Death Has Blue Eyes(1976)
Studio: Arrow Films
Release date: April 6th, 2021
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Some directors’ movies make you wonder (if not worry) about the type of person they are. Judging from what I’ve seen from him, I think Nico Mastorakis may be an actual lunatic. He’s a director I’ve never quite warmed up to, mostly because so much of his work is intentionally off-putting. But I can also never claim that it’s boring—his is a singular madness, driven by the impulse to indulge in unrepentant schlock for the sheer hell of it, with no regard for how normal people might react. This was evident from the beginning, too, as his debut feature Death Has Blue Eyes is an unhinged 70s genre cocktail that refuses to play by any rules or expectations an audience may have. It’s one of the least predictable movies ever made, if only because Mastorakis’s mind might be the only one who could have dreamt up such madness.
The story is the stuff of a Penthouse letter gone to hell where two buddies, Robert and Ches (Peter Winter & Hristos Nomikos) meet up in Greece, where they trap a rich guy in a bathroom and steal his identity to fund their debauchery. Their big plans to have lots of sex and scam swanky hotels and restaurants hits various snags, such as when one of their mistresses finds them having a threesome with another mistress. But that’s nothing compared to the strange encounter they have with Geraldine and Christine Steinwetz (Jessica Dublin & Maria Alfieri), a jet-setting mother and daughter who call them out on their bullshit. With their tails tucked firmly between their legs, Robert and Ches can only sit and listen to the incredible story of how the duo witnessed a murder and are now on the run from an international cabal trying to hunt them down. They need protection, and our guys seem like the perfect candidate. Oh, and Christine is a psychic.
This honestly isn’t even the half of Death Has Blue Eyes, a movie that unfolds at the chaotic whims of its writer/director. Much like a child will string together random story beats without a sense of actual narrative, Mastorakis dreams up whatever pulpy outbursts cross his mind: softcore sex trysts, car chases, Christine foiling an assassination attempt by spontaneously igniting a bomb with her mind. The story doesn’t lack for imagination, and it’s almost like Mastorakis thought this might be his only shot at making a movie, so he stuffed it with multiple genres, allowing it to contort from a madcap sex comedy to a Poliziotteschi movie to a conspiratorial thriller, all of it loosely bound by the rampant nudity and violence threaded throughout. Even at a brisk 80 minutes long, it feels like a lot of movie, and it’s sort of jaw-dropping to watch it recklessly sprint from Point A to Point Z.
In many ways, it’s guided by the same unhinged logic as the giallo genre. But despite the title and some of the aesthetics, Death Has Blue Eyesdoesn’t really belong to that genre, so fair warning if you’re reading this review on a horror website and are expecting a horror movie (sorry!). Instead, it’s more of an impressionistic giallo, at least in the way its story follows a crooked path. Trust me when I say you will have no way of knowing what the climactic set piece of this movie is based on just about anything that comes before it. Imagine the twists and turns of even the most wild giallo, and you might get in the ballpark of what happens here. For a film that’s disreputable and scummy (in the Mastorakis tradition!), Death Has Blue Eyes is a weirdly delightful hoot.
The characters especially are unexpectedly charming. Robert and Ches are a couple of scoundrels with hearts of gold. Who among us hasn’t had a European romp interrupted by international conspiracy, subterfuge, and psychic babes? They certainly shake it all off as a matter of fact and don’t let any of it deter them from having a good time. Most people would at least feel compelled to show some combination of amazement and bewilderment at being tangled up in such an ordeal, but it truly feels like just another week for these guys, who remain committed only to themselves and their hormones. It should come as no surprise that the mysterious cabal trying to kill the Steinwetzs eventually resorts to distracting our boys with the promise of sex. You don’t need psychic powers to know that might work. You do probably need them to predict just anything else that happens in Death Has Blue Eyes, though.
Most unpredictable is just how good-natured and silly it all is. Mastorakis’s work is often the latter, but it’s usually a provocateur’s silliness that’s driven by a need to shock and offend an audience. Even if it’s hard to take seriously, there’s something that’s a little distasteful about it that’s kept me from really embracing so much of his work. Death Has Blue Eyes is a different story, though. Sure, it still feels somewhat amateurish and disreputable, but it’s a fun, harmless kind of disreputable that doesn’t leave you bored or put-off.
Regardless of how I personally feel about Mastorakis’s work, there’s no doubt Arrow is doing genre fan’s a service by restoring and re-releasing his oeuvre on Blu-ray. Death Has Blue Eyes is their latest effort, and it boasts the pristine remaster (taken from a 2K restoration of the original negative) you’ve come to expect from the label, and they’ve also provided the option to watch the film in a 1.33:1 ratio. The 2.0 LPCM track is likewise solid, as it features crisp dialogue and gives some of the more boisterous scenes a nice presence.
Supplements are a little light, at least by Arrow’s standards. An interview with Alfieri gives her an opportunity to discuss her career before tackling her experience on Death Has Blue Eyes. She looks back on the production fondly, offering several nice anecdotes about the cast and crew that give you the impression that making this movie was just as fun as you’d imagine it’d be. Mastokoris also appears for a 24-minute chat, where he talks about his inspiration for making the film in his own raconteur style. At 80 years old, he’s still an infectious presence as he talks about his earliest experiences in the business and turning to a porn producer to help get Death Has Blue Eyes produced. Another feature allows you to listen to the film’s score, while the trailers and image gallery round up the usual promotional stuff. First pressings also come with a booklet featuring liner notes by Julian Granger, so Mastorakis fanatics should snap this one up quickly for the entire experience. The uninitiated or the unconverted may find it worthwhile too—if you haven’t given him a shot at all or need to give him another one, Death Has Blue Eyesgives you the Mastorakis experience distilled into an 80-minute fantasia of action, sex, and shenangians.
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