Eyeball (Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro, El ojo en la oscuridad, The Devil’s Eye, The Eye, The Secret Killer, Wide-Eyed in the Dark) – 1975 – Italy/Spain – Bootleg DVD-r in matted widescreen
Giallo (yellow) is a term used for Italian murder-mystery pocket novels that proliferated in that country from the 1930s onwards, most of which feature an amateur detective investigating the lurid slayings of the morally-corrupt social elite at the hands of an enigmatic black-gloved killer. These novels were popular amongst the hoi polloi in much the same way as today’s grocery store paperbacks are, and were easily identifiable by their trademark yellow covers. In the 1960s, Italian filmmakers, such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento, began interpreting the formula onto the big screen with great financial success (“The Bird WIth the Crystal Plumage” 1969) and occasional artistic triumph (“Blood and Black Lace” 1964) and the genre blossomed in popularity much the same way the German style “krimis,” or “crime-films,” based on Edgar Wallace stories did. The Giallo style reigned supreme in Italian cinema well into the ’70s and even today the occasional Giallo will be released, though the last one of note was perhaps Argento’s middling “Sleepless” from 2001.
Umberto Lenzi, director of some of cinema’s most reviled rubbish (“Black Demons” or “Nightmare City”), tries his hand at his umpteenth Giallo flick with “Eyeball” and meets with only occasional success. Lenzi was a real schlockmeister who is mostly known for riding the coattails of successful directors such as Argento, Fulci, and Martino, and cannibalizing their creative aptitude only to regurgitate it into worthless dross. His one claim to fame may be that he started the whole cannibal cycle of films with “The Man From Deep River” (Il paese del sesso selvaggio-1972), but even this film plays out like little more than an elaboration on the Mondo films that met with worldwide success in the ’60s, and “…Deep River” remains viable only as a temporal curiosity. This was his seventh foray into gialli territory following the remarkable “Spasmo” from 1974, and has a delightfully sick premise which, regarding the ocular traumas, could be seen as a simple indictment of his audiences bent towards sado-voyeurism. A tour bus full of passengers from Burlington, Vermont (the happy home of Terror Transmission!) are being picked off one by one by a killer garbed in red raincoat and gloves (a deliberate nod to Dario Argento and Nicolas Roeg) by having a stiletto driven through their left eye-socket and the resident orb removed. Mark (John Richardson of “Black Sunday” and “Torso”) happens to be in Barcelona transacting some business, and runs into his mistress Paulette, one of the unhappy rubbernecks on the tour. Their relationship is a touch contentious because of Mark’s reluctance to commit to Paulette whilst his wife is unwell. It seems that Mark’s wife Alma is a bit of a nutter who is supposed to be in a clinic in New York but whimsically (and conveniently) flew to Barcelona instead. The cops are ineffectual, per usual in the Giallo genre, so Mark begins a serious investigation of his own and the body count rises. The murders are not particularly well-staged, but the cast is rife with red-herrings including the aforementioned characters as well as the Reverend Bronson (genre-vet George Rigaud looking perverse as a man-of-the-cloth should), a lecherous and sadistic tour-director (Raf Baldassarre), and just about every other cast member who could be implicated until they meet their demise. The plot thickens when Mark realizes that a past murder in Burlington eerily resembles those occurring now in Barcelona, but since the tourists are all from Vermont this realization only serves to widen the range of suspects. The cinematography and music are unremarkable and I figured out who the killer was by the end of the first reel, but the denouement and raison d’etre are wonderfully deranged and the basis for my recommendation. If you are at all a fan of the Giallo, or ’70s sleaze in general, you could do worse with your time than this “blinding vision of horror.” In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye out for ya…
Jason’s Grade: C