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Monday, May 10, 2010

Eyes of A Stranger (1981) review


Lauren Tewes (Jane Harris), John DiSanti (Stanley Herbert), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Tracy Harris)

Directed by Ken Wiederhorn

A sleazy mix of slasher and Hitchcockian suspense motifs enhance this often times queasy and misogynistic obscure horror movie with effects work by Tom Savini. A mostly ignored and nasty little gem that deserves more notice.

A rapist and murderer of women terrorizes Miami stalking his victims first by threatening them with obscene phone calls before killing them. Jane Harris, a female television reporter, becomes suspicious of a neighbor in the high rise across from her building. Discovering he is the killer, the newswoman calls and reveals she is aware he is the murderer. Recognizing something she says on her program on television, Harris soon becomes a target of the madman herself. Not satisfied with Jane, he also sets his sights on her blind and deaf sister, Tracy, who just happens to live in the same building.

Look out behind you!

This obscure slasher from the banner year of the subgenre rarely gets a mention, but upon watching the movie, it's a surprisingly adept affair. The movie is a curious amalgamation of various similar slasher and nostalgic suspense thrillers such as Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW (1954), PSYCHO (1960), WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967), BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), John Carpenter's made for TV movie, SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME (1978), MANIAC (1980), HALLOWEEN 2 (1981) and VISITING HOURS (1982).

Wiederhorn is likely best known for the eerie and suspenseful late night creature feature, SHOCK WAVES (1976). In a nod to HALLOWEEN 2, his film about Nazi zombies is seen playing on various television screens just as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) is being watched by various cast members in the Michael Myers sequel. While Wiederhorn's slasher movie isn't loaded with gore, it has a couple of gruesome and very violent scenes courtesy of effects ace, Tom Savini. One involves a decapitation and another is a brutal knifing of a couple followed by the slow, gurgling death of the woman.

Although it never gets too bloody compared with other films in the subgenre, it has an unsettling air of nastiness and misogyny. The killer hates women and his victims are either raped, murdered, beaten and stripped of their clothing. Sometimes it's all four. Curiously, the film makes no secret as to who the killer is. You see his face fairly early on and he's a rather slimy looking, brutish character. You learn little about him aside from the fact that he lives in an apartment high rise adjacent to the one rented by Jane Harris (Lauren Tewes).

The killer first makes threatening phone calls to his victims just before killing them. The calls are so precise, it would seem he is watching them from nearby, or is in the house with them. The calls bring to mind the ones heard in the seminal BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), but are nowhere near as creepy. The opening double murder sets the mood perfectly and although this opening sequence is quite gory, the other murder scenes are slightly less bloody.

Lauren Tewes makes an odd choice for a horror heroine considering her ten year stint on THE LOVE BOAT (1977-1987), but she plays a feisty character who willingly throws herself in harms way to bring down the vicious rapist-murderer much in the same way Lee Grant's news reporter character did in the similarly themed VISITING HOURS the following year. Her character has flashbacks where she takes blame for her sister being molested as a little girl, but then she again puts her in danger when she gets in touch with the psycho who lives in the same building as her sister.

The killer (John DiSanti) toys with the blind and deaf Tracy played by Jennifer Jason Leigh

Jennifer Jason Leigh co-stars as Jane Harris's deaf and blind sister who eventually becomes the object of the killers bloodlust. The finale is very tense and masterfully directed. The scene culminates with yet another slow motion death shot of Savini's handiwork. Leigh was around 19 here and allows her clothes to be stripped away during an especially grueling moment where the killer tries to have his way with her.

Ted Richert, who plays Roger, a news anchor, was also the hotel manager in James Cameron's PIRANHA 2: THE SPAWNING (1981).

Wiederhorn's movie works very well because it has a creepy opening sequence capped off with a gruesome gore gag, an attention holding middle section and a thrilling climax to close the picture. It also has a suitably eerie, if a bit repetitive soundtrack by Richard Einhorn. I'm not sure why this film seldom gets mentioned, but it's definitely worth seeking out and Warner Brothers DVD contains additional violence that was cut from the previous release. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a classic, but it's an effective horror thriller that seems to have remained under the radar even after its belated DVD release back in 2007.

This review is representative of the Warner Brothers DVD


Richard of DM said...

Dang it, duder. I need to see this one ASAP. Great review by the way.

venoms5 said...

Thanks, Rich. I was surprised at how good it was. Very sleazy and quite a surprise. Not a classic or anything, but definitely better than I expected.

Carl (ILHM) said...

Ugh this review kills me, I have passed the DVD up for $3 at Big Lots for months.. They better have a copy left or Im going to kick myself, appreciate this review V!

venoms5 said...

Dude! I passed this one up, too so many times. Hell, I just got around to watching the DVD about a month ago and had it since it came out. I remember Chas Balun (a gore hounds best friend back in the day) giving it a particularly scathing review. It is quite sadistic, though. Very misogynistic.

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