When I was growing up in the UK, Lionel Richie’s Hello hit number one for six weeks. In its accompanying video our mustachioed singer perves on a pretty blind girl, if not stalks her. Oh, and to make things just that bit iffier, he’s her drama teacher. “I’ve been alone with you inside my mind,” he sings. “And in my dreams, I’ve kissed your lips a thousand times.” And what else have you thought about, good sir? Probably quite a lot, given he follows her around with his tongue virtually hanging out, so infatuated he’s even adopted the same hairdo.
Now tell me: Is Mr. Richie an outlier or do blokes have a thing for hot blind girls? Is helplessness appealing? Perhaps it brings out our gallant nature. Or does a blind chick simply conjure up icky fantasies in the less mature gentleman, a potential nirvana for a sad little weasel who prefers the submissive, dependent sort?
Well, I don’t know, but Richie’s Hello vid certainly stuck in my teenage head. Apart from its amusing creepiness, it presents this blind babe as not only pretty but curiously unbothered by her affliction. She’s well-adjusted, popular and always bloody smiling. Not once does she wander around with her fly open or fall down the stairs. It’s a depiction that suggests if you want to improve the quality of your life while being surrounded by unfailingly nice people, it might not be a bad idea to rip your corneas off.
I’ve since realized it’s the same deal in the movies. Sure, you get the odd sightless hag in horror stuff like Don’t Look Now and Peeping Tom, but for the most part pig-ugly, thick, miserable blind chicks (who aren’t psychic) are a rarity. Not only that, but in everything from 1959’s Witness in the Dark to 1995’s Castle Freak, they’re survivors.
Helena Robertson in Jennifer 8 (1992)
Starring Andy Garcia, Jennifer 8 was one of those serial killer flicks that were all the rage in the 90s. It was also one of Garcia’s shots at establishing himself as a leading man after The Untouchables, Stand and Deliver, Black Rain and Godfather III. Despite a decent opening forty-five minutes, it drifts, becomes uneven and illogical, and turns into an Airplane Movie. Indeed, Garcia never really got his box-office mojo back after playing a burnout cop in this flop. Along for the ride (and perhaps sniffing Oscar bait) is the babelicious Uma Thurman as a woman with four senses.
Why is she blind? She suffered a car accident at the age of fourteen, resulting in the death of her entire family.
Does she bitch about being blind? Not once. This is a little strange as she’s not the gormless, beaming type. The best she can do is get mildly miffed about Garcia asking if she can tell his age from his voice: “We don’t have some kind of sixth sense, you know, except in ridiculous novels.”
Is her life more active and worthwhile than mine? Helena is a dorm-dwelling, live-in music teacher with no students at a deserted institute for the blind. This place is a charmless concrete block, although I guess blind people don’t care too much about decor. Despite being gorgeous, sensitive and intelligent, she has no friends. Not even a pet. The weather’s shit, too. It’s either snowing or raining. However, she says she loves the feel of rain and snow on her face. Lucky her.
Is there a Lionel Richie character hanging around? It must be tough for any pretty girl to cope with the tedious crudities of unwanted male attention, but it’s probably even harder if you’re a pretty, curvy, virginal, blind girl like Helena. In fact, the movies often show that being in such a predicament is like having a neon sign above your head flashing Perve on me! Helena has to put up with three creeps here. Firstly, there’s Garcia, a former alcoholic that’s fixated on her because she looks like his promiscuous ex-wife who left him. “That’s who [Helena] is,” a cop buddy remarks, “except she can’t run away.”
Then there’s a bald, frog-like janitor who likes to creep into Helena’s bathroom, stand on the closed toilet, and take pictures of her with a miraculously silent camera as she nudies up for a bath.
I suppose I should also mention the serial killer who doesn’t like blind girls for a reason I couldn’t fathom.
Best blindness-defying achievement: Outrunning an experienced killer down a few flights of stairs is pretty impressive in anyone’s book.
What did I learn about being blind? The blind insist on their independence to an extraordinary degree. No matter there’s a mad killer on the loose and cops are getting gunned down, Helena still insists on being alone in her rundown, isolated dorm. Girl’s braver than me.
Where is her guide dog? No idea. I think she would resent such an intrusion into her independence. Even if she did have one, I suspect she’d make it sleep in a kennel and/or lay down ground rules about the number of contact hours per day. She does manage to dredge up a white stick after 92 minutes, though. By the next scene she’s binned it.
Does she die? When it comes to sexy blind girls, filmmakers long ago decided it’s fine to place them in the most appalling danger but they must never die. You’re much more likely to see a cutesy pet offed before a sightless female. Even in Jennifer 8’s eye-rolling finale when the killer (in a long-awaited moment of triumph) crows “Say night, night, dead girl!” you know he’s gonna fuck up somehow. Blind chicks have an even better survival rate than those goddamned kids in 70’s disaster movies.
Susy Hendrix in Wait Until Dark (1967)
This is one of the most famous thrillers featuring a blind chick, but it’s hideously bad. I think I’ve mentioned beforehand I don’t like play-based movies and it’s obvious this talky, overlong pile of smelly pants originated in the theater. It’s got a nonsensical setup featuring a heroin-stuffed doll and some particularly unconvincing criminals desperate to retrieve it. This bunch of clowns regularly dress-up and put on accents, even though they’re dealing with someone that can’t see. Audrey Hepburn is our damsel in distress, the unwitting new owner of the aforementioned doll. Why the fuck don’t they just threaten her? Or better still, torture her? That might have stopped me nodding off at various points.
Why is she blind? A car crash that resulted in a fire. No facial scars or burns, though.
Where is her guide dog? She was supposed to have one, but it read the script and left. Instead, she has to occasionally make do with a cane.
Is her life more active and worthwhile than mine? Well, she’s recently got married to a loving husband, goes to blind school, has a lame sense of humor, and is unfailingly nice. No friends, though, forcing her to be pals with the bespectacled brat from upstairs. I wasn’t envious.
Does she bitch about being blind? Her new hubby wants her to be more self-sufficient. Hence, he urges her to do the laundry, go shopping by herself and (somewhat suspiciously) use ‘plenty of boiling water’ to defrost the ice box. “Do I have to be the world’s champion blind lady?” she objects with some justification.
Is there a creepy Lionel Richie character hanging around? Just the three daft criminals hell-bent on making their pursuit of the heroin-packed doll as complicated and illogical as possible.
What did I learn about being blind? Being unable to see doesn’t save you from being a provincial, essentially dull person. Or as she says: “I do wish I could do things. Important things.” Oh yes, Suzy, like what? “Like cook a souffle, pick a necktie or choose wallpaper for the bedroom.” Fucking hell.
Best blindness-defying achievement: Wait Until Dark wants to present our heroine as super-alert, smart and resourceful, but she makes so many dumb choices that it’s hard to read her as anything other than retarded. She could negate everything by simply leaving her apartment. Even a scream would do the trick. Or why not just give them the bloody doll? It’s not like she’s got a dog in the race. Instead, she chooses to do everything the hard way, taking on and besting a gasoline-drenched, three-time killer in the confines of her apartment. To say such shit could only happen in the movies is an understatement.
Does she die? No, Hepburn got a Best Actress Oscar nod instead.
Sarah in See No Evil aka Blind Terror (1971)
Wait Until Dark was a big hit that generated Oscar buzz. Hits always create copycats and See No Evil feels like the British rural answer. It’s a slow burn psychological horror flick, its decent direction leading to some nice, creepy reveals. I have no hesitation declaring it fifty times better than Wait. It’s certainly nastier. Mia Farrow plays Tracy, a woman so pale and frail that even if she could see she’d still embody vulnerability. I like See’s inventive screenplay and its dank, sickly feel, even if its nonsensical underpinnings ultimately exclude it from being in the same horror class as Rosemary’s Baby.
Why is she blind? In 1993’s piss-poor Blink, Madeline Stowe loses her eyesight at the age of eight when her abusive mom smashes her head into a mirror after catching her playing with makeup. Makes a change from the ol’ car crash excuse, I guess. In See No Evil, Sarah can no longer see because of a horse-riding accident. I’m not sure how you end up blinded after falling from a horse, but I’ll go along with it.
Does she have a guide dog? No dog, no stick, no dark glasses. At this point I’m getting the impression that film directors think such paraphernalia is off-putting for the viewer. They much prefer to have characters stagger around with their arms out in front. However, Sarah is the fastest-moving blind chick on this list. She really motors at times. It’s like going from Night of the Living Dead’s zombies to those sprinting ones in 28 Days Later.
Does she bitch about being blind? When asked what it’s like to be sightless, Sarah gives a refreshing reply: “Bloody awful.”
Is her life more active and worthwhile than mine? Sarah is definitely the independent sort, pretty much determined to do everything herself whether it’s pour a glass of port or make plans to move to London to retrain as a physio. Her boyfriend is a decent sort who stands by her after the accident, his simple plea of ‘Don’t go’ making her cry. In other words, she’s damaged but not broken. Farrow gives a performance that’s both appealing and committed.
Is there a creepy Lionel Richie character hanging around? We meet him early on or, at least, we meet his white star-adorned boots. It’s just a question of working out who these boots belong to because, you see, we don’t get a look at his face. Just lots and lots of shots of that much adored footwear. Still, this directorial quirk worked for me. Our killer doesn’t do any perving on Sarah, but he’s still amusingly obnoxious. He’s the sort of guy that likes to read a porno mag in a daytime pub with both feet on the seating. Ultimately, he has one of the most convincing excuses for launching a campaign of slaughter I’ve ever known. His boots get splashed by a passing car. A sympathetic judge would look the other way.
What did I learn about being blind? The blind aren’t fussy about musical choices. Presented with a pile of LPs, it’s more about the achievement of operating a record player than actually ending up listening to something you like.
Best blindness-defying achievement: Jumping over a fence on horseback. I wouldn’t fancy doing that even with my two good eyes.
Does she die? No, but bloody hell, she’s put through the wringer.
Tracy in Eyes of a Stranger (1981)
I’m no fan of slashers, a sub-genre that reached its peak output in the immediate years after 1978’s Halloween. Most are simplistic, inept or boring. However, Eyes is a surprisingly good, well-directed watch. It’s illogical in places, but its technical skill, briskness and aversion to humor help maintain tension. Everything is played straight and the gory murders are well done. It’s a nasty, mean flick with a sleazy vibe that relentlessly riffs on the worst fears of women. Men are monstrous, ineffective or dismissive here. They’ll kill you, rape you or fail to save you.
As played by the teenage Jennifer Jason Leigh (in an excellent debut five years before being torn in half by The Hitcher’s Rutger Hauer), Tracy inevitably sparks the killer’s interest. She’s not only blind, but deaf and mute, too, an unfortunate combination that’s surely even more debilitating than being a Limp Bizkit fan.
Why is she blind? During a series of soft-focus flashbacks, we learn Tracy was abducted as a child and brutally traumatized. Men!
Where is her guide dog? She’s got a doggie but it’s untrained. This doesn’t stop our lovely killer from doing it in.
Does she bitch about being blind? Being mute, she doesn’t bitch about anything. She shows annoyance by banging her fist against whatever’s handy.
Is her life more active and worthwhile than mine? We don’t learn too much about Tracy, except she lives with her guilt-ridden, overprotective big sis in a nice apartment block. She does the laundry, makes coffee, waters the houseplants, feeds her doggie, reads Braille and goes swimming. Doesn’t sound too exciting, does it?
Is there a creepy Lionel Richie character hanging around? This is no whodunit. We’re immediately introduced to our burly, mostly silent killer. He’s a bespectacled, middle-aged man that lives in the same apartment block as Tracy. We don’t get any insight into why he’s turned out as a less than ideal member of society. He might frequent strip bars and have some girly mags in his apartment, but he’s a long way from the unhinged, babbling Joe Spinell in Maniac. The guy does his dry-cleaning like everyone else. Even his name Stanley Herbert is innocuous. All we know is that he’s into dirty phone calls before the red mist descends. He doesn’t have a ‘type’ and is just as likely to murder a secretary as a stripper. He’s both organized and disorganized in that he appears to carefully plan the murders but gets slack in their aftermath. The way he taunts Tracy in her kitchen is as creepy as anything you’ll ever see. Actor John DiSanti is terrifically unsettling throughout.
What did I learn about being blind? Being blind doesn’t stop you learning sign language.
Best blindness-defying achievement: Regaining her sight in the nick of time.
Does she die? Nah, but she sure gets pawed.
Reba McClane in Manhunter (1986)
Manhunter is an unusual serial killer movie in that it avoids exploitation and sensationalism by adopting a more nuanced, if not melancholy approach. It never shows the slightest interest in dwelling in filth. In fact, it’s often gorgeous to look at. It’s a mature work built on a well-researched script, Michael Mann’s assured direction and a mainly superb cast. Yes, I would have preferred a more compelling actor in the central role, some plot holes to have been closed and Mann to have ditched a fair few of his dodgy soundtrack choices, but they’re hardly a reason for Manhunter’s poor box office. Despite such minor flaws, the flick remains an often fascinating companion piece to the superior and much better-known Silence of the Lambs.
Reba (Joan Allen) is our blind heroine, a smart, likable woman who works in the dark room of a governmental photo lab. Perfect job when you think about it. She must have hated the digitization of film.
Why is she blind? We don’t get any clue, but given her sexualised nature it may have been down to masturbation.
Does she bitch about being blind? No. She’s definitely warm, open and upbeat like the Hello girl. She smiles a lot.
Is her life more active and worthwhile than mine? At work she’s liked and valued. She had a previous career as a speech therapist helping children. Often catches the bus home. Doesn’t appear to have any friends, maybe because of her unsettling habit of asking to feel your face one minute after meeting. Lives alone in a nice place, but she’s not doing any better than me.
Is there a creepy Lionel Richie character hanging around? Tom Noonan is the Tooth Fairy, a whack job that likes to slaughter families in their homes. This somewhat antisocial habit probably makes him an even worse house guest than Lionel Richie dancing on your ceiling. When the Tooth Fairy first meets Reba in the dark room, he’s his usual nervous self before realizing her disability. This results in a body language sea change. His subsequent interaction implies she has the innocent power to draw out his better side. In a rather contrived episode, he then takes her to feel an anesthetized tiger awaiting some dental work. Er, what? He meets a blind girl and just happens to know someone who’s got a zonked out tiger the same night? Anyhow, it’s still a helluva scene as Reba runs her hands over its thick fur, touches its fangs and listens to its heartbeat. Her bewitchment is so convincing that it suggests it might be cool to occasionally be blind. Meanwhile, our fucked-up antagonist is leaning his head against the wall, apparently sharing the ecstasy of her sensations. At this point the movie is so good we almost forget he’s a serial killer. Later in bed he listens to her heartbeat, another reminder of her purifying power, a power that’s capable of making him cry.
Does she have a guide dog? No, which is probably just as well. The Tooth Fairy would only kill it and bury it in the backyard.
What did I learn about being blind? The blind can be very forward when they’re horny. Reba gets in a car with a co-worker she doesn’t know, goes to his home, and is all over him on the couch after half a gin and tonic. “You’re a sweet, thoughtful man,” she says while riding the Tooth Fairy’s cock. Blind girls obviously choose men as badly as females in possession of all their faculties. If I were mean, I’d say Manhunter follows the horror cliché of punishing a woman for being sexual.
Best blindness-defying achievement: Perhaps the reason I’m fond of Reba is that she avoids any Susy Hendrix heroics when up close and personal with a demented killer. Indeed, she has the decency to turn into a ragdoll when an enraged six-foot-seven madman holds a shard of glass against her face.
Does she die? The Tooth Fairy might be an expert at slaughtering families, but he was always gonna be out of his depth trying to off a blind girl.