Terror Eyes 1981 Review
Terror Eyes 1981
aka Night School
Directed by: Kenneth Hughes
Starring: Rachel Ward, Drew Snyder, Leonard Mann
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I can only now watch this early eighties addition to the cycle on DVD, because it was one of the last of the key period to acquire a re-release. It’s hard to understand exactly why the digital revolution has ignored this intriguing category addition for so long, because it’s certainly no worse than the legions of Halloween clones that have been packaged and then re-packaged once again on special edition discs. Not only is Terror Eyes one of the seventy-four ‘collectable’ video nasties that were unfortunate enough to be banned in the United Kingdom and added to the notorious DPP list, but on top of that, its production boasts some interesting trivia.
Director Kenneth Hughes was not just an ambitious non-experienced wet-behind-the-ears beginner like so many of his genre counterparts from the period. Instead he was a film-maker with a long and varied résumé, which included a few high-profile efforts. Perhaps even more bewildering is the fact that his most recognised cinematic achievement prior to this violent splatter flick had been kiddies favourite and Oscar-nominee, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The feature also handed a début role to Rachel Ward, who would go on to become a well-respected actress in later years.
The city of Boston is being terrorised by a head hunting psychopath. Dressed in motorcycle leathers and masked by a tinted crash helmet, the killer is decapitating his victims and then submerging their heads in water, which leads the Police to believe that he is a ritualistic maniac. Detectives are mystified as to the motives of the deranged assassin and as the bodies pile up they realise that they must move quickly to prevent the terror from striking again.
Even though Terror Eyes has enough of the necessary trademarks to allow it to be identified as a slasher movie, it plays more like an ultra-violent cop-thriller. It switches consistently between two starkly opposing tones and each causes a lack of consistency in the other. The film is often unintentionally implausible and at times the dramatics feel excessively cheesy. During the kill scenes however, things get nail-bitingly dark and the violence is at times astoundingly brutal. The killer slashes his victims with a curved machete ruthlessly, spraying blood over the walls as he goes. Aided by a menacing score from Brad Fiedel, the scenes are intimidating and rampant enough to stick in your memory.
Horror is different from every other cinematic genre and offers a much tougher challenge for directors. Hughes, however, does ok here and builds some impressive suspense scenarios. There’s one stand out and incredibly tense scene in a café kitchen, which is particularly memorable because it doesn’t involve the film’s bogeyman and the players on screen during the scenario are unaware of any impending horror. The day after a girl is brutally slaughtered, the owner turns up to find his restaurant in a mess. We already know by viewing the first two murders that the maniac submerges the decapitated heads of his victims in the nearest pool of water, so we’re already expecting him to find a shocking sight somewhere lying around. As he begins clearing up the tables and chairs, two builders arrive and ask him to heat up some food for them. He places a large saucepan on the hob, which is filled with stew and turns on the gas. After he serves them, one of them finds a long hair in his bowl. By now you’re cringing thinking, surely the head wasn’t in there…was it? The chef continues chatting and pours the remainders of the pan down the sink. You’re on the edge of your seat and expecting to see it roll out at any minute! I won’t tell you what happens, but the vibe it creates is excellent. He also received one of the biggest compliments possible for his work here, because Dario Argento was almost certainly inspired by Terror Eyes for his popular eighties Giallo, Tenebrae. Watching the two films one after the other shows the undeniable similarities and evidence.
Kenneth Hughes deserves credit for at times building a harsh and gruesome atmosphere, without any real gore. Sure, there’s blood by the bucket-load, but none of the decapitations are shown on-screen and there’s no striking special make-up effects. Female writer Ruth Avergon pencilled the script, which is surprising considering the level of misogyny. It’s also extremely erratic and includes everything from intelligent historical references to nonsensical and bewildering dialogue, which hinders the actors in their attempts to play it straight. In fact, I would say that it is the biggest flaw of the feature. The basic premise somewhat mocks the intelligence of the audience and therefore gives too many clues and ruins the pay-off far too early. The cast are given very little in terms of heavyweight drama to work with, but in fairness their performances are undeserving of any better. The fact that Rachel Ward built a career in dramatics after this embarrassingly wooden début just proves that you don’t need talent to be a success in Hollywood; all that’s required is an attractive face. Also, what’s with the casting of Drew Snyder as a womaniser? He may be a lot of things, but handsome and charming are not two of them.
Terror Eyes is an at times stylish and in the same breath daft thriller, which suffers mainly from a huge dose of poor cinematic balancing. It is certainly no classic, but the violent and at times harrowing death scenes make it worthy of a high standing within the slasher elite. It’s one that I have plenty of time for and if you have an eye for the ladies, Rachel Ward will blow you away…
Final Girl √√√