Thursday, June 2, 2016

Blood Link

PROGRAMMING NOTE: So, here we are, more than half a year out, and I’m still posting reviews from my Halloween marathon. That turned out to be a flagrantly ridiculous number of movies, and since it takes much longer to write about them than watch them --and then I got interrupted by the obligatory year-in-review-- we’re still truckin’ on. Fortunately I took detailed notes and have a pretty good outline review of everything I still need to post, but there’s no way around it, these things take time. I’ve decided to stop using the logo and the checklist, just to make things a little more expedient, and I’m also gonna try to be a bit more concise than usual just in an effort to get everything up and move into next year with a clean slate. But fear not, they will maintain the trenchant insight you have come to expect from this blog, just in a somewhat less protracted format. So bear with me as we dive back into obscure horror movies no one cares about with...

Blood Link (1982) aka Extrasensorial
Dir. Alberto De Martino
Written by Theodore Apstein
Starring Michael Moriarty, Michael Moriarty, Penelope Milford, Geraldine Fitzgerald

What we  got here is a strange, twitchy, sleazy little giallo which hits the expected notes from its simple premise, but also goes off in weird directions. The premise in question is that Michael Moriarty (Q: THE WINGED SERPENT, THE STUFF, various ultra-right-wing talk shows) is a successful doctor who keeps having visions of himself murdering women. Don’t worry, he’s not secretly a multiple-personality killer, that would be silly. Instead he has an evil twin brother (also Michael Moriarty, TROLL, IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE), long-believed dead, who has been on something of a murder bender and is psychically transmitting the experiences to his goody-two-shoes brother.

Granted, all that makes perfect sense. The “weird direction” is that this doesn’t play out as the standard psychic detective story you might assume it would. Instead, it’s more about the fraught, nebulous relationship between the two brothers. It’s some kind of weird relationship study of two people with no similarity to anyone who has ever existed, drawn together by entirely imaginary circumstances into a patently ridiculous drama. Who then have only one scene together. Huh. Italian director Alberto De Martino (HOLOCAUST 2000, STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM) seems to think he’s directing a standard giallo (complete with gloved, point-of-view murders and copious female nudity) but writer Theodore Apstein (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE is his only other movie, but he’d been a prolific TV writer since the 50’s) seems to have something more psychological in mind. With an emphasis on “something,” since the movie never really seems to figure out exactly what that is, but whatever. At the very least, it provides an unusual clash of tones between the dreamy id of the giallo and the comparatively literal-minded ego of American psycho-thrillers.

Moriarty is great in both roles, but, as you might imagine, he’s especially great as the psycho brother. It’s a good psycho role because, unusually, the guy is really psycho. Like the killer from ANGST, he’s irrational and impulsive more than calculating. He’s doesn’t seem to have much of a plan, or even a clear set of desires. He’s been on a murder spree, but it seems to be because he somehow knows this will bring his brother looking for him, more than for his own amusement. The murders don’t seem to independently interest him much at all, they’re just a way to get the gang back together. This was in the days before Facebook, so obviously a psychic murder-gram was the only good way to reconnect with an old acquaintance.

Evil-Moriarty is a pretty interesting character. He hates his brother (who had the chances he feels he was denied) but also sort of nakedly loves him, even has a sort of hero worship thing going. He wants to ruin him and also be him, and also a  whole bunch of emotions which don’t have names. You can tell all that mostly from Moriarty’s spazzy, uncomfortable performance, but give the movie credit, they actually seem to have thought this out a little. The character seems to have been written to have a little vulnerability, even though he’s still a despicable villain. Nothing really comes of it other than giving Moriarty the chance to see how many emotions he can put on his face at one time, but hey, that’s reason enough as far as I’m concerned. Like all great dual-performances, Moriarty makes the two brothers distinct enough that you can immediately tell which one you’re looking at simply through their bearing and individual tics, but just in case, you can also tell because one of them always wears a scarf.

One touch of class is the score by Ennio Moriccone, in one of the 10 million suitable-but-not-especially-memorable for-hire jobs he did on shitty Italian movies in the 80's.
There’s enough production value here for a few striking scenes; there’s a posh hotel room with a giant fishtank, a nightmarish acupuncture machine, a moody graveyard, and something my viewing notes call an “apple store” (I honestly don’t remember what I could possibly mean by that -- maybe it’s shorthand for some kind of Kubrickian all-white modernist hellscape, or maybe they just go to a store which sells Granny Smiths in a way which I thought was visually stunning enough to include in my notes). But despite the perpetually enjoyable Michael Moriarty double-role, the direction is pretty flat and the movie is dispiritingly short on momentum or tension. If it’s too weird to be exactly boring, it’s definitely listless and poorly structured, with sane-Moriarty seeming oddly ambivalent about his predicament. In the last act, his girlfriend (Penelope Milford, Academy-Award nominee for COMING HOME, and already in dire straits enough to have to appear nude in 60% of her scenes here*) randomly shows up and becomes the main character for the climax, while sane-Moriarty sits around back home looking concerned. Having a character who has not been part of the movie up til this point suddenly becoming the hero for the finale is definitely not a hallmark of strong narrative fundamentals.

But, narrative and momentum considerations aside, it does, at least, offer some surprises. The movie is not afraid to dive into some uncomfortable territory, which often means rape (like, three times) or just random sadism (for example, the sequence in which Evil-Moriarty torments an old man [Cameron Mitchell, everything from HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE to FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM] until he has a heart attack). That definitely makes it not as fun as something this goofy probably ought to be, but on the other hand it contributes to pushing this premise in unexpected directions. In fact, it seems to almost deliberately avoid going the places you would guess it would; for example, the daughter of the guy Evil-Moriarty kills (Sarah Langenfeld, only two other films) immediately and without question accepts that Sane-Moriarty is a twin, with surprisingly little evidence. You’d think with so much talk about how the brothers are connected, there would be more emphasis on the mistaken-identity angle, but nope. Likewise, when Sane-Moriarty starts banging her, she becomes the co-lead for awhile while they search for her dad’s killer.** But then she just gets brutally killed off a few scenes later, and his forgotten American girlfriend shows up again for the finale (if she is at all upset that, literally a day into his European vacation, he’s fucking a new woman half his age who just saw her father beaten to death by the exact double of the twitchy balding beanpole she’s now enthusiastically bedding, she never mentions it). It may be poor screenwriting, but it does keep you on your toes.

As the previous paragraph suggests, there’s lots of tits and plenty of blood here, but it’s all handled so glumly that it doesn’t seem exploitative as much as it seems intentionally transgressive. For better or worse, that seems to be what the screenplay has in mind, with all its suggestions of impotence and rape and simmering jealousy and insecurity between twins. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of this is quite well-developed enough to really make a meal out of. Both Moriartys are fun to watch, and the movie’s eccentricities are, at least, surprising, but I think they’d probably work better if the movie itself were bettered structured and more entertaining. It’s kind of novel, but also kind of a dour slog, and it’s not much redeemed by the out-of-the-blue bizarreness of the ending. Still, I can’t find it in my heart to totally condemn a movie with this much Michael Moriarty weirdness packed into it. BLOOD LINK isn’t as good as its ingredients, but it’s worth the time for any committed giallo-phile in the market for something a little different.  

*And only a decade away from being “Woman in the Woods” in HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER: PART II

**The fact that we already know he has a girlfriend back home who is so devoted to him that she’ll later cross an ocean and offer herself as bait for a rapist serial-murderer just to get him out of prison doesn’t seem to bother the movie at all.

Play it Again, Samhain

  • TAGLINE: Bound by Blood, Severed by Murder!
  • DEADLY IMPORT FROM: American/Italian/German co-production
  • SLUMMING A-LISTER: Former Academy-Award Nominee Penelope Milford, venerable film and Broadway star Cameron Mitchell.
  • BELOVED HORROR ICON: I think Moriarty has been in enough horror movies to count.
  • BOOBIES: Oh, very, very many.
  • SEXUAL ASSAULT: Yeah, lots
  • POSSESSION: Theres some suggestion to this effect.
  • VOYEURISM: Yes, good Moriarty and Evil Moriarty get to see each others's lives
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Very high, never on DVD to my knowledge.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: If you want to get in touch with an estranged relative, you should commit a series of brutal murders and psychically transmit them.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: Sure, why not.
  • Alex Made it Through Awake: N/A

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