Tuesday, 17 April 2018

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Eyes of Laura Mars (Irvin Kershner, 1978)

When photographer Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) has a nightmare about a murder from the POV of the killer, she dismisses it as a dream. But then she begins to experience these visions during the daytime - and people are turning up dead...

A glossy Hollywood run at an Italian giallo* thriller, based on a script (co)written by horror luminary John Carpenter and directed by the guy behind The Empire Strikes Back? From the outside, Eyes of Laura Mars sounds great. As a big Carpenter fan, Eyes... was one of those movies that I have always been curious to see. I had heard mixed things, so I never felt a great urge to seek it out.

The Academy held a screening of this movie the other night, so I finally had an opportunity to check it out. Maybe it was because I watched it an hour after another movie, but I was a bit let down by this one.

The acting is good, most of the technical elements are fine, but there is something underwhelming about this movie that I can't really put my finger on. For a thriller it is not very thrilling, and as a romance it is a little bland.

The big miss for me is how it flirts with being an Americanised giallo without ever committing to the genre's less 'mainstream' elements: the ultra-violence; the perverse sexuality; the surrealism.

Granted, from a Hollywood perspective I can see certain elements that might seem hard to take, but the movie is so staid I spent the movie waiting for some kind of turn or shock that elevate the movie. NOPE.

One element that the film could have used was a more convoluted plot-line: my favourite giallo generally have a nightmarish quality, a sense of unpredictability that you would not find in a conventional Hollywood thriller.  Eyes of Laura Mars is too clean and sanitised for its own good. There is something inherently weird and unsettling about the central concept, but the movie does nothing with the potential implications of the idea. The movie winds up as a 70s update of the female entrapment thrillers of the 40s and 50s (think Gaslight, The Spiral Staircase or Midnight Lace).

The movie might have worked as a moderately compelling thriller if the killer's POV shots were executed well. Sadly, they are the killing blow that throw the movie off completely. These visions are accomplished by a handheld camera rather than a steadicam. At the time, this was a relatively new invention, but it is ironic that, in the same year this movie was released, original scripter John Carpenter's Halloween delivered a seamless POV sequence on a sliver of the budget.

On the bright side, the photography (by The Candidate's Victor J. Kemper) is mostly slick, and the score by Artie Kane does the heavy lifting to make Laura's visions feel vaguely disturbing.

Eyes of Laura Mars is the kind of movie that could probably benefit from a re-do. Check it out if you are a Carpenter completionist, or want to see Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif(!) and Raul Julia(!!!) as young people.

*Giallo is the name given to a run of (generally) super-violent murder mysteries made in Italy from the mid-60s to the late 70s. Key films include Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace, Dario Argento's Deep Red and Lucio Fulci's Don't Torture A Duckling.

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