Oct 8, 2011

Eyeball (1975)
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Writers: Umberto Lenzi and FĂ©lix Tusell
Starring: Martine Brochard, John Richardson and Ines Pellegrini.

The Plot: While on a trip to Spain, a bus full of tourists stop off to have a quick look-see around the city. However, when one of these tourists turns up stabbed multiple times and with one eyeball missing, the entire group is forced to hang around while the mystery is sorted out. As members of the group start to die one by one, the tourists become distrustful of one another and they begin to search for the killer. Could it be the priest who suspiciously went to the hospital in order to visit one of the victims? Maybe its the woman with mud on her shoes who was caught washing them off after a murder took place in a similar mudpit? Could it be Mark’s ex-wife, who is supposed to be back at home due to a violent mental breakdown? Only time will tell. As the violence escalates, our killer, who dons a red raincoat that covers his/her body, remains on the prowl for fresh new eyeballs.

The Review
Director Umberto Lenzi is a filmmaker whose work I have been relatively hesitant to dig through in the past. My original viewing of Cannibal Ferox, roughly ten years ago, turned me off on his abilities as a director. If you’ve never seen the film, it is an unfortunately weak attempt to duplicate the cannibal genre and all of its greatest hits. Although Lenzi had helped in creating the genre himself, his largest attempt would turn out as one of the most over the top bits of hypocritical finger-waving that the genre ever produced. Eventually, I heard about how great his crime films and thrillers were and although I still haven’t splurged through his entire catalog, I have slowly been making some headroom in this area. Eyeball is one of Lenzi’s few giallo titles and although it isn’t one of the all-time-classics from the genre, it certainly finds ways for it to stand out. Between the excessive violence and the tight use of tension, Lenzi takes a rather ordinary giallo and makes as unique of an experience as possible.

While the movie overcompensates for its rather bland script with scene after scene of plot-complications, the violence is what immediately grabs the audience. While Lenzi is well known for making one of the most violent films of all time (Cannibal Ferox), the majority of his work has been far less graphic. Eyeball may not come close enough to the castration-madness presented in Ferox, but it does show Lenzi crafting a story around some rather disgusting ocular damage. The opening piece of violence within the film proves to be everything you could possibly hope for from Lenzi. The sequence features the first of several brutal stabbings that punctuate the film and provide all of the onscreen carnage. This first stabbing shown is probably the most ferocious of the whole bunch though. Similar to the cruelty shown in Lamberto Bava’s infamous “bathroom-stabbing” from A Blade in the Dark, the indifference shown by the killer is what makes the sequence so shocking. Lenzi shows us a killer who repeatedly stabs some poor woman and the camera never cuts away. Even when the killer plucks out the first eyeball, this is shown as if it were a vital part of the story for whatever reason. It is through this rather macabre fascination with eyeball-carnage that the movie inevitably crafts its own vision. Pardon the pun.

The film most assuredly does not stand out in terms of its plot, which is far from the most original of stories. While the killer’s obsession with eyeballs is certainly different and presents a unique twist on the generic masked killer motif, it still doesn’t remain all that original. We’ve seen killers take trophies before and the general plot for the movie has been done to death. This sort of production was so common at the time that the only thing that would usually set these movies apart were their locales. This time around we have the same Agatha Christie (Ten Little Indians) inspired storyline that features rich socialites being picked off one by one, only instead of being set within Italy or England, the film is set in Spain. The beats remain the same, however, and one by one we will see eyeballs plucked out by a deranged killer of the bourgeois. If you have seen more than a few giallo titles, you know that at some point one of our rich protagonists will fill in for the role of a amateur detective and help solve the mystery just as everything starts to tie together. The conventions are rife within this picture and although it tries to differentiate itself from similar films, there’s only so much that it can really do.

Although this one doesn’t feature the star power of the many other giallo titles reviewed here on Varied Celluloid, the majority of the cast fit into their roles well. Each cast member seems to play a “type” rather than a fully fleshed out three dimensional character, but these “types” can certainly be fun. The token “lesbian couple”, also seen in The Killer Reserved Nine Seats and Slaughter Motel, make a return in the film. Although it is highly probable that one or both characters could survive the duration of the film, it is very unlikely. Considering the red herrings that are thrown out during the movie, either one of the women could just as easily be the killer as well. However, if you’re familiar with the giallo format you know that red herrings or even “clues” usually mean nothing. Within this genre, there’s really no way to discern just who the killer may turn out to be. Although I did make an informed guess about who the killer would turn out to be, and I was correct in my assumption, these movies never play by the rules. Logical thought usually means nothing with these movies and the big twist finale with Eyeball is no exception.

The Conclusion
Eyeball is not a fantastic giallo, but neither is it the worst. The main problem viewers will have with it is how reminiscent it is to nearly every other film within the genre. The violence and the few standout pieces that make up this puzzle are what will draw you in and attract most viewers. I give it a solid three out of five. It’s worth a rental for any giallo film fanboy, that goes without question.