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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Eyes of a Stranger Ken Wiederhorn 1981

The Love Boat Drops Anchor

This is an excellent installment in what is fast-becoming my favorite sub-genre, "Anchorwomen in Peril". Whether it was due to an anti-feminist backlash to women moving in to the male-dominated telejournalism field or just because it allowed motivation to give their leading ladies bigger hair, for some odd reason filmmakers in the late 70's and early 80's had a field day casting brassy, ballsy women as anchorwomen (Lee Grant, Morgan Fairchild, Jane Fonda) and then unleashing any number of horrors upon them (slashers, stranglers, lycanthropy, Michael Douglas). The thrill for the audience lay in seeing a presumably well-known local or national television figure as she tries to "keep it together" on-air as her will crumbles and bodies pile up around her, sometimes culminating in some kind of hissy-fit during a live broadcast. For further examples, see also: Visiting Hours, The Howling, A Stranger is Watching, The China Syndrome, The Seduction, Eyewitness.

In this installment, Love Boat's plucky Lauren Tewes is Jane Harris, a Miami anchorwoman who speaks out against violence against women and a spate of local rape-murders, which seems a very natural thing to speak out against. When she's not preaching on-air, Lauren is busy making out with her dashing boyfriend (Peter DuPre) and taking care of her mute, deaf, and blind sister Tracy (a young and not-yet-creepy Jennifer Jason Leigh). We can see that Jane is very serious about her work and about her distaste for rape-murders, and that she also dotes a great deal on her sister, to the point where she may as well wear a sign that says "I hold myself responsible for my retarded sibling". More on that later...

While Jane and Co. argue sexual politics and reenact scenes from The Miracle Worker, we see first-hand what this rampaging psycho has been up to. Enter a young cocktail waitress, who is cruelly toyed with on the phone by the killer as she watches Wiederhorn's Shock Waves on television (the natural choice for a woman who is alone and terrified by a stalker) and who delivers the film's best line, "Who the fuck is there?!". The police are useless and so is her boyfriend, who is beheaded (his head ending up in the fishtank), leaving her to be raped and murdered by the fat, greasy killer (Jon DiSanti). In all, not a pleasant day for these two young lovers. Too bad, too -- the young lass even had a giant meat cleaver on the counter to cut limes with and even that couldn't help save her. Looks like a job for AnchorWoman!

Eyes of a Stranger is one of those rare thrillers (these days, anyway -- where everything has to have a twist ending and make you want to kick a hole in your television) where you know who the killer is up-front and what his intentions are. Here we learn that this wacko lives in the same apartment complex as Jane and that Jane is already suspecting that whoever owns the muddy car in the parking garage may be up to something. Here I start to lose faith in our heroine a bit, because when I had a car (oh, the days...), it was always fucking filthy. Did this make me a fat, greasy rapist-murderer? No. Just a pig.

Jane happens to live in an apartment complex that consists of two towers situated across from one another on the shore. Two identical towers, actually, considering that there is really only one building that was shot twice and doubled in order to create the illusion. This strange move is integral to the plot, for although we started out in Hitchcock's Frenzy mode, we are soon kicking into Rear Window mode, as Jane begins to stalk her neighbor and watch his movements throughout the building, even going so far as to break into his apartment and hang off his balcony to escape. The filmmakers obviously only had one building to work with and so they make a point of showing signs that say "North Tower" and "South Tower" in what is clearly the same hallway shot twice.

Anyway, here I'll take a moment to linger on the character of Tracy, Jane's inept younger sister. Apparently she was a normal little girl until she was abducted and molested as a child, at which point she stopped speaking, hearing, and seeing (not that you can blame her). Now she's in her teens and is quite self-sufficient, making you wonder if she might be faking the whole thing. Of course, she's not -- but it would have made for an interesting development, no? For example, in one of my favorite scenes, Jane comes home late in the evening and finds Tracy sitting in her room, reading a braille book... with the desk light on. Why she would have turned the light on in the first place is a mystery to me, considering she apparently can't see. Jane touches her arm tenderly, and leaves the room, and leaves the light on. Apparently, news reporters in Miami make enough to let their blind sisters run up the power bills to their hearts' content -- I would have loved to have seen her turn off the light as she left.

So this is where the cat-and-mouse really kicks in. After a few more gruesome, random killings, DiSanti is on to the Jane and Tracy show, and he starts fucking with them royally, to the point where he manages to get into their apartment and, in one of the creepier scenes in the film, cruelly moves things around Tracy as she tries to cut herself a giant piece of cake (maybe he worked for Atkins?). When she realizes that there is someone there, she naturally freaks, and manages to throw hot coffee in his face, blinding him temporarily. He chases her to the bedroom, where -- lo and behold -- she miraculously regains her sight in the nick of time and is able to take him out.

Now, here's where things REALLY get interesting. See, Tracy has been blind and all that for about 10 years now, and a lot has changed since she last had her vision. So naturally, what's the first thing she does when she regains it? She goes into the bathroom, opens her shirt, and feels herself up. Of course! Never mind the psychopath in the other room who's just napping in between attacks -- let's take these boobies for a test-drive, shall we? This strange psychosexual choice, along with the suggestion that victims of molestation just need to be molested again to cure them any lingering "issues" that they may have (you know, blindness, whatever) are what give Eyes of a Stranger its oomph and set it apart from other standard stalk-and-slash flicks of the time. When this film was released it was reviled due to its brutality and presumed misogyny (which I disagree with, as the killer is plainly not someone you're supposed to identify with by any means), and I'm sure that this somewhat confused psychosexual agenda had something to do with people's uneasy reactions to it. At any rate, the action moves from the most ill-decorated bedroom of all time (think: Chinese-whorehouse-on-South-Beach) into the bathroom, as our baddie is finally put down with a bullet, crashing through the shower door and "finally liberating Janet Leigh from her fate" or some post-feminist shit like that. It's nasty, it's creepy, and it's got some good gore and scares: definitely worth seeing -- er, hunting down.

Rating (out of 5):