Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Eyes Of A Stranger (1981)

Reviewed By: Billy

“Roger, in a situation like this, with a possible mad killer roaming our city, even the slightest suspicion should be reported to the police…We’ve got a psychopath running around out there. Every woman should report anything unusual, any odd encounter or situation.”

This is a line of dialogue from Eyes of a Stranger, and just reading it, you’d think it was spoken by some kind of backwoods sheriff-type character…you know, like the guy who says the zombies are “all messed up” in Night of the Living Dead. But people, get ready for this. Our screenwriters instead assign this chunk of asinine dialogue to a news anchor…who’s ON-AIR! Seriously…just imagine your favorite local news anchor going off on a tirade about a “psychopath” running loose on the streets. She or he would likely be tossed into jail for inciting panic under false pretenses.

This is why we at Tower Farm LOVE 80s slashers that involve news anchor characters. From Eyes of a Stranger to Visiting Hours to The Seduction, filmmakers were always determined to make the world of local news into a glamorous business that involved makeup and hair people behind the scenes, personal assistants, grizzled old news directors with hearts of gold, and the beautiful anchors themselves spouting off personal opinions while on the air. Let me tell you, from personal experience…this is not how it is. The news business generally involves cynical people who hate their jobs cramming into little makeup rooms to cake on the foundation before running onto the set and trying to get through a show without having a technical meltdown. There is very little glamour involved.

So…watching these “news slashers” is a lot of fun, just for the sheer ridiculousness of their settings. And while I’ll always have a soft spot for Morgan Fairchild in The Seduction, who looks as though she’s never even watched a newscast before, let alone been in one…Lauren Tewes in Eyes makes a very good substitute. Tewes (of “The Love Boat”) stars as Jane, the news anchor who gives the above advice to “report anything unusual” and then has the unfortunate timing to catch the Miami Beach Strangler cleaning blood off his shirt in a parking garage. Jane, of course, doesn’t bother following her own advice, and instead launches into her own investigation…something most real news anchors would never do, as it would involve working off the clock.

Jane lives in a wonderfully 80s South Florida condo with her deaf-mute-blind sister Tracy, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. This is one of Jennifer’s first movie appearances, but she is just as quirky and bizarre as she’ll be in every movie thereafter, displaying much of the same creepy awkwardness that made her famous in Single White Female. In a very Elm Street-esqe flashback (meaning it’s shot through a fog filter and features little girls in Easter dresses), we learn that Tracy was kidnapped years ago and assaulted, which somehow caused her deaf-mute-blindness and for which Jane has always felt guilty. Hence her campaign to catch the Miami Beach Strangler…who Jane quickly learns lives conveniently in the condo across from hers.

Meanwhile…the Strangler is stalking women all around Miami, first contacting his victims in a series of lewd phone calls suspiciously reminiscent of Billy’s work in Black Christmas. We then get several obligatory 80s rape scenes, which manage to show off lots of breasts for the pervs in the audience. The Stranger is actually pretty creepy – played by John DiSanti, he’s basically a fat slob who likes to really mess with his victims. There are some good killings (one guy’s head is chopped off with a meat cleaver and stuffed in a fishtank) and some good jump scares when the killer suddenly steps into frame out of nowhere. Director Ken Wiederhorn is also not afraid to go through a few gallons of fake blood, which is always a welcome trait at Tower Farm. And the effects are really pretty good, not surprising since it’s an early effort by Tom Savini.

Anyway, we end up in a sort of Rear Window-meets-I Spit On Your Grave-meets-Network situation as our fearless journalist obtains the evidence and cracks the case, only to make the huge mistake of baiting the Strangler by calling him up and uttering silly dialogue like, “Let’s talk about you, Mr. Phone Freak…how does it feel to have the tables turned?” These little cat-and-mouse games never end well, of course…especially when Jane later goes on-air and, in another inappropriate diatribe, uses the words “Phone Freak” again…which gives her away to the killer, who happens to be watching the news. Until he can go after Jane, though, the stress of being found out drives Mr. Phone Freak to perhaps the most un-erotic strip show ever, as a topless woman has some kind of seizure on stage which causes her leg to whip around like a windmill in a tornado. He, of course, follows her home and puts her out of her misery in the shower.

At this point, we all know where this is going. The Strangler ends up in Jane’s apartment, screwing with Tracy by moving things around so that the blind girl keeps getting confused. What is miraculous is that while Tracy is blind-deaf-mute, she also apparently has no other kind of feeling, either…as the killer stands less than a foot away from her and she never even senses that he’s there. Now, come on…I thought people who had lost the use of one sense ended up better developing their other ones. You’re going to tell me that Tracy, who’s been blind-deaf-mute for at least several years, can’t sense that someone is standing right next to her? Anyway, the Strangler ends up giving Tracy a nasty open-mouthed kiss that’s just about the most horrifying thing in the movie, before she finally scalds his face with some hot coffee.

Eyes of a Stranger saves its greatest surprise for the end, when during the final struggle Tracy actually regains the ability to see-hear-speak. This miracle is, of course, not explained…but who cares? It gives us a nice, happy ending after the Strangler gets a hole blown in his head. So, Eyes of a Stranger really has something for everyone: the blood and guts of prime Tom Savini, a rape-revenge plot for the Last House freaks, and yet another distorted look at the wonderful world of local news. All that, plus the happy ending of a Disney movie…you just can’t go wrong.
And so…from all of us here at Tower Farm news…have a good night…and stay safe from the mad-killing psychopaths running around out there. See you at 11!


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