Greek exploitation cinema hasn’t gotten as much attention as other varieties of vintage Eurosleaze. The boom for exploitation style fare happened a bit later than some of the other nations renown for cult cinema, with political and economic instabilities hampering both production and distribution. Only after the fall of the far-right military Regime Of The Colonials in 1974 could the Greek film industry sufficiently recover to support a new wave of local productions. Freed from both constant upheaval and extremely conservative cultural policies, filmmakers (both mainstream and not) had more leeway to experiment with new styles and push the boundaries in terms of content.
Writer/Director Nico Mastorakis was a product of that boom, transitioning from radio and television work to feature films. While he has had a 40 year career in low budget cinema, he’s likely best known to international audiences for the video nasty Island Of Death or his 80s video output. Death Has Blue Eyes was his feature film debut, released after Island in 1976, but shot first.
Peter (Robert Kowalski) is a free spirited American, flying to Athens to meet with his best friend, Ches (Hristos Nomikos) for some sun, sand and small time con jobs. From snatching someone else’s airport limo to ruining Ches’ sugar mama situation via sleeping with a pretty (and perennially naked) housemaid, petty crime becomes the funding source for a travelogue of the good life they likely couldn’t otherwise afford.
While trying to smooth talk their way into free food at a luxury hotel restaurant, the duo meet the wealthy dowager Geraldine (Jessica Dublin) and her comely daughter, Christine (Maria Aliferi), who promptly hire the pair as their bodyguards. However, Geraldine and Christine aren’t merely jet setters. They are also powerful psychics on the run from some shadowy secret agent types after Christine witnessed a political assassination in Warsaw. Now, Peter and Ches are targets by association.
What is mildly confusing in synopsis doesn’t really get any clearer in detail. Death Has Blue Eyes tosses a pile of fading exploitation trends into a blender (spy thrillers, goofily winking sex comedies, road movies, a giallo style title) and hopes that something sticks. It further muddies the logical and tonal waters with long sequences of softcore action that were likely a concession to the hardcore pornographer who was the primary financial backer of the film. Car/motorbike chases, silly visual puns, a threesome (on a peak 70s rotating bed), and drunken traditional dancing all compete for your attention at various points in the film.
It’s a hodge podge of freeform set pieces that could only have come from an overly excited first time filmmaker. Our titular girl with the blue eyes, while very lovely, is actually a green eyed actress. Christine uses her vast psychic powers to send a beach tent bursting into flame, but to also ruin Peter’s good time in an intimate moment with one of his conquests. Ches and Christine comedically abandon Peter midway through a mid speed chase attempt on their lives, for no apparent reason. Luckily, a beautiful Formula One racecar driver saves him from the side of the road, and promptly takes him home for yet another softcore interlude. Meanwhile, our main shadowy villain dispatches even more suspiciously similar biker assassins, on what is clearly a different soundstage than the rest of the film.
There’s a certain charming silliness here, as “Vietnam vet” Peter, and “gigolo, racecar driver and karate expert” Ches’ exploits are clear stand ins for what your average horny preteen would’ve thought might make a great movie if idly scribbling ideas on a cocktail napkin. The cheerfully daffy effect is underlined by a score chock full of delightfully wacky vocal pop and continental cha cha lounge music.
Unfortunately, none of the plot threads even attempt to come together until the end of the film, and it’s more of a whimper than the bomb referenced in the original Greek release title. As busy as Death sounds on paper, its an oddly inert film, like a collection of trailers meant to appeal to the full range of exploitation crowds. The sub 90 minute runtime feels longer, and the movie never gels as a complete thought.
Mastorakis approved this particular recut of the movie, which while streamlining some of the storyline excess, can’t hide the film’s odd scene breaks and generally choppy editing in both the action oriented and dialog driven scenes. The Arrow restoration from the original negative has created a beautifully lush color palette, but the clean up can’t hide some odd framing and visually confusing lack of transitional shots as the characters move from location to location.
Maria Aliferi’s Christine is stunningly beautiful in her telekinesis fueled close ups, and the Greek countryside has never looked more tourism brochure ready, but those moments of style are the exceptions to a certain workmanlike approach to aesthetics. The audio track still has some flatness in the dub, and the mix between dialog volume and the scoring/soundtrack is still a bit off, but is as polished and as close to a stereo presentation as could be attempted with what was clearly a mono track.
The extras are not quite as lavish a spread as can usually be expected from Arrow, but that may be due to being produced mid pandemic more so than anything else. There’s an interview that Nico Mastorakis shot himself at home, which covers his early years in television. There’s also an interview with star Maria Aliferi, “Dancing With Death”. Rounding out the set is the full, wonderfully time capsule-ish soundtrack, press stills and a selection of trailers.
While Death Has Blue Eyes has some slight pleasures for die hard exploitation film fans, it is more of an amusingly offbeat curio than a must own piece or representative example of Greece’s particular brand of exploitation. Similarly, established fans of Mastorakis’ output might be interested in the early seeds of his typically quirky approach to filmmaking. Those newly discovering the director will find several better entry points in Arrow’s catalog, as they have been slowly but steadily restoring titles from his large filmography. Arrow’s restoration and supplemental work are of their usual solid standard, but Death Has Blue Eyes is more of a deep cut for collectors and completists than an exploitation essential.
Wicked Rating – 6.5/10