edition of Miami Golden
Boy
from British publisher
Granada Publishing.
Though the response to my review of The Movie Maker netted, as of this writing, exactly zero (0) views, I am going to try once again to gin up interest in author Herbert Kastle, this time reviewing his 1969 novel MIAMI GOLDEN BOY.

While The Movie Maker was Kastle’s take on the Harold Robbins/Jacqueline Susann-style showbiz potboiler, Miami Golden Boy has more in common with the works of Arthur (Hotel; Airport) Hailey and Burt Hirschfeld, with multiple characters and their parallel narratives converging at a single location.

In the case of Miami Golden Boy, that single location is the Bal Metropole, a swanky Miami hotel that out-Fontainebleaus the Fontainebleau (the Beach’s three main themes, Kastle writes, are “BIG—ORNATE—MORE.”) Not only is the hotel able to accommodate a thousand(!) guests around its pool it also features two nightclubs, a bar or three, a variety of restaurants and snack shops, and, on the Arcade Level, a veritable shopping mall.

The Bal Metropole (or the BM, as I’ll refer to it only once) also leases office space to the ad agency Andrew Stein Associates, which is why ad exec Bruce Golden, the titular Golden Boy, is frequently roaming the hotel’s giant halls. Bruce is young and hot, with a smooth confidence that makes panties dissolve almost instantly (“That’s what this hotel’s needed. A work of art,” remarks a horny socialite upon spotting Bruce in the lobby.) But while Bruce isn’t above indulging in some recreational sex, he has ambitions beyond just scoring pussy. He’s on the hunt for rich pussy, and the Bal Metropole was the perfect hunting ground: Where a Golden Boy might wilt and die outside the magic circle in Palm Beach, he could flower and triumph in Miami. The money was arriving. The women with money were arriving. Somewhere among them would be his bride.

The woman he sets his sights on is Ellie DeWyant, a waifish beauty with an even more attractive bank account. What Bruce doesn’t realize when he first hits on her is she’s also the daughter of the Bal Metropole’s owner, and she’s not charmed by Bruce’s come-ons. She’s also a bit of basket case, given to bouts of depression and easily panicked, especially when someone at the hotel begins blackmailing her. Ellie’s vulnerability ultimately works to Bruce’s advantage, allowing him to become, if not her Golden Boy, then at least her perceived White Knight, but he may have gotten himself more than he bargained for. Ellie, in turn, has gotten less than she’s hoped. But, hey, the sex is fantastic!

1971 Avon paperback edition of Herbert Kastle’s MIAMI GOLDEN BOY.
Avon’s 1971 paperback gives the
impression that Miami Golden
Boy
is a romance novel.
Besides Bruce and Ellie, we meet Marjory Fine, the aforementioned horny socialite, who, when her fat husband leaves for business, hosts parties primarily so she can spy on her guests’ sexual dalliances. She even has a two-way mirror installed in her private bathroom so she can watch her guests fuck in the adjoining bedroom (voyeurism sure was a lot of work before the Internet). Among the guests she sees in action are hunky lifeguard Jerry Leech and the wife of men’s shirts magnate Max Prager, Ruthie, who’s got plenty of cushion for pushin’. Marjory sees more than she wants to, however, when swishy decorator Marco brings Democratic up n’ comer Sen. Richard Christopher into that bedroom and things get weird.

Fortunately for the senator, what happens in Marjory’s suite stays in Marjory’s suite. Were people to find out, the scandal would not only ruin Dick Christopher’s presidential aspirations, but it would also positively destroy him in the eyes of his father-in-law, former President—and father-in-law of the book’s current President Jonathan Standers—Michael Wheeler (did you get all that?). The former President is also at the hotel, and though he’s recovering from a stroke his iron grip on his political dynasty is as strong as ever. When Christopher remarks to his father-in-law’s nurse, Eve, that he’d want her as his nurse if he ever needs one, Wheeler says, “You seem to need one right now. Nurse…or nursemaid.” 

Wheeler might also be touchy about anyone eyeing Eve, a shy, sheltered young woman, as he hopes to groom her to be his mistress when he fully recovers. And he recovers quickly, thanks to Eve’s therapeutic hand- and blowjobs. But as awed as Eve is by Wheeler’s money and power, it’s manwhore Jerry Leech who moistens the crotch of her cotton panties.

Other characters include May Krasmer, owner of a successful chain of Chicago jewelry stores, who is in Miami to get some strange since her manipulative, impotent husband has given up even trying to get her off; Dan Berner, Sen. Christopher’s speechwriter, who gets a diagnosis that forces him to choose between the sex he lives for and just living, period; John McKensil, manager of the Bal Metropole, who has a weakness for underage girls and just might not be able to control himself once he discovers his new secretary, Violetta, is much younger than the 18 years she claims to be; and Wally Jones, an entertainer in the Sammy Davis, Jr. vein, whose celebrity provides little protection against America’s racism, especially when he accidentally punches the girlfriend of rival entertainer—and avowed racist—Benny Barker.

Some of these characters aren’t who they present themselves as, however. Some are actually involved in Cuban ex-pat Ivan Cesar Lamas’ plot to kidnap Sen. Christopher. Too bad some of Lamas’ henchmen are only in it for the money, not revolution.

Trash, But Not Disposable

The 1976 Avon edition of MIAMI GOLDEN BOY
Avon gave Miami Golden Boy a sexy
makeover “in the Harold Robbins
tradition” for its 1976 edition.
 
Miami Golden Boy is the type of novel that gets dismissed by intellectuals as popular fiction, the type of people who say the word “popular” in the same tone of voice one says, “You’re wearing that?” To that end, I’d like to say: fuck them. However, I sometimes wonder if Kastle might not have had a similar opinion of pop lit as those sneering intellectuals. His books may be written to appeal to the unwashed masses (or “deodorized masses,” as Sen. Christopher terms them), but he’s critiquing them, too. In Herbert Kastle’s world, there are no saints. Millionaires, politicians and criminals are all one and the same, they just get what they want through different means.

Beneath all the sex and sleaze in Miami Golden Boy is a scathing social commentary that, depressingly, is as applicable in 2021 as it was in 1969, especially in matters regarding race. There’s even a scene in which Wally Jones is stopped by police for “walking while Black,” though unlike in recent real-life incidents, the cops don’t shoot Jones, content to just humiliate him instead.

Then there’s Sen. Christopher’s speech, which originally includes these passages about America addressing its history of slavery and its continued practice of systemic racism. (A heads up, I’m quoting these passages as written and, as the book was written in the late 1960s, they use a dated term for African Americans.)

“What we must do is expand our understanding in terms of history, and also in terms of the human heart, sadly deficient when dealing with our Negro compatriots. These people who were kidnapped from their homes, packed into the bowels of ships like no intelligent cattle shipper would pack his stock, sold like any domestic animal, and bred in the same way. Now, overnight as it were, we expect the recent descendants of these tormented people to accept all middle-class virtues at face value, even when they have no part in middle-class benefits. We expect them to leap into the mainstream of American life, and we speak of our poor-folks’ childhoods to show it can be done easily enough. But our grandparents were not Black and were not slaves, and we are not Black and are not saddled with the malaise of recent slavery.

“Answers, you say, not questions, are what we need. Answers, I’m afraid, are not easily come by. And when offered, not easily accepted. Germany has dug into its pocket to indemnify, massively, the remnants and descendants of those killed in the Nazi holocaust. Not all Germans were Nazis. Not all Germans are, strictly speaking, responsible for what happened to the Jews. Yet all are paying.

“Not all Americans are responsible for what happened to the Negro people. Yet all Americans must dig into their pockets and then into their minds and hearts.”

Considering that the concept of critical race theory currently has the right wing’s collective catheters in a knot, I could imagine the above speech causing Scanners-style explosions of the talking heads at Fox News and NewsMax if delivered by a politician today. (The Internet, always quick to miss the forest for the tweets, would just focus on the use of the word “Negro.”)  But then, no real politician would risk saying these words, and neither does the fictional Sen. Christopher, who cuts them from his speech because to utter them in front of a largely white crowd on live TV would destroy his chances at securing the presidential nomination.

So, yeah, Miami Golden Boy may have all the elements of trash fiction, including a scantily clad woman on its cover, but it’s too well written and has too many pointed observations to be disposable.  

Not to be Outdone: Burt Hirschfeld’s ‘Key West’

The 1979 novel KEY WEST by Burt Hirschfeld
Burt Hirschfeld wrote his
own sex, scandal and
(overthrowing) Castro novel in
1979, but his heart just
wasn’t in it.

I have no idea if Burt Hirschfeld wrote Key West in response to Miami Golden Boy, or if he in fact ever read Miami Golden Boy. Regardless, his 1979 novel has a lot in common with the novel Kastle published a decade earlier, including a plot to overthrow Fidel Castro as one of its main narrative drivers. 

Unlike Kastle’s novel, however, Hirschfeld’s politics in Key West are more conservative (the man planning an assassination of Castro is an ex-CIA agent who frequently laments the weakening of America’s moral fiber) and his plotting less disciplined. The only instance where the majority of characters cross paths is during a party thrown by that stuffy ex-CIA man. I could believe the described bacchanal, which includes people doing drugs and having gay trysts in the bathroom, taking place at a party thrown by a staunch Republican, but that said Republican’s guest list includes middle class slobs as well as the town’s elite strained credulity.

As a whole the book reads like the novelization of a Prime Time soap that got canceled after its eighth episode. Narratives are either wrapped up quickly or just dropped, resulting in the book simply petering out without a satisfying conclusion. Key West isn’t a total waste of time — Hirschfeld’s writing is as engaging as always — but only Hirschfeld completists need bother seeking this one out.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

At Least She Didn’t Go to Vanderbilt

Promotional art for the 2017 Lifetime movie FROM STRAIGHT A'S TO XXX
This fifth installment in Robert Vincent
O’Neil’s Angel franchise is pretty
underwhelming.
In the right hands, the story of Miriam Weeks, the Duke University student who began starring in porn videos as Belle Knox as a means to pay the school’s astronomical tuition, has the potential to serve as a social commentary on soaring education costs, men’s and/or society’s fucked up attitudes towards female sexuality, and how the Internet simultaneously feeds and devours our fame-obsessed culture. It could easily become a biting satire in the vein of Election or I, Tonya.

But the 2017 biopic FROM STRAIGHT A’S TO XXX was in the hands of Lifetime, so it has nothing to say beyond the salacious title they spent all of three minutes coming up with.

In the opening disclaimers, it’s explained that “Miriam Weeks did not authorize this Film and disputes her portrayal in the Film” (no shit). I also dispute its portrayal of Weeks, and my knowledge of her doesn’t go beyond vaguely recalling seeing a few titillating headlines about her while in line at the grocery store. Then again, that’s about all the makers of From Straight A’s to XXX know about her, too.

Lifetime of Happiness Logo

In the first few minutes of the movie, Miriam (Haley Pullos) learns she’s been accepted into Duke University, though the school is stingy with its aid money. “Vanderbilt offered you a full ride. It’s just as good a school,” says Miriam’s tight-assed older brother Paul (Garrett Black). But Miriam is determined to go to Duke. “If Duke is what you have your heart set on, then we’ll find a way to make the finances work,” says Miriam’s father (Pete Graham). Miriam’s father is a doctor, by the way, but, as we later learn, he has only recently paid off his student loans.

Haley Pullos in the TV movie FROM STRAIGHT A'S TO XXX
And he still can’t afford to buy lenses for Miriam’s glasses.
And Miriam wants to avoid a similar fate. So when her father, also a military reservist, is called back to Afghanistan — “That’s a huge pay cut,” gasps Miriam’s mother (Imali Perera), worrying about what really matters — jeopardizing the financing of Miriam’s college education, she’s as adamant about not taking out any loans as she is about not going to Vanderbilt. But how else is Daddy’s baby girl going to afford her $60,000-a-year dream college?

Her roommate Jolie (Sasha Clements, who adopts a thick Alabama debutante drawl even though her character is supposed to hail from New Orleans) suggests she take an on-campus job, but Miriam dismisses that idea, correctly reasoning that any job she could get wouldn’t make a dent in her tuition costs. Then she and Jolie make a few joking suggestions, like starting a Ponzi scheme or robbing a bank. When Miriam giggles and suggests she become a porn star (as if!), I half expected an animated lightbulb to appear above her head.

A still from the 2017 TV movie FROM STRAIGHT A'S TO XXX
Her women’s studies classes usually don’t teach such things
until a student’s sophomore year.
Sure enough, after thirty seconds of careful consideration Miriam’s submitting her application and scantily clad selfie to Kinky Jobs. She’s immediately contacted by a producer offering to fly Miriam to New York to do a scene for FacialAssault.com for $1,500. In reality, the site was Facial Abuse, which has created a Facial Assault URL [very NSFW] that simultaneously promotes Belle Knox’s scenes for the site and From Straight A’s to XXX, a bit of piggyback marketing I didn’t expect, especially since the Lifetime movie depicts the site as being run by a bunch of rapists.

A screenshot from the homepage of FacialAssault.com
Which might not be too far from the truth.
Miriam may be traumatized by her intro to sex work, but she’s not dissuaded. She gets the name of a reputable agent and flies out to L.A. to meet with him. The agent, Don, is played by none other than Judd Nelson, so anyone worried that he was no longer getting work can breathe a sigh of relief. Don is significantly more supportive than the pigs in New York, and though she’s a little awkward in her first girl-girl scene, she quickly gets into her weekend alter-ego Belle Knox. 

Judd Nelson and Haley Pullos in a scene from FROM STRAIGHT A'S TO XXX
“No, really. They used to put my name above the title and
everything. God, I miss the ’80s.”


A scene from the 2017 TV movie FROM STRAIGHT A'S TO XXX.
The hottest Zoom call ever.
She forgets, however, that Belle Knox’s existence isn’t confined to weekends and that people also watch the videos. Miriam nearly shits her pants when a classmate, Jeff (Cardi Wong), asks her point blank if she’s in a porn video. She tries to deny it, but finally breaks down and admits she’s Belle Knox, getting Jeff to pinkie swear that he’ll tell no one. 

Haley Pullos in a scene from FROM STRAIGHT A'S TO XXX.
Free lunch.
And he doesn’t…until he gets a couple drinks in him at a frat party. Soon, Miriam’s the target of online and IRL harassment (in one scene guys pelt her with hot dogs and sodas as she walks by). Miriam’s crush, Josh, who has heretofore snubbed her because her lens-less glasses and cardigans have blinded him to the fact that she looks like Haley Pullos, is now suddenly inviting Miriam back to his place, an offer she almost accepts until she realizes he’s setting her up for a gang bang.

Though she’s at first miffed that her roommate kept her double life a secret from her, Jolie quickly becomes Miriam’s staunchest ally. She encourages Miriam to do an interview with the school paper to tell her side and defend her choice. Though the paper protects Miriam’s identity, Miriam’s nevertheless unsatisfied with the resulting article, complaining it “makes me sound like I contradict myself!” Wait until she sees From Straight A’s to XXX!

All the stress of her campus life starts to take a toll on Miriam’s porn career. She interrupts a scene to complain that the man she’s about to straddle is too old. “I’ve been super clear that I don’t want to book any scene with any co-star over thirty-five,” she whines to Don, as if she’s been paired with Ron Jeremy and not someone who looks like he could play the lead in a prime-time soap. 

A scene from the 2017 TV movie FROM STRAIGHT A'S TO XXX.
You know he can hear you, right?
Also, was Miriam driven to set blindfolded? Even Facial Assault introduced her to her co-star prior to shooting. Anyway, Don warns Miriam that if she refuses to do the scene, she’ll be labeled difficult, which is enough to convince the poor thing to endure fucking a handsome blond DILF.

Between shooting her porn scenes, Miriam tells performer, Dora (Alyson Bath) about the stress she’s been under since being outed on campus. Dora encourages her to come out to her family as well, since they’re bound to find out eventually and it’s better that it comes from her. So, Miriam texts her mom, who calls her back because of course she does. Miriam has already tested the waters in an earlier scene when she told her mother she was paying tuition with money earned from selling pot, which went about as well as you’d expect (“You could get expelled from school! You could get arrested!”) Mom’s not any happier to learn where her daughter’s money is really coming from, telling Miriam, basically, that’s she’s thrown her life away.

Having ripped off that Band-Aid, Miriam decides to come out nationally, agreeing to be interviewed on CNN. She also appears on The View, where Miriam tells of being a porn consumer since she was 12 years old, which was a bit of a surprise given that this movie portrays her as having no prior interest in pornography beyond it being a source of quick cash.

A scene from the 2017 TV movie FROM STRAIGHT A'S TO XXX
Is sitting across from Piers Morgan more or less dignified
than being spackled with cum? Discuss.

You Go, Whore!

Miriam’s hitting the talk show circuit has mixed results. Her father is heartbroken, her mother scandalized and her brother Paul, who’s got a stick the size of a California Redwood up his ass, refuses to be in the same room with her. The national exposure raises her status as Belle Knox, but also raises the hackles of her porn peers. According to From Straight A’s to XXX, Belle Knox is porn’s biggest star/pariah since Traci Lords. “No one asked you to go on every talk show and blog and speak for us,” Dora hisses during adult industry awards ceremony after party. “You’ve been in this industry for five minutes and you don’t know what you’re talking about.” 

A scene from the 2017 TV movie FROM STRAIGHT A'S TO XXX.
Mean Girls.
By the movie’s end, Miriam is speaking at a feminist rally on campus, proclaiming herself as economically conservative and socially liberal, then espousing her Libertarian views (the real life Miriam Weeks is reportedly a fan of Ron and Rand Paul), further proving that her story is perfect fodder for satire. After the speech she’s approached by the same school paper reporter who first interviewed her. Miriam turns down the reporter’s request for an interview. “I’m trying to keep a low profile,” she says with nary a whiff of irony. She does sorta, kinda answer one off the record question: Is she still doing porn? “Let’s just say I’m refocusing my energy on the bigger picture,” she says, forgetting that IMDb is a thing. Now she’s concentrating on politics.

A scene from the 2017 TV movie FROM STRAIGHT A'S TO XXX
Uber.
As lurid Lifetime ripped-from-the-headlines biopics go, From Straight A’s to XXX isn’t as terrible as I expected, but it’s a far cry from good, not even the “so-bad-it’s…” kind. Considering Anne-Marie Hess’s screenplay isn’t interested in its subject and her motivations so much as it is in recreating/embellishing key events culled from the Belle Knox Wikipedia page the movie gets far better performances from its cast than it deserves. Pullos’ performance is a bit uneven, but then again she’s having to navigate the constantly shifting characterization of Miriam. Is she a socially awkward nerd? A resourceful vixen? A victim? A sex positive feminist? A duplicitous slut? The movie’s answer is yes.

Ultimately, From Straight A’s to XXX embodies the attitudes of WAP, both its 1970s meaning  and its present meaning. It’s shaking its fingers at the hypocrites shaming Miriam Weeks for her choices while simultaneously doing the same thing, but also covering its ass by adding some half-hearted defenses of sex work and incorporating the word “feminist” in a few lines of dialog. So, in the end, the movie’s message is less You go, girl! and more, You go, whore!

And also: Fuck Vanderbilt!

A still from the TV movie FROM STRAIGHT A'S TO XXX
Welcome to Lifetime TV!

Friday, July 23, 2021

The Sony Walkman Giallo

DVD image for the 1984 film BLIND DATE
“The ulitimate hi-tech thriller” only if you think
Pong is the ultimate video game challenge.
A future murder victim; a future sit-com star-turned-Fat Actress-turned-QAnon conspiracist; a future Star Trek counselor; two established actors with rapidly dropping Q Scores grabbing a quick buck and a Greece vacation on their way down; all appearing in one of my favorite genres, the giallo. And all of them brought together by a director whose most notorious film featured, among other things, a man pissing in a wealthy socialite’s face and fucking a goat.

These were the ingredients that drew me to Nico Mastorakis’ 1984 thriller BLIND DATE (a.k.a. Deadly Seduction). So, why was I so bored watching it?

Things start off well enough. A young woman in serious need of some dental work leaves her amusement park date and takes a cab home. We already know before she closes the car door that the cab driver has sinister intentions as the camera is careful—in the beginning, at least—to only show his hands and feet. And, sure enough, as our young woman is showering (tits at three and a half minutes in; Nico doesn’t waste time) the cab driver is letting himself into her darkened apartment because his victim—like so many characters in thrillers and horror movies—hasn’t bothered to turn on any lights for the sake of maintaining a spooky atmosphere. When she steps into the living room, certain she’s heard something but still not switching on a single lamp, she’s grabbed from behind, her mouth covered by a chloroform-soaked cotton pad. A second later she’s in the cabbie’s makeshift operating theater, about to get dissected. If only she’d thought to flip a light switch.

Joseph Bottoms in BLIND DATE
Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk,
I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk.

Suddenly we’re watching Joseph (The Black Hole) Bottoms strutting through the streets of Athens, dressed in a tan suit and a white t-shirt reading “I ❤ My Dentist” (your guess is as good as mine). Bottoms plays Jonathon, an American marketing executive whose job seems to consist of boning his assistant, Claire (a pre-Cheers, pre-weight-gain and, presumably, pre-batshit Kirstie Alley), and watching commercial photo shoots. It’s during one such photo shoot for a travel company promotion that Jonathon thinks he recognizes one of the models, Mary Ann (the late Lana Clarkson, who gets an “introducing” credit even though she had already been in a few films prior), his former girlfriend from the U.S. Except the model’s name is Rachel, and the U.S. Embassy has no information about her under either identity. 

Kirstie Alley in the 1984 film BLIND DATE
“My E-meter is all warmed up and ready for you.”
So, what’s a guy to do? Maybe approach her and ask? Something as simple as, “Excuse me, you look like someone I knew in the States. Are you…?” should do the trick. Worst case scenario, she misreads this as a lame pick-up line—and most likely would, given Jonathon comes across as a smug asshole—and tells him to fuck off.

Or he could stalk her, which is exactly what Jonathon chooses to do. The movie tries to explain away Jonathon’s decision with a few quick flashbacks to when Jonathon and Mary Ann were attacked on the beach by a group of thugs, who beat the shit out of Jonathon and raped Mary Ann. The incident resulted in Mary Ann landing in a psychiatric hospital and Jonathon barred from seeing her lest his presence trigger memories of that night. Yes, this is the movie’s logic: approaching Mary Ann/Rachel directly could traumatize her; better to stand outside her apartment building with a pair of binoculars and spy on her instead.

Lana Clarkson in the 1984 movie BLIND DATE
Lana Clarkson has a Nice Guy looking out for her.
Meanwhile, a hooker (Marina Sirtis) turns her last trick when she takes the scalpel-wielding cabbie back to her place. 

Marina Sirtis in a scene from the 1984 movie BLIND DATE
Counselor Troi in more traditional Betazoid wedding attire.
Jonathon’s stalking blows up in his face when Rachel’s boyfriend Dave (James Daughton of Animal House fame) catches him watching them at a mountainside make-out spot. Jonathon eludes Dave in a chase only to run face-first into a tree branch, which may not have been intentionally funny, but I laughed anyway.

Somehow, this collision with a tree blinds Jonathon even though, as his doctors stress, there is no damage to his optic nerves. “You should not be blind,” says specialist Dr. Steiger. Dr. Steiger is played by Keir Dullea, perhaps best known for starring in the sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, so it’s only fitting that his appearance marks Blind Date’s hard left into sci-fi territory, if “sci-fi” was short for “Science? Fuck it!”

The doctor has invented a way for Jonathon to “see” that bypasses the eyes, implanting a “minute, platinum electrode plate” in his skull that interprets Sonar-like signals sent to his brain as images, something he calls CompuVision. (Isn’t interesting the number of sci-tropes that hinge on an ableist mindset?) And how are these Sonar-like signals received? Perhaps with a small device that’s worn like a hearing aid. Or maybe Dr. Steiger must remove one of Jonathan’s eyes and replace it with a glass one that contains all the necessary technology for receiving the necessary signals. Or, if you’re Nico Mastorakis, you could just give Johnny a Sony Walkman and a bunch of bullshit and hope nobody notices.

Kier Dullea and Joseph Bottoms in a scene from BLIND DATE
“And after we hook up your CompuVision device we’ll get
you a magnetic bracelet for the pain.”

Seriously. There isn’t even an attempt to disguise the Walkman and headphones with different casing or decals or just wrapping the fucker in tin foil. Nope, it’s just a Sony Walkman with all its branding in place. Though Dullea is clearly phoning it in, he deserves an honorary Oscar® for maintaining a straight face as he explains how the fast forward button activates the device and the rewind button activates the cassette inside the unit. Despite all Dullea’s efforts, his explaining how this Sony Walkman is really a CompuVision device was the moment I gave up on this movie.

A scene from the 1984 movie BLIND DATE
Vision restored!

Joseph Bottoms in a scene from the 1984 movie BLIIND DATE
Joseph Bottoms, the Not-Quite-Blind Avenger.
Alas, there’s a lot more movie to go as we watch Jonathon try out his new “eyes,” starting with resuming his creeping on Rachel, going so far as breaking into her apartment and watching her nude slumber (just a reminder, he’s our protagonist). Then he heads to the subway avenge his beating and robbery by three sexually ambiguous hoodlums prior to his being outfitted with the magical Walkman. He handily beats the shit out of them with a lead-filled cane. He also plugs his, um, CompuVision device into his video game console, apropos of nothing, nearly giving himself a brain hemorrhage in the process.

In case you’re wondering, the movie hasn’t forgotten about its killer. While Jonathon is taking his special Walkman for a test drive, the homicidal hack is still killing his fares, including a young couple on a date, whom he politely allows to enjoy one last orgasm before slicing them up. The cabbie has to get in line before he can attack his next victim, who comes home to discover doddering old man hiding in her bathroom hoping to sneak a peek, something that’s played off as harmless fun instead of a dial 112 situation (seriously, movie, what is wrong with you?) As always, our killer waits until the victim gets in a gratuitous nude scene before whipping out his scalpel.

A scene from the 1984 movie BLIND DATE
It’s OK, he’s just a pervert, not a killer.
Except, this time the Jonathon happens to be strolling by the victim’s apartment building when she screams and runs inside to investigate. He’s not in time to prevent the woman’s murder, and he nearly gets killed himself trying to escape the killer, but he does inadvertently get some clues to the killer’s identity (and the audience does, too, when the camera shows the back of the murderer’s head and his distinctive hair color).

Prepare for more bullshit: It turns out that when Jonathon nearly fried his brain plugging into his game console, he gained some extra abilities, like being able to hear voices from within the passing cab and get more detailed images when he rewinds the tape in his Walkman/CompuVision. Yeah, the movie is pulling more things out of its ass than a Club Inferno Dungeon video, but I still found Jonathon’s sudden development of special abilities easier to believe than that goddamn seeing-eye-Walkman.

Jonathon is also able to determine—via the special ability of knowing his thriller tropes— that the killer cabbie’s next victim will be none other than Rachel. If only he can get to her apartment without killing himself or anyone else as he speeds through the streets of Athens in his Renault Farma.

Joseph Bottoms in a scene from the 1984 movie BLIND DATE
The Renault Farma: Giving the small pickup the meter maid
cart makeover drivers didn’t know they wanted.

Eager to Sleaze

On the surface, Blind Date seems like promising trash. As always, Mastorakis is eager to sleaze. Though the murder scenes are fairly restrained, the movie makes up for the scant amount of blood with liberal amounts of skin and misogyny, with the camera lingering over a victim’s bare breasts while the killer prepares to cut into them. There is also plenty of what-the-fuckery, such as when Claire plans a surprise birthday party for Jonathon, arranging for guests to arrive while she and Jonathon are fucking, which, “Surprise!”

Joseph Bottoms and Kirstie Alley in the 1984 movie BLIND DATE
Also, get the fuck out!

Lana Clarkson in a scene from the 1984 movie BLIND DATE
Lana Clarkson (right) wears the finest
’80s street(walker) wear.
And then there’s the cast. At the time Blind Date was released, Joseph Bottoms and Kier Dullea were the “big” names in the cast, but viewers today will likely be more interested in getting a peek at Kirstie Alley and Marina Sirtis before they became TV stars and Lana Clarkson before she became a tragedy. Unfortunately, none of the women get much to do. Sirtis doesn’t do much beyond stripping down to a pair of bikini panties and screaming, but if you’ve been wanting to see Counselor Troi topless I guess that could be enough. I’d like to say that Clarkson, who achieved greater fame when she was murdered by Phil Specter in 2003 than she had for any of her film and TV roles, is a standout as Mary Ann/Rachel, but her role is largely decorative, most of her time on screen spent modeling swimwear and some of the worst of early 1980s fashions (the clothes in this movie are so atrocious I suspected actresses requested nude scenes to limit the amount of time they had to spend wearing them). She was undeniably attractive, but she showed more acting chops in Barbarian Queen.

Only Alley gets much to do, and she does it fairly well, though her character is largely on the sidelines (and not really necessary to the story, in all honesty). For the past couple decades Alley has gotten more attention for her struggles with her weight, her devotion to Scientology, and being someone next to whom Sean Young stands to appear sane, so it was nice to be reminded that she was once a gifted comic actress, something Mastorakis must have picked up on as Claire is often this movie’s comic relief.

Valeria Golino in the 1984 movie BLIND DATE
A pre-fame Valeria Golina also makes an
appearance, and this is as much of her that appears.
But for all its WTF storytelling and pre-fame celebrity titties, Blind Date is only intermittently entertaining. Like Mastorakis’ 1990 erotic thriller, In the Cold of the Night, Blind Date wastes too much time on extraneous scenes that only bloat the runtime and slow the movie’s momentum, while completely ignoring other story points introduced earlier (i.e., it’s not entirely clear if Rachel is Jonathon’s ex Mary Ann). At 90 minutes, Blind Date would be a trashy good time, but it’s 103 minutes and by the time you hit the 40-minute mark you’ll feel every one of them. In the end, watching Blind Date is better than going on one, but like a real blind date, you’ll be wishing it ends much earlier than it does.

RANDOM TRIVIA: The end credits tease a sequel to Blind DateRun, Stumble, Fall — that never materialized. However,  I’d argue that In the Cold of the Night, with its mix of tits and cheap sci-fi, is its spiritual sequel. Further bolstering that argument is that Cold star Shannon Tweed was originally cast in the role of Claire.