Eyes of a Stranger (1981)
Ken Wiederhorn’s Eyes of a Stranger is a calculated rehashing of moments from better movies, strung together by the thinnest of plots. It’s such a waste of time that reading about it (and, to my chagrin, writing about it) is a fairly worthless pursuit. If you have the time on your hands and nothing better to do, then please continue through the review. Otherwise, everything you need to know is in that first sentence.
A psychopath is raping and murdering women in Miami, Florida. Jane Harris (Lauren Tewes), a local television anchorwoman, believes her portly neighbor Stanley (John Di Santi) may be the killer. Jane becomes obsessed with the idea, first breaking into Stanley’s apartment for evidence and later taunting him over the phone. Unfortunately for Jane and her blind, deaf, and mute sister Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in her film debut), Stanley is the killer. The stage is set for a confrontation where … blah blah blah. It’s a slasher movie. You know what happens.
There might be a good drinking game in Eyes of a Stranger. Every time someone spots a plot point, sequence, or general theme lifted from another film, everyone else has to take a drink. I guarantee your party will be plastered by the end of the film. From the synopsis alone, you can probably glean the “influence” of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954, obsessive voyeur as detective) and Terence Young’s Wait Until Dark (1967, killer torments a blind woman). If you have the misfortune of actually watching the film, you’ll also recognize bits from He Knows You’re Alone (1980), Black Christmas (1974), When a Stranger Calls (1979), Maniac (1980), and John Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me! (1978, itself a pastiche on Rear Window). If you want to go way back, you can see traces of Robert Siodmak’s 1945 thriller The Spiral Staircase in the sequence when Tracy’s senses kick back in during a violent struggle.
I will admit, grudgingly, that there are some good moments in the film. The recent Warner Bros. DVD release of the film is uncut, so we get to see all the gore effects (by makeup guru Tom Savini) that were snipped out so it could get an R rating in 1981. These include a severed head, a slit throat, and a brutal stabbing. Unfortunately, Savini's big moment – the head in the fish tank – isn’t terribly original. The same thing happens in He Knows You’re Alone, which featured special effects by Savini’s buddy Taso N. Stavrakis. The similarity of the two scenes overshadows the fact that the head in Eyes of a Stranger is vastly superior to the one in He Knows.
Director Ken Wiederhorn also manages one technically well-executed sequence early in the film, or at least he appears to. The killer is following a woman on her way home from work. His shoes make a distinctive “clop” as they hit the pavement. We follow the killer (clop), then the woman, then the killer (clop), then the woman, and back and forth. The woman realizes she’s being followed and grows anxious, the perfect set-up for suspense. It should be suspenseful – the whole scene is a virtual repeat of one from Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (and, as such, much of my description of it is taken from my review of that film). Wiederhorn should be ashamed.
Eyes of a Stranger isn’t just crap – it’s mercenary crap, designed to pull in suckers by stealing from the superior work of others and passing it off as its own. As such, it is a repugnant film without merit. Unless you’re really keen on that drinking game I devised, avoid this movie.
Wiederhorn's underwater zombie Nazi epic Shock Waves is playing on television early in the film.