Michael Moriarty has long stood on the precipice of the mainstream; teetering, looking in, a toe here, but always bringing his unique Moriarty-ness to every project. Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, he brings the same fearlessness to his art, often resulting in performances just left (and sometimes further) of center. So it goes for another genre jaunt, Blood Link (1982), in which he plays formerly conjoined twins who collide in a mélange of murder and deception, giallo style.
This German-Italian-U.S. co-production premiered in the U.K. in October, with a rollout Stateside in November; oddly, it didn’t debut in Italy until ’86 and Germany in ’87. Perhaps the distributors didn’t have enough faith in their product, or they found its old fashioned story to be out of step with modern slashers. A man chasing himself is a hard sell, after all.
But honestly I thought the Italians would have eaten this up; it’s firmly in giallo-land, with mistaken identity, multiple stabbings, and gratuitous nudity. Seriously, what’s not to like? You get two Moriartys for the price of one! You’re going to turn that down? In this economy?
The story opens in a ballroom in Hamburg as Moriarty twirls a woman around a ballroom – right before he stabs her in the stomach and walks away. We then cut to the States, as doctor Craig Mannings (Moriarty – The Stuff) wakes to another work day; as he’s heading to the office to meet up with his fellow doctor and bedmate Julie Warren (Penelope Milford – Heathers), he has POV visions of women being killed in a European locale. He also notices that the killer is his long thought to be dead Siamese twin, Keith.
Craig recognizes the city, and off he goes to Hamburg to try and track down his brother and get him the help he needs (but probably doesn’t want). What ensues is a game of cat and cat, as both men try to out-maneuver one another, where the stakes are life and death. But if one twin is killed, what happens to the other?
Setting itself up as Hitchcock-lite with all the giallo trimmings (come to think of it, Hitch’s own Frenzy is pretty nasty), Blood Link could lose a few links to tighten it up a bit; they’re not boring, but the scenes between Craig and Julie do become a little repetitious as time wears on. Luckily, they’re apart for Act Two as Craig attempts to stop his brother with the help of a former patient’s daughter; not that they succeed, as it becomes apparent that only Julie believes Craig when he’s framed for the murders. Plus, there’s some psychological mining that occurs late in the game – think Argento, and you’re probably half way there.
The film really does take off once Craig lands in Hamburg, because now we’re in Keith’s domain; and trust me, as a horror fan hanging with Keith is where you want to be. Posing as his brother, Keith can’t help but be aggressive in response to Craig’s passivity – they haven’t seen each other in 30 years, but Keith can feel what a wallflower his brother is. It may seem simplistic to set them up as polar opposites, but filmdom has never shied away from rolling the dice on the effectiveness of certain tropes. One of the best scenes has Keith toying with an ex-prizefighter named Bud Waldo (Cameron Mitchell in a great cameo) who was once a patient of Craig’s - Keith gives him a (kind of) physical that is unflinching in its cruelty.
I’m prone to lay the cruelty and sleaziness at the feet of writer/director Alberto De Martino, who applied it with uproarious glee to The Antichrist (1974), surprisingly laid low for The Chosen (read my Dust Off here), and brings it back out by the bucketful here. I think the only woman who doesn’t disrobe is Geraldine Fitzgerald, the wonderful character actress from Wuthering Heights playing Keith’s foster mom. (I’m not sure if she was asked to or not. Stranger things have happened.) Sadly, he doesn’t bring the style that he did to The Chosen, but the attitude is the same regardless of how drab it looks. (It looks – ew - Canadian.)
So, what you get then are multiple stabbings, rape (not drawn out, thank you), and copious amounts of nudity. Plus, Hamburg seems like a lovely city.
A shrug of the shoulders for you, then? Not quite. I haven’t touched on the real reason to watch: Mr. Moriarty, times two. Now Craig, by design, is laid back – almost to a fault; there are moments when you think he may fade into the wallpaper. But Moriarty more than makes up for it with his portrayal of Keith: think of the manic energy he brought to Q the same year, but more focused and definitely more evil. Keith is a straight up sociopath, and anytime he’s on screen, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of Moriarty. (That’s never really been an issue.) There’s a moment when he gives Waldo’s daughter a wry little smile that’s as creepy as it is fleeting; every ounce of decency is wrapped up in Craig and was drained from Keith from the time they were little.
Blood Link’s ambitions are modest: to present a Wrong Man update with giallo accoutrements that were already starting to fade from the horror zeitgeist. That it’s pulled off with enough gusto should please those looking for boobs, blood, and bare knuckle boxing all wrapped up in prime Moriarty-ness. Double your pleasure, double your fun!
Blood Link is available on DVD from Revok.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967)