“Don’t open a can of worms you can’t eat.”
In 1988, I was ten years old. The slasher genre was in its late cycle, and the video market was thriving. My mother was my gateway into horror films, and I often “borrowed” from her collection. I have a faint memory of Hell Night. I had no idea the female lead was also the star of one of the biggest horror movies of all time, The Exorcist. It wouldn’t be until later that I was able to distinguish and appreciate Linda Blair’s contribution to genre film.
Linda Blair released only one film in 1991. That movie was Fatal Bond. The opening scene features Joe Martinez (Jerome Ehlers) drinking and driving while police scoot off-road and beat their fists against stalled engines. Soon enough this rapscallion is crashing a birthday party, where Leonie (Blair) and company dance to a slow country/rock song in the vein of Dire Straits. Leonie, enjoying everything the ’90s has to offer, is charmed when Joe tries to hit on her friend. He starts a fight, and Leonie, quick to trust, gets in the passenger seat with him. “Parking tickets,” he says, as the police chase them.
Joe looks a little like Robert Mitchum meets Timothy Dalton, so maybe it’s not completely unbelievable that she invites him up. It’s unclear whether or not she’s supposed to be drunk, so at this point we have to assume he’s just her type. Maybe sex is the only thing to do in a town this size?
It gets weird when we see Leonie’s bedroom. It’s thick with stuffed animals and resembles a teenager’s room, a sign that either this woman hasn’t matured or she’s just the collecting type. The décor establishes Leonie’s innocence, a common trait in Blair’s filmography. Showing her eagerness to trust, Leonie lets Joe stay in bed while she’s at work as a hairdresser. Throughout the film she has many hairstyles, meaning she must be good at her job. Joe waits for her outside, bearing gifts. Later, after sneaking away with another women, he returns drunk while she pretends to sleep—they’re already acting like a married couple.
How does the movie let us know Joe’s an asshole? We know because he’s a beer can litterbug. Their make-out sessions are interrupted by police, which speaks to his inability to stay out of trouble. And he’s a serial flirter. But when it comes to Joe’s domineering, borderline abusive behavior towards Leonie, the movie wants us to believe this behavior is endearing. Leonie apologizes to him after he grabs her cheeks to quiet her. After selling her car, Joe pressures her for the check. Women continue to let Joe kiss them only minutes after saying hello.
While all of this is happening, there’s a barely-there thread that Joe might be a serial killer after one of his high school conquests is found dead. There’s a funeral for the girl that doesn’t feature any of the lead characters. On one hand it’s good to see a ‘victim’ portrayed as a human being, but sadly it’s not very interesting because the movie’s given us no reason to care about the girl’s surviving family. Plus, the overly religious father (Stephen Leeder) seems unwilling to help the detective and the movie gives no reason as to why this is the case.
There isn’t much weirdness to be found in Fatal Bond. There’s a moment where Leonie is watching a movie in the hotel and it has a runtime on the bottom of the screen. There’s a crime scene where at least ten school children are standing within a few feet of the mutilated body. Then there’s a creepy window peeper scene…where Joe steals a bottle of milk. He almost gets knifed for it, which makes his character’s motivations even more confusing. Eventually the movie gives us another bedroom reeking of arrested development, almost identical to Leonie’s. “She’s a God-loving child,” her father says as he reads his deceased daughter’s diary.
It’s troubling that every woman in this film (the detective doesn’t count as she gets barely any screen time) could be described with words like innocent and selfless. Leonie—played by the only real star in this movie—has to wait in the car while Joe goes about his unspoken errands. What is this film trying to say about female roles, if anything?
On a good note, we do get to see Leonie randomly studying Italian in the car while wearing puffy headphones. Linda Blair can pull off headphones like nobodies business. Speaking of business, Joe’s turns out to be hang time with crooked mechanic friends. It’s not really clear what their relationship is until they steal a car. We then learn Joe is looking for his brother Jack (oh yes) who may have been murdered by one of their connections. Possibly for giving the boss’s lady a foot massage, if I understood the dialogue correctly. Tarantino truly does steal from the greats.
At this point there’s been one murder. There’s really no reason to suspect Joe until Leonie spots a necklace at a crime scene that’s identical to the one Joe gifted her. However, Joe can’t be bothered—he’s got a brother to find. “What about those girls, those poor girls,” Leonie says when Joe laments about his bro. Exactly.
In the end Joe finds his brother, who’s beyond saving. From here Joe’s story turns into one of betrayal and pickup trucks on fire. The screenplay fails to create any real ambiguity about his connection to the murders because we know that murder is the last thing on his mind. When they do talk about the murders, Leonie insinuates that she hid evidence to save him. How far did she go? Did she hide bodies, dispose of murder weapons? The movie doesn’t say.
When the actual killer attacks them, the viewer is similarly assaulted with flashback/exposition to explain how he’s the killer. He botches the chance to take out the lovebirds and dies from his own botch, thus becoming one of the most inept serial killers in all of cinema. And as proof that Joe isn’t an asshole, he—spoilers—never cashed Leonie’s check. Literally or figuratively. Aw.
Fatal Bond was directed by Vincent Monton, cinematographer for the classic Road Games. He directed only four feature films, including one called Windrider (1986). The IMDb synopsis begins with the line “PC Simpson is an enthusiastic surfer.” Screenwriter/male model Phillip Avalon’s highest profile work is Summer City, a 1977 Mel Gibson film that also features surfing.
With its title and cover art, one would expect Fatal Bond to be another sex thriller from the endless catalogue of 90’s Cinemax titles. While its unsexy plot thread and lack of romance declare this to be false, it’s worth noting that the most compelling scene is the lone sex scene. It’s the only moment where Leonie asserts herself and Joe keeps his mouth shut. The scene: after it’s implied he might be out having an affair, Joe returns to their hotel room. We expect an argument. What we get is Leonie sucking the blood from his cut finger, followed by a one-sided interrogation about the “other woman” as she takes control of him in the sack. She appears to reach climax, while he does not. He lies stiff and quiet as she finishes. This begs the question: is Leonie the versatile plaything of a male writer’s imagination, or a woman who from the beginning identified this conman’s bullshit and manipulated him to meet her need for danger and excitement, going as far as destroying evidence to keep the game going? There’s hope for the latter, but not much.