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

Colossus of the Arena (1962) review


Mark Forest (Maciste), Scilla Gabel (Talima), Jose Greci (Resia), Dan Vadis (Sidon), Pietro Ceccarelli (Astorige), Harold Bradley (Tucos), John Chevron (Largo), Germano Longo (Ligonio), Erno Crisa (Oniris), Maurizio Conti (Menide)

Directed by Michele Lupo

A rare peplum starring Mark Forest as Maciste finds the wandering hero trying to foil a plot to kill a beautiful Queen by one of her subordinates. The story has been done many times before and after in the genre, but there's enough lively moments including two gorgeous co-stars and a stand out performance by Dan Vadis displaying a lot of agility as one of the hired mercenary assassins. Well worth tracking down for sword and sandal fans.

In the kingdom of Mersabad in Asia Minor, the duplicitous Oniris, along with a group of conspirators, plots to usurp the throne held by Queen Talima replacing her with her sister, Resia. He recruits a group of gladiators trained by Largo with which to use in his scheme. Maciste learns of this plot and secretly joins the motley group of warriors in an effort to protect the Queen. Oniris gets wise to Maciste and orders Largo to kill him. However, one of the seven mercenaries is sympathetic to the strongman and pretends to kill Maciste after he has been given a drug in his wine.

While the assassins head off to kidnap Talima, Largo discovers Maciste is still alive. The two have a fight resulting in Largo being mortally wounded. Later, the gladiators find Largo dead and learn that Maciste is responsible. Oniris concocts a new plan to frame the strongman for the disappearance and presumed death of Talima. While this is going on, the remaining six gladiators attack Maciste's village killing everyone in it. Maciste vows revenge and eliminates the various gladiators led by the treacherous Oniris.

Michele Lupo directed a handful of these movies in the mid 1960's. While most are merely escapist entertainment, some are quite good such as Lupo's REVENGE OF SPARTACUS (1964). COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA is one of the more rare and obscure peplum adventures. It's the second of three Mark Forest films all with similar sounding titles. The others are the laughable MACISTE, I'UOMO PIU FORTE DEL MONDO (MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES) and the sprawling MACISTE, L'EROE PIU GRANDE DEL MONDO (GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON).

Dan Vadis as Sidon sends Mark Forest's stunt double tumbling from the top of the Monte Gelato, an extremely popular peplum location

Lupo later went on to direct his own trilogy of gladiator movies that were not related to one another, but featured roughly the same cast and crew. These were THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS (1964), SEVEN SLAVES AGAINST THE WORLD (1964) and SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS (1965). Lupo also utilizes the plot device of seven fighters for COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA. Only here, the seven warriors are all villains. You almost forget this is a Maciste movie as the character doesn't show up until 20 minutes in the picture.

Mark Forest did a dozen of these movies. In half of them, he played the traveling savior of the people, Maciste. While seemingly very popular, Forest, for whatever reason, did very little of the action in his films leaving the bulk of it to his stunt double. COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA is apparently an elusive movie outside of Italy as there's very little information about it. This is the one film of Mark Forest I had been searching for and finally lucked up and found this Italian DVD in stunning quality.

While the group of vicious gladiators take turns beating up Maciste, Sidon (Dan Vadis) shows off some amazing acrobatic skills

Dan Vadis and his pet, Cleopatra

COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA (1962) is also notable for being the first role for Dan Vadis seen here playing one of the main villains. Vadis is ferocious here and is often referred to as "The gorilla". He also has a pet chimp named Cleopatra. Vadis shows a lot of agility in this movie and he was quickly picked out as another American to be cast as a lead in these movies. He had a good look about him and had a successful career after the sword and sandal movies ended. This was the only one where he played a villain. He briefly turns bad guy in Alberto De Martino's THE TRIUMPHS OF HERCULES (1964) when he's bewitched by an evil sorceress forcing Zeus to temporarily strip him of his super strength.

Scilla Gabel (left) with Jose Greci (right)

Many of the cast would later turn up in Lupo's aforementioned gladiator trilogy starring Roger Browne. Scilla Gabel, a gorgeous and statuesque Italian beauty, plays Queen Talima. She would also feature in two of Lupo's films playing the love interest for Roger Browne. Here, she shares the screen with another striking screen siren, the elegant Jose Greci, who is one of the most recognizable females in the peplum/fusto movies.

Tucos (Harold Bradley; far left) and Sidon (Dan Vadis; far right) menace two supporting characters

Maciste (Mark Forest; left) delivers a killing blow to Astorige (Pietro Ceccarelli; right)

COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA (1962) also has comedy here and there and a brief appearance by a dwarf again named Goliath. The comedy is spread out, but occasionally lightens the mood after some of the more grim sequences, even if its insertion is a bit jarring. It's not the best film of Mark Forest and far from the mediocrity of MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1961) or the terribly poor THE MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR (1964). It's rarity warrants a viewing and it's a fine showcase for Dan Vadis who actually steals the movie away from Forest with his steely and intimidating role as Sidon. Fans of gladiator movies will surely want to see it and it's a shame it isn't more widely available in an English friendly format.

This review is representative of the Eagle Pictures Italian R2 PAL DVD
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