Monday, April 16, 2007

Blood Link (1983)

Blood Link begins in the midst of a surreal and fantastic waltz. Members of a high-society social club are seen stiffly dancing in an ornate ballroom. The camera, frozen in place amidst a crystal and gold chandelier during the title sequence, comes unlocked and begins to zoom into the floor. The dancers' movements appear regimented and passionless. This disorienting opening is glued together by Ennio Morricone’s fantastic theme: a somewhat traditional waltz made ominous by occasional, dark, ethereal passages. The camera eventually zooms in to focus on one particular couple—an unnamed woman and man. The music ends, and the dancers clear the floor save for this mysterious couple. One club member exclaims to another “They don’t even seem to notice the music has stopped.” The woman, considerably older than the man, in a close shot, says, with awkward reservation “Do you… know how happy you make me?” The music resumes—this time a more traditional waltz with more frequent and more sinister sour passages. The man sashays the woman into a dark corner of the room, and—with a wide smile—produces a blade and stabs the woman in the back. He calmly and slowly eases the body against the floor, and exits the frame. A ringing phone interrupts the pace and style of the scene, and the man from the previous scene rolls over in bed and answers the phone.

The film’s opening is seemingly a nightmare, and the dreamer appears to be Physician Dr. Craig Manning (played by the inimitable Michael Moriarty). While initially the connection between these two scenes in unclear, we conclude that the opening is a dream only after the mundane rhythms of Mannings’ life are established. Manning chats on the phone with his sweet, average-looking girlfriend Dr. Julie Warren (Penelope Milford), makes small talk with his elderly neighbors, and sits through tedious meetings with his physician colleagues. These few scenes are carefully crafted to establish the dual reality of Mannings’ experience: his personal life and his fantasy life of disturbing dreams and visions. In one Argentoesque sequence, Manning follows a nude woman up into a bell tower and murders her, only to snap to, alone in the tower. However, this second fantasy is achieved through more traditionally “B” movie devices—particularly, Vaseline smeared on the lens. This criticism aside, the dynamic of the film is swiftly and adeptly established within the first act of the film, allowing the final two thirds of the film to unravel in interesting ways.

The potential cause of Mannings dreams and waking visions is his self-testing of his own radical new psychological treatment, which involves acupuncture and electric shocks. Its not clear what exactly this cure will achieve nor for whom it is intended—yet it makes for an interesting device, much the way pseudo-science and pseudo-psychology play a role in many horror and science fiction films, particularly Brainstorm, Altered States, Prince of Darkness and the mid-period films of David Cronenberg. While this would make for a sufficient thriller alone, the curveball of the film comes at the start of the film’s second act, when Craig Manning learns of his long-lost Siamese-twin brother, Keith, whom he only vaguely could recall until now (I hope it is not a sick joke that his brother has relocated to Cleveland). Craig learns of Keith when he visits an aging foster parent, who calls him Keith, and seems to warn of impending danger. This all comes as a surprise, and the introduction of this element could have been handled more carefully, as its bizarre randomness betrays the mundane tone established by the "real life" scenes of the film. However, as we learn that Craig’s visions may not be his fantasies at all, one could rationalize that Craig represents the mundane aspects of life, while Keith represents the mysterious and forbidden. The two begin to bleed together once Craig realizes that the ballroom he dreamt is a real place, “The Crystal Ballroom”, as he stands in the center of the dance floor, all glamour stripped from the location, as a janitor sweeps up in the background. Craig discovers soon after that the two women he’s seen murdered, were, in fact, killed exactly as he dreamt it. We soon learn that Keith is able to “see” through Craig’s eyes as well, and that Keith knows Craig is close.

Moriarty is often credited as a reliable character actor, but rarely is he acknowledge as being a talented actor, generally. Moriarty, although always recognizable, is able to adapt to the particular tone of whatever film he’s cast in. His performance here is entirely different than the fairly uniform performances in Larry Cohen’s films for which Moriarty is best known. Moriarty’s evolution as an actor only points to his progressive talent and adaptability. For instance, in the first season of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series, his terrifying portrayal of a murdering trucker remains the highlight of not only the episode in question (also directed by Cohen), but of the entire—albeit, rather lackluster—series. His performance in this Masters of Horror episode is as different from his role here in Blood Link as this film is from Q: The Winged Serpent or The Stuff.

The crystals spied in the opening shot, paid close attention to, come to represent the fractured twin psyches of Craig and Keith, bound together and reflexive. In one contemplative scene, Craig stares at himself in the mirror, imagining Keith, and trying to reconcile the murderer envisioned in his mind with the image before him. Were he to look into a large multi-faceted crystal, he would see a more appropriately disjointed picture of his psychotic brother. Keith’s character, thinly characterized, only makes sense as contrasted with his brother. Unfortunately, his sociopathy remains largely unexplained and unexplored. Advantageous then, that Moriarty is able to fill out the angles of Keith, even if the script is not. There is never a moment where Moriarty is onscreen that we are unsure of which brother we are looking at.

Blood Link looks fantastic: sumptuous during Craig’s visions, raw and washed-out elsewhere. Two experience of each twin is unique—filmicly—in several ways. While Craig lies nude and comfortable with Julie, her exposed breasts seem neither titillating nor particularly erotic, merely naturalistic. Keith’s intimate moments, however, are wholly different. Keith leans in over a nude prostitute, in one scene, dominant and aggressive. The scene feels incredibly elicit and pornographic, as the woman begins to undue Keith’s belt and exposes his pubic hair. As the film progresses and Keith and Craig close in on each other, the two motifs blend together, such as a night-time scene in a shopping center, all bright, high-contrast colors and shadows. The lighting and d├ęcor augment each brother so much that even scenes where the two are present seem carefully constructed to suit each half of the “link.”

Blood Link’s major misstep is its conclusion. Craig’s character is imprisoned for one of Keith’s murders, and Julie’s character is called to carry the remainder of the film. This is problematic, as her role in the film at times appears merely functionary. For instance, she does not mind when Craig sleeps with another woman, seemingly only because this would create an obstacle for the story’s progression. Julie’s character is also degraded for reasons unknown, as she is constantly disrobing (or having her clothes ripped off), and uses her body to get close to Keith at the film’s climax. No apparent point about the characters or the external psycho-sexual relationships between men and women appears to be made here. The weakness of Julie’s character is compounded by the amateurish acting of Milford, whose degradation is almost palpable, beyond that of her character. Also, here we see yet another film suffer from a pointlessly ambiguous ending. It is a shame that Blood Link loses steam in the final reel, as it is, in many ways, an interesting film, especially in the technical sense.

This international picture (an American/Italian production, filmed in Germany and Canada), benefits hugely from the studied restraint of cinematographer Romano Albani (who has worked with Argento), and from Morricone, who demonstrates similar restraint, working primarily with several simple themes. Morricone’s touch is so slight that the final half of the film is nearly devoid of soundtrack. These elements, coupled with an interesting (yet still somewhat flawed in execution, and certainly not particularly original) set of themes, and Moriarty’s fine performance, elevate Blood Link, despite a few stumbles, above other “B” psycho-thrillers and Argento knock-offs.

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