Tuesday, October 2, 2007

31 days of halloween- part 1 (or part 2, or something)

So, I kicked off my 31 days of horror movie watching last night with "Eyes of Stranger", a 1981 film by Ken Wiederhorn. I'd always heard good things about this film (I think Carol J. Clover wrote about it favorably in her "Men, Women & Chainsaws) but it didn't come out on DVD until a few days ago, and I think was out of print on VHS for a while as well. Actually, I've owned a VHS copy of this for a long time, but it never worked, and yet for some reason I didn't have the heart to throw it out, I guess because I'd always heard it was a good flick, and who knew when it would should up on disc? So, yeah, I guess I held onto the old tape in case, I don't know, it started working again? Or I learned how to fix broken VHS tapes? Or, well, whatever...Anyway, "Eyes of a Stranger" was worth the wait. I'd always heard it referred to as a slasher film, which I guess it is, but not in the teenager stalker-slasher style, ala "Halloween". It reminded me more of Brian DePalma's "Sisters", or the original "When a Stranger Calls," I guess you'd call it a psycho thriller or something. That sounds kind of lame. So let's keep calling it a slasher flick. I dunno.

"Eyes of a Stranger" isn't necessarily scary, per se, although there are some suspenseful scenes, especially towards the end, in which Jennifer Jason Leigh (in her first film, I think), who plays a girl left deaf, mute and blind by a past trauma, is cornered in her apartment by the film's killer. He looms over her without making his presence known, moving the things around her so that when she reaches for them, they're gone, until she finally realizes he's not alone.

The portrayal of the killer in this film is pretty interesting, too. His identity is revealed fairly early on. Instead of some faceless, omnipowerful force of malevolence, as in "Halloween" or the "Friday the 13th" films, he's basically just a guy, a little pudgy and kind of ugly, living alone in the city. It makes the events of the film seem a bit more realistic, I guess, and also the idea that such violence can emerge from someone so seemingly mundane is scarier, to me anyway, than the thought of something supernatural. Though humanized, he's never really seen as sympathetic, though the viewer gets a sense of his loneliness, isolation and desperation. At the same time, his crimes are made all the more horrific by the fact that in addition to being a killer, he's a stalker and a rapist. This adds some weight to the film, and gives the violence a greater sense of reality and urgency. Because violence in slasher films is often represented as abstract, or as a kind of spectacle, it is easy, in a way, to dissociate the onscreen killings from our actual conception of violence. The killings in the "Friday the 13th" movies, for example, can become fairly cartoonish and are often represented as being somewhat humorous. The threat of rape gives a real sense of horror to the violence, especially when we see it coming from a guy who looks like he could be your next door neighbor. In this respect, you could say "Eyes of a Stranger" is more serious than the average slasher film, and less exploitative. Which isn't to say this a Lifetime TV movie, there is nudity and fairly explicit violence. It's not necessarily a grim movie either. There is humor and the lead characters are fun and likable.

Anyway, this is a totally worthwhile horror film. It's not entirely original, but it draws upon a number of different influences and distills them in a unique and effective way. The protagonists, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Lauren Tewes, of "the Love Boat", are sympathetic and well-characterized, and the aforementioned humanization of the killer (played by John DiSanti) adds to the film's effectiveness. "Eyes of a Stranger" is available as part of something called the Twisted Terror Box Set, which I have a feeling was compiled because Warner Brothers had a bunch of very different horror flicks they wanted to release on DVD for Halloween but couldn't justify pricing too high, so they just stuck them all together in a set, which works out well because you only wind up paying about five or six bucks each per film. The pretty disparate selections include "Eyes of a Stranger", Wes Craven's "Deadly Friend", the 1990s slasher "Dr. Giggles" (Dark Horse Comics has something to do with the production of that one), Oliver Stone's "The Hand" (starring Michael Caine), the John Carpenter 1978 TV movie "Someone's Watching Me" (starring Lauren Hutton) and the 1973 Amicus anthology "From Beyond the Grave" (starring Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence). Aside from being horror movies, these films have little to do with one another, but it's kind of cool to have them all on DVD.

I'm still going to try to do a movie a day this month, but I think I may also want to review some old horror comics too, since I have a big box of them in my room somewhere, and there's certainly alot of unusual material to explore there. I may write up some TV shows too, as I have episodes of "Tales from the Darkside", "Monsters", "Werewolf", "Friday the 13th the Series", "Freddy's Nightmares" and others than might be worth a look. Anyway, stay scary.

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