Eyeball (1975)

SEPTEMBER 27, 2017


Usually, the first movie at a New Beverly double feature is the one people would really want to see, followed by a second, lesser film that plays for the die-hards while everyone else goes home feeling that they got their money's worth. But last night they started with Autopsy, a decent but not particularly exciting thriller where almost nothing happens onscreen, following it with the far more crowd-pleasing Eyeball, which had the gloved killer murder scenes and rampant silliness (including an all timer entry for the Baffling Giallo Motive Hall of Fame) that Autopsy didn't bother with. Had the order been swapped, I probably would have just went home when I inevitably started dozing off during the second film, but instead when I woke up I stood in the back for a while to make sure I stayed awake for the rest, not wanting my "Cinesomnia" to make me miss another minute.

Luckily, someone had the movie on Youtube, so I was able to watch the 10-15 minute chunk I missed when I went home (wasn't much; just a random murder that barely got mentioned again - if you've seen the movie, it's of the girl that gets killed near the pigpen). But even if I never woke back up it'd be enough to know this was much more to my liking than Autopsy (which was fine - just nothing I'd ever bother with again), and it even had a more slasher-y hook - our victims weren't all related to some crime that occurred or being offed for an inheritance (as was the case in Autopsy), but a group of strangers on a sightseeing tour, with someone getting killed pretty much every time they stopped somewhere. This keeps the scenery changing and obviously provides plenty of variety for the kill scenes (many of which are outside, in potential view of any number of witnesses), but the main bonus is that the red herrings aren't extraneous.

In any whodunit (slasher or giallo) you end up with people who enter the movie for no reason other than to be sneaky, like Sykes in Prom Night or the overly aggressive real estate guy in Phenomena, but here everyone's around for the whole time - we pretty much meet every character in the first ten minutes, and throughout the movie we get reasons to suspect any of them (the priest, especially). The chance that it all adds up to total logic once the real killer is identified is doubtful, but it's fun to have your suspicions cast upon someone you've been with for a while as opposed to someone who just showed up an hour in with a sneaky look on his face. And a lot of the shady behavior is ultimately explained; the men are all kind of assholes (it's a '70s Italian movie, so that's to be expected - upstanding male characters are as rare as unicorns) and therefore they aren't murderers, but they DO hate their wives or whatever and will go after anything that moves (like the aforementioned pigpen murder victim - one of the "innocent" guys hits on her and she scratches him, something he confesses with his wife right next to him). It's kind of Clue - you get the sense they could have revealed anyone as the murderer and it wouldn't exactly be dissatisfying, even if you had your heart set on one particular person.

The motive, however, is just divine. I won't say who the killer is, but their reason for murdering people and taking their eyes is: "I was like you... before this friend of mine ripped out my eye playing doctor with me... leaving an empty socket!" That's it. We don't even get a flashback to this event, which is a damn shame as I would absolutely love to know how these people play doctor where such ocular catastrophes would be possible. And if I'm following the sentiment correctly, the person is now killing people and taking out their eyes because they lost theirs? There's no other real reason for it? It delighted me for two reasons: one, it reminded me of the Clickhole article "When Doctors Told This Woman She’d Never Walk Again, She Made It Her Mission To Ensure No One Else Would Either", and two, the killer's connection to other character(s) was kind of a coincidence, I guess, because the motive had zero to do with their relationship.

The silliness isn't limited to the motive, thankfully. The tour guide, who drinks in between "On your right you'll see..." kinda stuff, has a tendency to practical jokes on one of his unsuspecting tourists, such as a fake spider that he lets loose when she's trying to eat. After his pranks go off he laughs hysterically, and the editor violently cuts to the next scene before anyone can ask why a grown man is so entertained by this nonsense. Later he's potentially fingered as the killer because of his pranks, which is a bit odd, but it's the closest thing to a payoff for this baffling little running gag. I also love the obligatory "a photo holds a clue" scene that we get in every other giallo, because instead of something like a shadow or maybe someone standing in a dimly lit window, we get a full focus shot of the killer in broad daylight, holding the knife in their red-gloved hands!

And yes, red-gloved. Red is like a whole motif in the movie, putting even Sixth Sense to shame with how it's used very specifically to tie into the killer. They also wear a red raincoat (it's another of the movie's goofy moments - everyone on the tour gets a standard "one size fits all" raincoat, but later the police make everyone try them on to see if one belongs to the killer), and then we see red flowers or lights or whatever whenever a killing is about to occur. It's nothing unique, but I like how overboard they go with it; even in this rather faded print (it was an original from 1975) it really popped. That along with the music made it a must-see for giallo fans, even if they couldn't get on board with the "silly even for a giallo" reveals. But if you're like me and think the insanity adds to the entertainment value, this is an ideal one to watch; I especially like the flashbacks where a guy realizes his wife is left handed, like it was something he never noticed yet has distinctive memories of her opening mail and lighting a cigarette.

The film was directed by Umberto Lenzi, who did a number of gialli but I seem to have missed just about all of them, as I only know him from his '80s stuff like Nightmare City and Cannibal Ferox (and from using my dad's name, Bob Collins, as one of his pseudonyms). I feel I really dropped the ball on bulking up my giallo intake for the site (in my defense, Netflix and Blockbuster didn't exactly have bountiful stock of such fare, and the site's "budget" didn't allow for blind buying anything all that often, let alone obscure Italian flicks that might not even be uncut and/or anamorphic), which is why I try to always make it to the Bev when they're showing some, as it's pretty much my only source to catch what I missed. I'm sure there are dozens that never even got US releases, so it's a good thing Quentin is a fan and is sure to program them fairly often, as I'd hate to go through life without experiencing that out of nowhere "playing doctor" line simply because a proper Blu-ray of the film never found its way into my home. Support your local giallo-loving repertory theater, if you have one! Or just move here and come with me to these things, because I usually sit by myself and thus don't have anyone to wake me up when my usual 4-5 hours sleep proves to not be enough and I start dozing during a movie I am enjoying.

What say you?


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