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
This early eighties addition to the cycle was one of the last of the key period to acquire a re-release on DVD. It’s hard to understand exactly why the digital revolution has ignored it 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 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. Terror Eyes also handed a début role to Rachel Ward, who would go on to become a popular 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.
Whilst this is most definitely a slasher movie, it does steer close to being classified as something of a gratuitous cop-thriller. Usually in these flicks, our protagonist will be either a final girl or a hero of some kind and the Police are written to linger more in the background and turn up only when necessary. In Terror Eyes though, the story is told mostly from the eyes of the investigators and the other players aren’t central to the movement of the plot. It’s during the kill scenes though that the tone becomes far more grotesque, and the violence is at times astoundingly brutal. The killer slashes his victims with a curved machete, which sprays blood over the walls with each slice. Aided by a menacing score from Brad Fiedel, these scenes are intimidating and rampant enough to cast aside any confusion on the scary movie classification.
Horror is different from every other cinematic genre because it offers much more of a challenge to create the necessary tone. Of all the entries that are released every year, not many are really frightening and this Is especially true in such a recognised and overused template as the slasher. Hughes does manage to build some intimidating scenarios and an incredibly tense scene in a café kitchen that sets pulses rising. He also received one of the biggest compliments possible for his work, 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.It’s worth noting that the majority of the shocks here are built through claustrophobic menace and the film doesn’t rely on exploitive gore. Sure, there’s blood by the bucket-load, but none of the decapitations are shown on-screen and there are no striking special make-up effects.
The script came from female auter Ruth Avergon, which is surprising considering the level of misogyny. In my opinion her screenplay is perhaps the biggest issue with the feature and Hughes’ direction deserved a lot better. Some of the dialogue is extremely erratic and regularly switches from intelligent historical references to nonsensical chatter, which hinders the actors in their attempts to play it straight. It must’ve been hard for them to remain composed whilst reciting lines that are often bemusing. We are given a premise, which tries to hold our hands and walk us through every twist and turn, and it seems as if Avergon underestimates her audience’s intelligence. Rachel Ward, who looks incredible, is extremely wooden and due to the structure of the story, we never really feel the need to bond with her. Drew Snyder is woefully mis-cast as a womaniser and it makes things even less believable. Chuck on top of that a few bizarre inventions (the shower painting scene) and the in-between parts are something of a muddle.
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 √√√