From the DVD case:
A lovely blind and deaf teen reaches for a plate she just set aside. It’s gone. She reaches again and it’s back in its original place. Someone is playing a cruel game with her. That someone is the serial killer terrorizing Miami in this shocker from the production company behind the original Friday the 13th. Making memorable movie debuts are Jennifer Jason Leigh (Single White Female) as the impaired but not helpless girl, and Lauren Tewes as her TV newscaster sister whose investigation inadvertently leads the killer to her home. (1981, color)
The most frustrating element of Eyes of a Stranger is that it reminds me of at least a half dozen other movies that I like better. Most notably, it resembles the Hitchcock classic, Rear Window. I even think the killer, Stanley Herbert (played by John DiSanti) looks like Raymond Burr from the Hitchcock film.
Besides Rear Window, the film has elements of When A Stranger Calls, Black Christmas, Wait Until Dark, He Knows You’re Alone, and even bits of I Saw What You Did. There are a lot of clever ideas here, but most of them were done better in earlier movies.
When I first purchased Eyes of a Stranger, I thought Lauren Tewes (TV’s The Love Boat) was going to be the biggest drawback. However, Tewes does an admirable job playing TV reporter Jane Harris, and I think she could have been a semi-star in this genre if she wasn’t saddled with the “Cruise Director Julie McCoy” image. It is surprising to watch Ms. Tewes in a film featuring such gratuitous nudity and gore. More on this later.
Jennifer Jason Leigh (who I’ll always adore as Stacy Hamilton from Fast Times at Ridgemont High) plays Tracy, Jane’s deaf, dumb, and blind sister. Leigh’s performance is quite believable and it is obvious she took the role seriously. We learn, through a flashback, that Tracy’s handicaps are psychosomatic injuries inflicted on her when she was abducted and presumably sexually assaulted as a little girl. Jane has always felt responsible for Tracy’s abduction and has vowed to keep her safe ever since.
The worst thing a suspense/thriller can be is predictable. Unfortunately, the scares in Eyes of a Stranger are easily anticipated (at least to the seasoned genre fan). There is never any real doubt as to who the killer is, and even the “false scares” are incredibly foreseeable. As soon as we learn that Tracy’s injuries are psychosomatic, we instantly deduce that her sight will return during the final climatic scenes as the killer attacks her. This is, of course, exactly what happens.
If not for the nudity and gore, this could have easily been a made for TV movie. True slasher fans will most likely find Eyes of a Stranger disappointingly tame. On the other hand, fans of older suspense/thrillers will find the gore overdone and the nudity gratuitous. It seems this movie was made to disappoint everyone. By the way, when I suggest this film features wanton nudity, don’t think you’ll see Lauren Tewes disrobe. Her honor is upheld throughout.
I don’t want to suggest that Eyes of a Stranger is a complete loss, though. As stated above, Lauren Tewes and Jennifer Jason Leigh give competent performances. There are also some surprisingly good scenes. For example, when Jane turns the tables on the killer and begins harassing him via the telephone, we glimpse an aspect of Jane’s character we did not anticipate. She really seems to enjoy the experience. She even smokes a cigarette suggestively as she makes the calls, and then, after hanging up, her head falls back in a manner suggesting complete gratification.
The cat and mouse game at the film’s conclusion is also interesting (see the DVD description above). Though the final scenes are fairly predictable, there is still a genuine intensity when Tracy first begins to realize someone is in the apartment with her.
With just a little more originality and fresh scares, Eyes of a Stranger could have scored higher with me. As is, though, I have to place it in the middle of the road.
Directed by Ken Wiederhorn (Shock Waves).
Scene to watch for: Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) puts the blood of the killer in her mouth and then decides to cup her breast.
Line to listen for: “Can a cuckoo clock make music, or does it just go ‘coo-coo?’”
Trivia: Ken Wiederhorn also directed Shock Waves, which can be seen playing on the television in early scenes. Tom Savini, who is responsible for the makeup-effects, also did the make-up effects for Dawn of the Dead. You can see a poster for Dawn of the Dead in the background during the theater segment.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ½ out of 5.