Saturday, 21 February 2015



The late Donald Cammell's third feature film (of only four) is a visually stylish, intriguing but not entirely successful serial killer shocker. And it's very much a mixed bag; for everything it does wrong it does something else brilliantly. While the lead character is pretty uninteresting, it has a couple of genuinely nasty and dazzlingly mounted murder scenes, and while it's too long at 111 minutes, there's a phenomenal sense of place about the locations and architecture, especially in this era of generic, identikit Anywhere settings for horror movies. Here you can almost taste the Arizona dust.

There's a serial killer on the loose in the Tucson area, and home stereo engineer Paul White (David Keith) looks to be the main suspect due to his involvement with at least one of the women and the rare tyre tracks found at the scene. (Indeed, while the film flirts with a couple of other potential suspects who also have the same rare tyres on their cars, there's never any real doubt who the maniac is.) But his wife Joan (Cathy Moriarty) is also starting to suspect him, at least of adultery, but not keeping his victims' remains hidden in the house....

With its plot veering in several different directions, White Of The Eye does feel like three or four films at once: with the small-town affairs of gossipy housewives, flashbacks to Keith and Moriarty's early days together, the police hunt for the serial killer, the sudden reappearance of Moriarty's ex and Keith's disintegration into ranting lunatic. In its last stretch it turns into a more traditional, albeit good-looking, psycho thriller with the maniac stalking the Final Girl, and the stakes are raised to insane levels for a memorable ending, but the most shocking moment has to be Alberta Watson's demise in the bath, as the killer stomps her under the water before holding a mirror in front of her so the last thing she sees is her own death.

While much of the movie looks fantastic, there are several scenes with a huge amount of grain on them, though some of that may be traced back to the apparently deliberately antagonistic atmosphere Cammell created on set (for example, by hiring two cinematographers) and the demands of the schedule. It probably wasn't apparent on the VHS release, but it is noticeable on the BluRay. Other scenes, mainly the flashbacks, were subjected to a "bleach bypass" effect that lightens the image and whacks up the contrast.

It's not a great film, but it is intriguingly different, beautiful to watch in places and has a character an intelligence about it that seems rare these days, so in spite of the flaws it's absolutely worth picking up. I first saw this sometime in June 1987, in the smallest screen of what is now the Cineworld Haymarket, so this was probably my first viewing of a film that I'd all but forgotten in 27 years, and I think I probably enjoyed it more this time around.


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