Saturday, October 17, 2009

Horrorathon Day 17: EYES OF A STRANGER (Ken Wiederhorn, 1981)

It's appropriate in some ways to view Eyes of a Stranger the night after watching My Bloody Valentine; the latter has a playful mean streak that can be enjoyed in terms of its relationship to genre. The former, on the other hand, is the sort of truly misanthropic drivel only capable of coming from a major studio. In an attempt to "class-up" the slasher film, Eyes of a Stranger attempts to provide credible actors, detailed set design and palatable story as a substitute for the low-budget means of its superior counterparts. In doing this, and in needlessly and callously lingering on the exploitation, suffering and death of its killer/rapist's victims, it is the most hollowed sort of horror film.

A typical instance involves the killer, an overweight, glasses wearing, heavy breathing psychopath, calling his victim and bluntly telling them, "I'm going to fuck you/kill you." There's no suspense to this and no reason for it to be presented in this way, other than utterly degrading the victim. The script has an acutely inherrent misogyny as well; the women keep answering the phone when the killer calls, instead of phoning for help or seeking a sharp object. This assumes that they crave such attention, even if it comes at the expense of their lives. Other pointless digressions involve the double murder of a parked couple; after the killer slits a woman's throat, the camera remains to show her, for 15-20 seconds, gargling and choking to death on her own blood. It's just nasty stuff, with no sense of irony whatsoever. It's this type of literal, leadened filmmaking used to exploit an underground film movement and is passed off as part of it; they understand the lyrics, but they don't understand that it's the music which gives the lyrics their gravitas.

Jennifer Jason Leigh stars in the film, which was her debut role. Note that she plays a blind, deaf victim of childhood trauma. When in doubt about making sure the audience empathizes with a character, go ahead and make her severely handicapped for good measure. It comes as no surprise that the last scene involves the rapist walking around, tormenting the poor helpless girl. Neither is it surprising that the movie is as condescending as to have her nearly get raped, herself, before being rescued in the nick of time. The filmmakers here are tone deaf themselves, completely misunderstanding how and why a slasher is successful and what makes them interesting, on the whole. It isn't such blatant hatred and contempt for the audience that this movie has, that's certain. For a great film that sincerely deals with the psychotic serial killer, see Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. But avoid Eyes of a Stranger at all costs, unless you just hate yourself.

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