The novelty of perky LOVE BOAT cruise director Lauren Tewes and acclaimed actress and future Oscar nominee Jennifer Jason Leigh (THE HATEFUL EIGHT) in a trashy slasher movie is quickly overtaken by the believability of their performances. Leigh in particular, making her feature acting debut, delivers a strong performance with poise and courage as Tracy, a teenager who suffers from psychosomatic blindness and deafness since she was abducted and molested as a child. Tewes, in her only starring appearance in a feature, is top-billed in EYES OF A STRANGER as Jane Harris, a crusading television reporter in Miami.
When Warner Brothers released EYES OF A STRANGER theatrically in 1981, most of Tom Savini’s gory makeup effects had been excised to avoid an X rating. Screenwriter Ron Kurz (FRIDAY THE 13TH) and director Ken Wiederhorn (SHOCK WAVES) planned to make a thriller about a strangler. However, producers hired Savini just before production to provide blood and gore to capitalize on the slasher craze, so the killer played by John DiSanti (Wiederhorn’s KING FRAT) killed with a knife instead of his hands. Ironically, very little of Savini’s work made it to theaters after all.
Jane, who is investigating the slew of serial rapes and murders of young women in her role as a reporter, becomes personally involved when she accidentally discovers — or at least suspects — that one of her neighbors, Stanley Herbert (DiSanti), is the killer. The film isn’t a mystery: we know he’s the killer. Jane, not having seen REAR WINDOW, spies on Herbert, taunts him with threatening phone calls, and breaks into his apartment to search for evidence. Not a great plan when you have a blind, deaf, and mute little sister at home.
Kurz, who created the Jason Voorhees character in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, offers nothing new or substantive to the slasher genre in EYES OF A STRANGER. It actually bears a strong resemblance (accidentally) to SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME!, the TV-movie John Carpenter directed after HALLOWEEN. Kurz and Wiederhorn, it seems, had their hearts set on a less graphic thriller, rather than a gory horror movie, and Savini’s makeup effects, impressive as they are, don’t fit the tone established by Wiederhorn. EYES OF A STRANGER looks more expensive than its sub-$1 million budget, Richard Einhorn’s (THE PROWLER) score adds some class, and DiSanti makes for a properly grubby and mysterious creep.