Wednesday, July 20, 2011

3 paragraphs on Eyes of Laura Mars

1978, Irvin Kirshner -- Netflix

At one point I was a massive John Carpenter fan (still like the guy and much of his work but I don't see all of his work with such rose-colored glasses anymore) but I knew there were a few gaps in my Carpenter-ouvre viewing. I had heard of this TV movie he'd written starring a prominent '70's actress, with a title that had something to do with vision. Once I became aware of Eyes of Laura Mars, starring Faye Dunaway, I was convinced that was it. About 10 minutes into the film, with some not-at-all disguised nudity in pictures in the background and casual swearing in the dialogue, as well as Irvin Kirshner (he of Empire Strikes Back infamy) attached as director (Kirshner slumming it for TV? Couldn't be) I became confused. To the Wikipedia machine. Oh... the John Carpenter written-AND-directed-for-TV film was "Someone is Watching Me" starring Lauren Hutten. You can see how I made that mistake can't you?

(definite spoilers below)

Anyway, Eyes of Laura Mars finds Dunaway as the titular character, a preeminent photographer, successful in both the fashion and artistic communities, with a penchant for staging provocative set pieces involving nudity and death... you know, as a reflection of our yadda yadda blah blah blah. But at the height of her success Laura's models, associates and friends start getting murdered, and somehow Laura is witnessing the murders telepathically. She confides in Lieutenant John Neville (a shockingly young Tommy Lee Jones) her visions, and he shows her some photos of old murder cases which resemble some of her photographs. Is she just psychically connected to death or is she connected to a single murderer? As more of her acquaintances and friends are killed, and her life is threatened more than once, her and Neville fall in love. Despite any palpable chemistry between them, each proclaims an uncontrollable attraction to the other, which basically telegraphs the end of the film, where it's reveal that the murderer is... John Neville.

The film is an Americanization of the Italian gaillo horror/suspense/thriller genre made popular by directors like Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava. Kirshner and Carpenter do a remarkable job capturing the feel of that style of film (anyone who has compared Carpenter's score for Halloween to that from Argento's Deep Red will know he's quite familiar with the genre), emphasizing the style as much as the story, and sustaining an intensity even in scenes that should not be so intense. It should have been a terrific thriller, and it is, save for the fact that the ending revelation is so mind-bogglingly dumb. Neville's reveal that he has a split personality disorder, the hokey explanation for the origins of it, and the thoroughly overacted confrontation between the two leads basically threw the entire film under a bus, or jabbed an ice pick in its eye, if you will.