Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cinema de Bizarre Review of the Week: Eyeball (1975)

Directed by Umberto Lenzi

Starring Martine Brochard ("Paulette Stone"), John Richardson ("Mark Burton"), Ines Pellegrini ("Naiba Campbell"), and Andrés Mejuto ("Inspector Tuleda")

Country: Italy, Spain

EYEBALL (original title: Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro, which translates to "Red Cats in a Glass Maze") is an Italian slasher directed by Umberto Lenzi - a prolific exploitation filmmaker who was all over the place in terms of the genres he tackled: Eurocrime, Gialli, American Slashers, Cannibal films, "Macaroni Combat", etc. In EYEBALL, a group of tourists en route to Barcelona are dropping dead one-by-one at the hands of a mysterious red-gloved killer who keeps the eyeballs of the victims as trophies. The frustrated Inspector Tuleda, who's on the verge of retirement, eventually comes into the picture and tries to pin down a suspect, but someone else usually ends up getting killed just as he seems to be making progress in his investigation.

There are a number of elements that separate EYEBALL from the rest of its brethren and make it a somewhat unique Giallo. For one, the appearance of the killer is very much in the spirit of the traditional Giallo (gloves, coat, knife, obscured face), but the red aesthetic is far cry from the usual all-black look, which was the stock appearance of killers in most Gialli from a variety of filmmakers for a number of years. Secondly, the setting and the large group of characters make the film stand out. There are a few characters who would be considered leads and play a more important part in the overall story than everyone else, but at times it borders on being an ensemble piece. Whereas a lot of the more well-known Gialli focused primarily on a couple of characters, EYEBALL throws a whole bunch of them into the mix. The incorporation of so many characters could potentially pose a problem, but it's handled well here, and if anything it adds to the mystery element of the film by giving the viewer more suspects to choose from.

Visually, EYEBALL isn't on the same level as some of the more stylish Gialli from directors like Dario Argento and Sergio Martino, but it's not to say that it's a bland film or visually-unpleasant by any means. EYEBALL is shot really well, and there's occasionally a sense of urgency to how the movie is filmed, with certain shots - be it extreme close-ups or wide shots - that compliment the tone of particular scenes and the mental and emotional state of whatever character is being focused on at the time. And, again, the color red comes into play at many points in the film, which results in an interesting visual theme. It should also be said that the Bruno Nicolai score is quite good, but it fails in creating an ominous mood and would have probably been better suited in a Eurocrime film.

When it comes to the tropes and conventions of Gialli that fans of the genre look for, EYEBALL delivers the goods: boobs, blood, blades, mystery, and a decent amount of style. Story-wise, however, it's pretty standard for reasons that I needn't necessarily get into, and it's honestly boring at times. To be fair, though, the police procedural element is handled really well despite simply being there to move the story along. Inspector Tuleda's "I'm too old for this shit" mentality is justified, and there's also a bit of clashing when it comes to his methods of investigation and the more new-school methods that are practiced by his son and fellow Inspector, who's following in his footsteps. When it's all said and done, there's even a touching scene involving the two that adds depth to their characters.

As usual with Gialli and murder mysteries in general, you can expect red herrings. I obviously won't even allude as to who the killer is, but I will say that there's some good misdirection in this film as far as raising suspicion and, theoretically, keeping the viewer guessing. With one character in particular, the film brilliantly plays with our misconceptions and assumptions of certain people (and by "our" I mean the general viewer) in a way that I haven't seen in much Gialli, if any. As far as the characters, they're a fun enough group of people with a few stereotypes thrown in for good measure (the bickering lipstick lesbian couple, the handsome lead, the playful character who never takes anything seriously). As a whole, EYEBALL is watchable and has a few moments here and there where it shines, but it's certainly not essential Gialli.

Make or Break: There isn't really a great "Make" scene to speak of in the film, but at the same time there isn't anything that breaks the film for me either. I could go with the kill scenes that were sprinkled throughout, but instead I'll go with a scene that reminds me why I love Italian genre cinema in general. There's a mass interrogation scene where the lead Inspector is questioning everyone immediately following the death of one of the members of the tour group. One of the women in the group, when questioned by the Inspector, claims that the killer resembled "a big, crimson cat." A CAT. The look on the Inspector's face and his reaction to such a ridiculous claim is hilarious. Also, someone yells out "Murderess!" and another character blatantly lies to the Inspector in a way that comes across as unintentionally comedic. Only in Italian exploitation cinema will you find such ludicrous dialogue spoken with seriousness by idiotic characters.

MVT: Like another CdB Pick of the Week, THE GIRL IN ROOM 2A, I'm gonna go with the look of the killer. Ultimately, it's the interesting appearance of the killer that makes EYEBALL stand out more than anything. It's not a complicated or elaborate look by any means, but for a killer in a Gialli to be wearing such a bright primary color is noteworthy, in that the red really pops during the nighttime scenes. While it does look cool, it doesn't change the fact that it's also a dumb and inconvenient choice of disguise for a killer. The brightness of the red obviously makes you easy to spot (especially at night). Plus, the killer has what appears to be the hood of their red raincoat pulled entirely over their face, which means they obviously can't see shit and it's probably hard to breathe.

Score: 6/10

The Disc: The version of EYEBALL that Cinema de Bizarre carries is a DVD rip presented in a letterboxed widescreen print, meaning that you don't lose any of the picture and that the original aspect 2.35 ratio is intact, but it's not adjusted for widescreen televisions. In any event, the print looks decent, albeit not very crisp and obviously in need of remastering. Very watchable, though. The nighttime scenes are dark, but a good portion of the film is either filmed during the day or in doors, and what few nighttime scenes there are aren't pitch-black to the point where you can't make out what's going on. There aren't any issues with the sound either, as the dialogue is clear and audible throughout, but obviously not surround-sound material. English language only (dubbing), no subtitles available. The running time is approximately 90 minutes, falling - according to IMDB - around nine or ten minutes short of the Italian version.

Cinema de Bizarre
EYEBALL on Cinema de Bizarre

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