31 Days to Scare ~ Eyes of a Stranger

The Facts:

Synopsis: A reporter suspects a creepy neighbor, who lives in the high-rise building across from hers, is a serial killer terrorizing the Miami area.

Stars: Lauren Tewes, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John DiSanti, Peter DuPre, Gwen Lewis, Kitty Lunn

Director: Ken Wiederhorn

Rated: R

Running Length: 85 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: This is a movie with a serious case of bad taste. It’s true that many similar early ‘80s slasher films had elements that called into question the morality of the filmmakers but Eyes of Stranger is a particularly good case study in just how far the limits of sleaze can be pushed. While it is better made than its modest budget would suggest and has one or two genuine ‘jump’ moments, the heart of the movie is so lurid and black that I’d question anyone that would recommend it without a major ‘buyer beware’ warning before doing so.

Eyes of a Stranger went into production just as the original Friday the 13th became a huge hit. Made by the same production company and featuring gore effects created by Tom Savini (often called the Father of Jason for the work he did on Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), it was after the cameras were already rolling that more sex and blood were added, much to the dismay of several people involved. You can easily spot what’s been goosed up, mostly all of the elements that pander to the young audiences that were clamoring for more guts and gore.

A serial killer is on the prowl in Miami and an ambitious news reporter (Lauren Tewes, famous for her voyages on TV’s Love Boat) grows more fascinated with the case. We know she’s ambitious because she regularly interrupts the news anchor live on air to editorialize the lack of attention being paid by the police force. Living with her blind, deaf, and mute sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight, in her first major role) in a fancy tower apartment, she’s guilt-ridden over an event from her childhood that resulted in her sister’s current condition. It’s this guilt that screenwriter Ron Kurz (Friday the 13th Part 2) uses to provide rationale for the reporter to be so gung-ho in tracking down the killer. It’s not a bad set-up, if I’m being honest, but it’s in the execution (pardon the pun) that the film becomes pretty icky.

Director Ken Wiederhorn doesn’t shy away from the scuzzier elements of the killer (John DiSanti) who likes to terrorize his victims with threating phone calls before he rapes and murders them. Decapitations, throat slashing, stabbings, it’s all part of his oeuvre yet there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to why he’s doing what he’s doing. A mindless maniac disguised as a schlubby loner, he strikes out with women so therefore he strikes back at them.

Several of these stalk-and-stabs are well staged and Savini’s effects are nearly too realistic, there were a few moments I got a good jolt or had to look away from the flowing blood. Still, by the time DiSanti is ripping Leigh’s shirt off and exposing her breats while he tries to kill her I just felt like I needed a Silkwood shower to wash off the thick layer of grime the movie leaves on you. While it’s nice (and rare for the time) to have two female leads in a film like this and not to have at least one of the lead protagonists be a total dimwit, Tewes and Leigh don’t have any real sisterly bond going. It’s clear which of the wo would have a lasting career.

I’ve seen a lot of these films over the years and it’s not hard to spot right away how effective they’ll be. I could see that Eyes of a Stranger was going to be a better-than-average entry in terms of production values but wasn’t expect to find it so garish at the same time. It’s one of the few films from this era that I could see possibly getting a remake, should the right writer/director come along that can smooth out some of the rougher patches and expand more on the scary sequences that leave a lasting impression.

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