Review Date: October 14, 2008
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 9/25/2007
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
It was 1980. The slasher was just beginning to hit its stride. Ken Wiederhorn was the talented director behind Shock Waves
, not Meatballs Part II
. A talented effects artist was just coming off the films Friday the 13th
and The Burning
. An actorís daughter was about to get her first big break before moving on to Fast Times at Ridgemont High
. People actually cared about The Love Boat
. Yes, it was the year of Eyes of a Stranger
. Long an obscurity, like most slashers from the era, its release on DVD by big label Warner Brothers might seem curious had they not also released He Knows Youíre Alone
a few years prior. Letís do like Jennifer Jason Leigh and feel our way through this little slasher.
Looking like the other side of Wiederhornís Shock Waves
island, we get a nature photographer taking scenic snaps of the tide. What washes up? A dead body! Jane Harris (Lauren Tewes
) reports about it on the nightly news, but this isnít any old shock story. It strikes a nerve. It becomes even more of an issue when a couple are offed at her apartment. It isnít pretty. Letís just say, one is raped and killed and the other is, well, sleeping with the fishes. Heís not just your average slasher, he calls you first, taunting you with sexually vile proclamations. Then he sneaks into your home, rips off your clothes, has his way with you and then disappears into anonymity. Heís become a news fixture, but heís not stopping.
The movie doesnít hold back the killerís identity, so neither will I. Heís a chubby guy who dresses well and hides behind encasing black rim glasses. Stanley Herbert (John DiSanti
, who previously worked with Wiederhorn in King Frat
) looks like your average apartment tenant, but behind those kind eyes lies a disturbed soul. One by one he preys on innocent women, demeaning them and desecrating their chastity before he kills them. He hasnít got any motives Ė just a will to usher pain and suffering. When Jane discovers his identity by spying on him through her apartment window, she decides to turn the tables on this sex offender. She calls him, threatening him and demanding he stop. Well, it doesnít quite work, and now his sights are on her.
Sheís not alone, though. Janeís got a sister, Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh
), who has been apartment bound since an accident left her blind from childhood. The events of her accident are hazy, but Jane often feels to blame. Sheís always looked out for Tracy, but when the killer finally identifies Janeís voice on the news, Jane is going to have to look out that much harder. The killerís in her apartment, and heís doing things to Tracy. Will she make it back in time, and can she right the wrongs of her sisterís past? All eyes are on her, especially those of the stranger.
Unsettling and effective, Eyes of a Stranger
is another example of Ken Wiederhornís subtle panache for evoking atmosphere out of every day surroundings. He finds fear not in elaborate style, bombastic lighting or complex mystery. He does it by taking every day scenarios and shooting them with such a self-conscious banality that they become real, they become menacing. Shock Waves
is one of the great examples of unrelenting dread in the cinema, a true lo-pro masterpiece. Eyes of a Stranger
manages a similar feat, making simplicity its virtue in never hiding the identity of the killer, never revealing his motives, and never letting up. A body washes up in the first scene, and the movie never lets up for the next eighty odd minutes.
The story is paper thin, but Wiederhorn uses it to his advantage. With a continual stalk and slash structure, with connecting bits of pithy exposition, the film achieves a galloping pace that most slashers can only wish for. No post-credits lulls for character development. No convoluted mystery plot. Just a killer on the loose, and a cast at his disposal.
Thatís not to say the film is shallow, though. In fact, itís almost the opposite. Wiederhorn uses the few lapses between kills to his best advantage, setting up a tiny mystery and using his surroundings to flesh out the environment. When Tracy is first introduced, she turns on a radio as she walks around the room. On the surface this scene is to establish her blindness, but on the accompanying audio, we hear all about an economy in shambles and a country in shame. Itís almost as if her blindness is an offset of her environment rather than a personal condition. The way we follow the killer in his madness through well to do apartment complexes, itís as if this were the middle-class refute to Maniac
. Wiederhorn uses his environment effectively, and even the expositional news broadcasts help flesh out Janeís character. Itís this channeling information through the periphery that separates a master from a slave to the script.
The mystery of Tracyís childhood Wiederhorn sets up through some echoed, soft focus flashbacks (that fit nicely with the Prom Night
opener) is just as effective. Quick questions without bogging down the story in setup. It pays off nicely too, with a standout silent performance by Leigh. She really enters into her character, proving her commitment from the start with a number of tasks done in the blind. Itís how she conducts herself in the finale, though, and the final, heart breaking bathroom scene done bloodied and in the nude, that really resonates. In what seems to be Wiederhornís greatest trademark, he uses Leighís gesture in an otherwise unscripted moment to create significant meaning. He shows a story, he doesnít just say it.
From the performances to the calculated menace of the story, Ken Wiederhorn directs with a hand of a seasoned master. That this was only his second horror film is a true testament to his talents. He went on to direct Return of the Living Dead, Part II, another film that doesnít get the love it should, before sort of disappearing from the film scene. Like someone like Danny Steinnman, heís a man who proved his worth many times over before disappearing, and itís now time to bring him back. He does some great things with simplicity in Eyes of a Stranger
, and for whatever he canít do, Tom Savini makes up for it with some stand out special effects.
You know youíre in good hands when Warnerís treating you, and considering the usual sluffing of slasher product by most bargain studios, thatís especially important in this case. Eyes of a Stranger
was shot using a naturalistic, grainy film stock, and thatís preserved here, but with great quality. The colors look vibrant, skin tones perfect, and the detail in all the planes from light to dark is surprisingly rich. The print is impeccably clean, with only few instances of slight damage or debris. The transfer is in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and just the kind of quality pressing we expect from the WB.
What we don't expect from Warner, though, is uncut prints, but that's exactly what is here. Compared to VHS and even theatrical showings of Eyes of a Stranger
in America, there's even more of Tom Savini's blood spilling here than ever released before. For fans and gorehounds alike, this is a major coupe.
Mono in three languages. No problems at all with levels. Vocals and music cues register clear and overlap nicely. No complaints.
Sadly nothing here. There was rumor that Tom Savini was being interviewed for the DVD, but it turned out that was all for the same time release of The Burning
. No ďwhere did he go?Ē for Wiederhorn. Boo hoos all around.
Eyes of a Stranger
is a top tier slasher with an unrelenting body count, gory effects, strong performances and the everyday dread that makes Ken Wiederhorn horror so effective. With phone calls so vulgar and unsettling youíre bound to be hung up. Warner does their usual solid job with the video and audio here, although considering the quality of the film the lack of extras is saddening. Slasher fans need look no further. Thereís no reason this release should be stranger to your collection, especially uncut as it is here.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B
Supplements - N/A
- Running time - 1 hour 30 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono