The Eyes of Nico Mastorakis: Blind Date (1984)

Matty looks back (get it?) at the Greek B-movie specialist’s slick murder mystery. 

In the sprawling The Films of Nico Mastorakis documentary included as an extra on several Mastorakis DVDs and Blu-rays, the Greek genre peddler talks about the years he spent at Paramount towards the end of the ‘70s. While nothing he developed at the studio came to fruition, Mastorakis did cross paths with Ridley Scott and John Carpenter on a pair of unspecified projects that were nixed by Paramount’s VP at the time, Don Simpson, who believed that Scott was “too arty farty” and that Carpenter was “a hack”. Of course, as William Goldman once said, in the film business nobody knows anything — and within eighteen months of Simpson’s hilariously miscalculated proclamation, Scott and Carpenter hit paydirt with Alien (1979) and Halloween (1978)

Fast forward to the early ‘80s and Mastorakis was back in Greece, soured by his bootless Hollywood sojourn (Paramount did, however, distribute two of his later epics, Hired to Kill (1990) and In the Cold of the Night (1990), on tape here in the UK) but happily crafting the kind of independent movies that would become his stock trade henceforth — pulpy, wild and wacky B-flicks that would occasionally get a big screen run, but were more frequently found on video store shelves and late night TV. And though he never had the chance to team with either Scott or Carpenter again, Mastorakis remained tangentially tethered to them. A former lyricist and record producer, Mastorakis had helped launch the career of fellow countryman and electronic music legend Vangelis; Vangelis provided the iconic score to Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), and the slightly less iconic score to Scott’s 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992). And in regards to Mastorakis’ connection to Carpenter — well, first was Mastorakis’ casting of the then Mrs. Carpenter, Adrienne Barbeau, in The Next One (1984) (aka ‘The Time Traveller’). A flabby and heavy-handed sci-fi drama-cum-religious allegory that premiered at the American Film Market in 1982, The Next One bears some intriguing structural and thematic overlap with Carpenter’s subsequent (and vastly superior) Starman (1984); a point Mastorakis gleefully plays up, saying that Barbeau told him that Carpenter “loved” The Next One’s script and wanted to direct something like it. Second was Mastorakis’ BLIND DATE (1984): a nifty serial killer thriller that could, perhaps, be interpreted as his impish retaliatory blow to Carpenter’s, erm, ‘homagery’ since it’s basically a riff on Irvin Kershner’s Carpenter-penned dud, the Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

That said, detailing further, more-explicit-than-his-ties-to-Scott similarities between Mastorakis and Carpenter’s films would be moot. Just as Carpenter has made a living aping Howard Hawks, Mastorakis is another cinematic magpie of the highest order and the greatest joy of him as a filmmaker is watching how he filters ideas and images from a wealth of other better-known pictures and directors into his own commercially-minded productions. And if Mastorakis uses the Eyes of Laura Mars as his springboard for Blind Date, the film also finds him plundering the oeuvre of Alfred Hitchcock, Dario Argento, Brian De Palma, and David Cronenberg too. 

Slickly realised set pieces, voyeurism, beautiful women in peril, a splash of mad science — Blind Date has it all. It’s a juicy, giallo-tinged Euro pud served with an American-style garnish; a rich blend of Vertigo (1958), The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Dressed to Kill (1982), and Videodrome (1983) that anyone with a taste for over-the-top murder mysteries should give a go post-haste (particularly via this swanky, gorgeously presented new Blu-ray from Schlock Pit pals 88 Films [1]). Written by Mastorakis and frequent collaborator Fred Perry (the associate producer of The Next One, and co-scribe of Mastorakis’ Sky High (1985), The Zero Boys (1986), The Wind (1986), Hired to Kill, and In the Cold of the Night), Blind Date tells the pleasingly preposterous tale of Jonathan Ratcliff (Joseph Bottoms), a Yank ad exec working in Athens. Despite both the character and Bottoms’ performance being ultimately rather bland [2], the scenario Mastorakis and Perry throw Ratcliff into is fabulous tosh: believing the leggy blonde (Corman sword n’ sorcery babe Lana Clarkson) he’s spotted on the set of his latest campaign to be an old girlfriend who was institutionalised following a gang rape, Ratcliff elects to stalk her, much to the chagrin of his current beau (everyone’s favourite Trump nut/Scientology loon Kirstie Alley, submitting the film’s most shaded and nuanced turn after beating Shannon Tweed to the part). So far, so skeevy — until a freak accident causes Ratcliff to lose his sight, and he’s transformed from creepy peeping tom to guardian angel. Convinced Clarkson’s statuesque model will be the next victim of the scalpel-wielding maniac cutting a bloody swathe through Athens’ underbelly, Ratcliff seeks the help of a surprisingly po-faced quack (a wonderfully blasé cameo from Mastorakis’ Next One star, Keir Dullea) who fits him with a weird, Walkman-like device that allows him to see again in angular, Tron (1982)-esque computer lines. But with this antiquated, smirk-inducing innovation having the potential to sizzle synapses if used for prolonged periods, will it be enough to stop the killer? The answer is as obvious as who the psycho is but, my word, is it fun getting there. 

As with the bulk of Mastorakis joints that last longer than an hour and a half, the 106 minute Blind Date would benefit from a few pace-quickening tweaks; a little tightening to a handful of moments stricken by tin-eared dialogue, and a little pruning to a couple of passages that veer close to shaggy dog territory. Still, it’s a comparatively minor gripe considering such dips and diversions are a Mastorakian signature, and the actual meat of the film — the gentle smattering of T&A, the bursts of violence, the general air of pomp and spectacle — are delivered with the director’s usual panache.

A robust technical exercise, Blind Date sounds and looks good as well. Mastorakis mainstay Stanley Myers’ delicate score serves the suspense scenes brilliantly, and the helmer’s preferred DP, Andreas Bellis, gifts the film a chunky, mood-driven sheen that quietly complements the expressionistic lilt of Blind Date’s sets and locations, his lighting and framing leaving us as engulfed by the surroundings as the visually impaired Ratcliff. 

[1] Full disclosure: me and Dave readily encouraged 88 to grab Blind Date, In the Cold of the Night, and the Mastorakis-produced Grandmother’s House (1988) and Darkroom (1989). Sorrynotsorry.
[2] Put it this way: Ratcliff/Bottoms is even staler a protagonist than Craig Wasson’s aww shucks-y lead in De Palma’s released-the-same-year Body Double — a movie that, had Blind Date not come out before it, you’d swear Mastorakis was ripping off so striking is their similitude, right down to their ‘B.D.’ initials. And yes, this footnote was designed solely to facilitate a Body Double nod. 

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