aka The Secret Killer, Gatti Rossi in un Labirinto di Vetro, El Ojo en la Oscuridad
Directed by: Umberto Lenzi
Starring: John Richardson, José María Blanco, Andrés Mejuto
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Umberto Lenzi is a hard craftsman to define. His most available work outside Italy is the likes of Nightmare Beach (cheesy as hell), Cannibal Ferox (pure exploitation), Nightmare City (Bizarre) and Ghosthouse (Just plain bad). With that said though if you search harder, he has some extremely tense Gialli under his belt including the ‘Paranoias’ (two movies with the same title released within the space of 20 months, confusing I know), Knife of Ice (Stylish with subtle social comment) and Seven Bloodstained Orchids (riveting). It’s almost as if he had a lobotomy in the late seventies and could thereafter only helm trashy imitations of superior flicks. (But let’s not forget that not all of his prior stuff was ‘immense’, remember Superseven Chiama Cairo from 1965? – Ooof!) I was indeed intrigued to see which of the two Lenzis would turn up for this mid-seventies murder mystery, the talented filmmaker or the gratuitous hack… (Also forgive my overuse of brackets!)
Eyeball is Giallo through and through, but has some ingredients that allow it to be considered something of a proto-slasher. It’s also located in Barcelona in my home country and is a Spanish/Italian/American production, which means it had various cultural influences.
A group of American tourists head to Barcelona for a summer holiday. Almost as soon as they arrive the fun comes to an end as one of their number is ruthlessly murdered by a hooded killer in a red rain mac. The maniac is something of a sadist and mutilates the left eye of each victim. Could it be the mentally ill wife of one of the tourists or has someone else got a grudge against the troupe?
I am a big fan of history and there’s a story that I read about a year ago that has stuck with me. The Mary Rose was a warship in the impressive Tudor fleet of Henry VII. It served for just over thirty-three years in numerous wars, but was sunk, somewhat unexpectedly in 1545 during the Battle of Solent. For years historians believed that it was due to the evasive turns being too sharp for its unsteady structure, but Forensic examiners have recently discovered that the skeletons of crew members that were recovered hailed from southern Europe, most probably España. They were either mercenaries hired by the King, or more likely members of 600 shipwrecked sailors who had run in to a storm weeks earlier and with no food or water, had been forced in to service for England. Manning such a huge carrack-type ship in wartime would need a clear chain of command, but when Admiral George Carew was barking orders at his foreign crew, the most likely collective response was something along the lines of ‘¿Qué?’Therefore it was language barriers that sunk the great Mary Rose and that theory adds weight to Carew’s final words stating that his crew were, ‘knaves I cannot rule’.
The reason I tell you this is because it feels like a similar lack of communication was behind the production of this forgotten Giallo. Italian is definitely a more similar language to Spanish than English, but still it must be the reason why so many members of the (Spanish) crew here seemed to have no idea what they were doing. I can’t explain why else an experienced cinematographer like Antonio Millán would shoot everything so flatly? He was in one of the most beautiful cities in Spain for gawd’s sake, so why such diluted focus on the gorgeous backdrops? The majority of non-natives who visit the shores of Spain in hordes throughout the year always pick up on the incredibly laid back lifestyle. Well it must’ve been something that Umberto Lenzi rather liked, because his direction here can best be described as ‘lazy’. There are only a couple of semi-decent set-pieces and he keeps the awesome disguise for his killer off-screen for the most part.
The dialogue too is quirky and off-beat and in the next breath hilarious. Martínez, the eccentric tour guide brings up Christopher Columbus’ heritage as they drive past the ‘Monumento a Colón’ on La Rambla. He states (falsely) that Columbus was Spanish, to which one woman replies, “Spanish or Italian, it makes no difference to me. He made a terrible mistake. You don’t think America’s worth all that trouble do you?” This leads to an awesome response from the guy sitting in front of her who quips, “Oh my God! You’re not a communist, are you?” Much later after a few killings, the inspector rounds up the survivors for interrogation and asks one lady who may be a witness, “Did you recognise him?” She says, “I didn’t see.” “It was dark in those bushes, don’t forget I’m not a night fighter you know” (What?!!!)
I may be sounding like Eyeball is totally rubbish, but it’s actually somewhat ahead of its time. It’s a cheesy slasher before cheesy slashers were invented and it’s a whole lot of fun. It’s nicely paced, with a fairly large body count and the mystery is intriguing even if the motive, once revealed, is astoundingly silly. The killer in a crimson rain coat and the final girl make this feel more like an American slasher than an archetypal Giallo and it doesn’t seem too dated at all. There’s a tad of nudity and two lesbians to check list the exploitation and I remember even at least one scene that builds decent suspense. What is most memorable about this is the pounding score from Bruno Nicolai, which will stay in your head for hours after the credits have rolled. You also get a bit of gore even if it is rather anaemic compared to the same director’s later stuff.
This is by no means classy Lenzi, but it’s still an entertaining mix of comedic dialogue, bloody killings and a campy motive. I don’t know if it was truly one that can be credited as inspiration for Halloween and the like, but for a great cheesy treat it’s thoroughly recommended
Final Girl: √