Thursday, August 18, 2016

Episode 18: Eyes of a Stranger (1981)

Jane Harris (Lauren Tewes, pre-Love Boat) is a local TV newsanchor reporting on a series of brutal murders, each at the hands of a faceless killer who makes telephonic threats before striking. With some rare exceptions, his victims are attractive young women, whom he sexually assaults before asphyxiating with a belt, or slicing into with a switchblade.

As the murders continue to make headlines, police investigations go nowhere, and Jane fears for the safety of Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh in her first major film role), her younger sister, who shares her high-rise apartment. Left blind and deaf after a childhood trauma, Tracy is more vulnerable than most. Partially to blame for her only sibling’s current state, Jane is determined to do all it takes to protect her, including seeing the killer behind bars before he strikes again.

With a keen eye and some investigating of her own, Jane comes to the horrifying realization that the killer might very well be Stanley Herbert (John DiSanti), an everyman who keeps steadily to himself. Strengthening her resolve is the knowledge that Herbert lives in the high-rise opposite Jane’s. Not only is he on the same floor, but his sliding patio door is well within eyeshot of Jane’s own. “You should be able to see each other,” their unknowing apartment manager merrily  informs.

Eyes of a Stranger was released at the height of the slasher craze of the early 1980s. Literally every week, new splatter flicks reached drive-ins and cinema screens across the United States. Sadly, this one seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle, as it never really matched the popularity or attracted the following of movies like Friday the 13th, Prom Night, Final Exam, and the like.

Though there were more than enough body-count movies of the era to go around, Eyes of a Stranger always stood out for me. While there is a fair amount of nudity and undeniable sleaze, the screenplay, penned by Eric L. Bloom and Ron Kurz (credited here as Mark Jackson), contains a multi-layered story and strong character arc, qualities many films of the time simply didn’t carry. In addition, Eyes of a Stranger contains an antagonist viewers can easily relate to and, most importantly, root for. Lauren Tewes gives a particularly strong performance and though I’ve seen the film countless times, there are moments where her strength and fearlessness still give me chills.

Many fanboys and horror devotees (not to mention professional film critics, whose opinions I couldn’t give a flying fuck about) would, and more than likely will, scoff and guffaw in response to much of the above, as it is easy to dismiss Eyes of a Stranger as “just another slasher flick.” I, however, stand by these passionately-written opinions and continue to hope that through online streaming, the film will some day earn the appreciation I feel it so deserves.

For this episode, I used the DVD included in the Warner Bros. Twisted Terrors Collection boxed set, which contains another of my favor lesser-appreciated titles Dr. Giggles. This version runs 1:25:02  and presents, for the first time, some of Tom Savini’s omitted special effects.

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