Eyes of a Stranger (1981)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Black Christmas

Full Contact

Phantom of Death

Eyes of a Stranger

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Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

"No call could be bad on my
bright yellow phone, right?"
If we told you that this film is a horror movie starring Lauren Tewes (Julie from The Love Boat) and a very young Jennifer Jason Leigh as Tewes' deaf and blind little sister, you'd probably moan a little bit while your eyes rolled into the back of your head. Certainly, when we rented this film for 99 cents, we weren't expecting much.

That's why it was a nice surprise to be treated to the supsenseful, above-average horror flick that Eyes of a Stranger turned out to be. While not cinematic history by any means, Eyes is a good piece of entertainment for horror buffs and manages to avoid some of the classic problems that plague the genre.

Tewes plays Jane, a local newscaster in Miami, where a new serial killer has begun to take the lives of young women. Before we learn that Jane is our main heroine, however, we are treated to a couple of grisly death scenes. The killer's modus operandi is familiar by now: he rings them up on the phone, tells them that they're about to die, and then viciously rapes and murders them. In the first murder scene we witness, a woman is not only victimized, but is greeted by the sight of her boyfriend's head floating in the aquarium first. Eyes of a Stranger owes a lot to makeup and effects artist Tom Savini for some solid, shocking images.

Jane is extremely concerned about the killer, and with good reason: her younger sister Tracy was assaulted when they were both children. For some unknown reason, Tracy went blind and deaf as a result. Now they live in an apartment together, much to the disappointment of Jane's attorney boyfriend, who wants to start living with Jane. Jane, meanwhile, is so distracted by the events that she starts to rant during the nightly broadcasts, to the consternation of the show's producer.

"Oh Lauren, you're just so... perky!"
One night, Jane notices one of her neighbors perform a strange ritual in the parking garage. He changes his shirt and disposes of the old one, which has mysterious stains on it. This begins her quest to discover if this man, whose apartment is across the courtyard from hers, is indeed the killer. If she's right, then she'll gather evidence to expose him. If her producer thought she was nuts before, this clinches it.

Eyes of a Stranger works because Jane is neither completely stupid nor helpless. She sets upon a course of action and completes it, although her insistence on getting complete proof of the killer's identity before reporting him seems a bit silly. One anonymous phone call to the police and her troubles could be over, but Jane prefers to break into a scary murderer's apartment to search for clues. Fortunately, she hands the evidence over to someone who can actually check up on it.

The climax of the film comes in one of the more imaginative endings to a horror film we've seen in some time. In a scene reminiscent of Rear Window, Jane looks into her own apartment from the killer's during one of her clue-finding missions and sees... the killer! His method of terrorizing Tracy is downright creepy. Thankfully, the screenwriter also gave Tracy some guts as well, but we refuse to give away much more. Suffice it to say that the ending gives Savini sufficient opportunity to display his makeup prowess.

Above all, we were thankful that Eyes of a Stranger managed to give its characters some common sense. Unlike most horror films even today, the protagonists in Eyes know when to hide, when to watch, and most importantly, when to run like hell. No one goes to investigate the strange noise while in full possession of the knowledge that the killer is near, and no one tries to attack the killer when it's not absolutely necessary.

And that's a bit of a relief, really.

Own it!

Review date: 01/26/1998

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