Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Final Girl Film Club - Eyes of a Stranger (1981)

Cody is endeavoring to write about all of the Final Girl Film Club entries he missed over the years. The movies will be covered in the original Film Club order in most cases, while some of the articles will be posted to coincide with certain dates.

Cody and Priscilla look over a movie from the men who paid for Friday the 13th...

Soon after the success of 1980's Friday the 13th, that film's Boston-based investors, the men behind Georgetown Productions, got another horror-slasher off the ground: Eyes of a Stranger, which sort of got lost among the wave of slashers that were released in the wave of F13.

Georgetown made a strong attempt to replicate some of the elements that had made F13 such a hit with audiences. They hired Ron Kurz (who did uncredited work on the F13 script and wrote Friday the 13th Part 2) to write the screenplay with newbie Eric L. Bloom under a shared pseudonym, Tom Savini was brought back to handle the special effects, composer Richard Einhorn wasn't afraid to let his score sound like Harry Manfredini's work at certain moments.

Eyes of a Stranger was directed by Ken Wiederhorn, the man behind the Nazi zombie classic Shock Waves (which some characters watch in this movie), who would also go on to write and direct Return of the Living Dead Part II.

The most notable aspect of the film is the fact that it stars a young Jennifer Jason Leigh, a year before Fast Times at Ridgemont High, as Tracy Harris, our vulnerable final girl. Tracy lives in an apartment with, and is a dependent of, her older sister Jane, who works as a news anchor for a Miami area television station.

The movie begins with a wildlife photographer taking snapshots of the beautiful scenery in a mangrove swamp... Beautiful until he finds a dead woman beneath the water. There's a serial rapist and murderer stalking the city, one who kills a new victim each week, and seems to be speeding up his pattern given how many women he goes after over the course of the movie. Troubled by the fact that her job has her hearing about and reporting on this man's crimes all the time, haunted by a childhood trauma (Tracy was abducted when they were little and endured such untold horrors during her ordeal that she was left stricken deaf, blind, and mute), Jane takes this situation personally. We can easily realize that Jane still blames herself and lives with such overwhelming guilt that she's close to sabotaging her relationship with her boyfriend David. While he's ready for them to move in together, taking in Tracy as well, Jane isn't for it. She doesn't let the relationship move to the next level because she feels like there's no room in her life for anything that'd take away her focus on Tracy.

When Jane notices strange behavior from a man who lives in her apartment complex and has a spot near hers in the parking garage, she decides to investigate him herself and find out if he could be the killer she's been warning the city about.

He is. And just like in Rear Window, it turns out that snooping on neighbors you suspect may be homicidal maniacs can be very dangerous. Who'd have thought? In her attempt to protect Tracy and keep other women from having to deal with the sort of experience they went through as children, Jane inadvertently makes herself and her sister targets of the killer.

But the attack on them is a climactic turn of events. The bulk of the running time is taken up by Jane investigating, breaking into the man's apartment, people doubting her... and by some extended stalk and slash sequences following the killer's other victims - women chosen at random who he follows throughout the city, spying on them in their homes and at their place of work, taunting them with obscene phone calls that get more and more threatening. It seems like this guy has the number for every phone in the city. When a woman starts to leave a building and gets in an elevator, he even calls the elevator phone. He also seems to have the ability to squeeze himself through openings, like an open window, that a man his size probably wouldn't be able to.

Savini handled the effects, but there aren't his usual levels of gore on display in the moments when the killer finally strikes. There are a couple good kills in there - a meat cleaver decapitation here, a knife to the throat there - but apparenly most of Savini's work ended up on the cutting room floor thanks to the MPAA.

Eyes of a Stranger is a decent movie, despite the fact that it doesn't often get mentioned in horror circles. Even though it is a slasher, it has a larger, more dramatic, meaning to it. It's about Tracy finally being able to overcome her biggest fear. Yes, it is awful that she has to go through a similar nightmare twice, but this time she can fight for herself, even with impaired senses. From the moment she claps for her dog in vain, to the moment when she finally sees herself as a young woman, and not a child anymore, in the mirror, it shows her battle, resulting in a girl who's been through so much being able to rediscover herself. In that sense, it is uplifting. Now she has her whole life ahead of her, free of old and not so old demons. If you haven't seen it, it's definitely worth checking out.

Having a blind character deal with a killer is always an interesting one and it's used to good effect in the final scenes of this film. Still, as well as that angle is utilized here and even in Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes Part II, it always seems like an element that is crying out to be used in a different slasher movie with a villain more dear to us... Namely, it'd be awesome to see Jason go up against a blind final girl in a Friday the 13th movie. There's always hope.

Part of

1 comment:

  1. I saw this a couple weeks ago (for the first time). A friend sent it to me; a pleasant surprise to say the least. The most nerve-wracking part was when our 'heroine' breaks into the killer's apartment.... the suspense generated a fear that was more intense than any of the killings. Even a simple movie such as this is miles better than what's in theaters these days (IMO). ~not a robot