The episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? covering Eye See You was Written by Mike Holtz, Narrated by Travis Hopson, Edited by Juan Jimenez, Produced by Andrew Hatfield and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
If you’re like me and so many other nineties kids, you may remember Eye See You (watch it HERE) as that Sylvester Stallone film you saw late in his career sitting on the shelves at your local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video featuring Sly pointing a gun in a snowy landscape looking just as surprised as you to be there with such little fanfare. Stallone belongs on the “Guaranteed to have in-stock or you get a free rental” Holy shit package wall of the video store or at the very least in an interesting role among an all-star cast like he’d been in with Cop Land a few years previous. You may have been just as surprised to find out that Eye See You did, in fact, feature an all-star cast that got shelved next to the other direct to video questionables just the same. This made no sense. Stallone had his misfires, sure. But he was no Kevin Sorbo. Who put this video here? It’s not supposed to be released yet. Someone must have messed up. And most certainly, they did.
Eye See You was a horrific and gruesome crime thriller inspired by the 1999 book Jitter Joint by Howard Swindle. In the book, a Dallas Detective is forced by his wife and boss into rehab for his alcoholism. There, as he deals with his demons, a killer begins to pick off the other inhabitants of the recovery program, tagging them each with one of the 12 steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Exqueeze me? Baking soda? Stallone in a slasher? Yes, please. It’s also a great role for Stallone, who loves to play the underdog rather than the unstoppable force unlike his nemesis (at the time) Arnold Schwarzenegger. While many, many changes would be made to the storyline… the crime/thriller and rehab aspects of Jitter Joint would remain.
Crime thrillers that dipped their toes into the horror genre using brutal murderers and star leads had a hell of a run in the latter half of the 90s. Richard Gere (a guy Stallone REALLY hated) in Primal Fear, Denzel in Fallen, Nicolas Cage in 8MM, Steven Seagal and Keenan Ivory Wayans in The Glimmer Man (okay, let’s tighten it back up) and probably the most notable of all… David Fincher’s Seven starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. The latter half of the nineties also carried with it the return and absolute explosion of the slasher film (and specifically the reality-based slasher film) thanks to Wes Craven’s Scream in 1996. So, when I tell you that in the glorious year of 1999, Sylvester Stallone was about to star in a crime thriller with horror leanings and a concerted effort to make it feel like Fincher’s Seven, you might have expected it to be a success. Especially when you found that it was going to have a mystery serial killer element ala Scream and be the next film by Director Jim Gillespie, fresh off the hit slasher I Know What You Did Last Summer just two years prior. Instead, it was an absolute disaster.
With that in mind let’s discuss just WTF happened to Eye See You? I mean, The Outpost? I mean, D-Tox. For the love of everything holy they couldn’t even agree on the name! Everything happened!
Eye See You came at maybe the strangest time in Stallone’s career. After the career defining initial Rocky and Rambo films, after Cliffhanger or Demolition Man. After “I AM THE LAW” in Judge Dredd and the strange comedy missteps of Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Most importantly, Eye See You came soon after 1997’s Cop Land where Stallone starred in an against type performance as a small town Sherrif with a hearing impediment for director James Mangold alongside the likes of Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, and Robert De Niro. It was a courageous role for Stallone to take at the time, considering the larger-than-life action heroes he’d been playing as of late and in a way brought him back to his roots of the original Rocky. Though the performance in Cop Land was unfortunately misunderstood by an audience not used to that kind of Stallone at this juncture in his career, it may have been the catalyst for him to make another ballsy career choice… Eye See You. A dark serial killer film for an actor with nothing else even resembling horror in his filmography to that point. He even said in an interview in regard to the film, “You’re not going to walk out click your heels and (be) grinning from ear to ear” and “If you want to see that? Then hang out for ‘Avenging Angelo’. THAT one I actually like”.
It’s not that surprising considering Stallone has always been known for his happy endings. I mean… what I’m trying to say is… he famously refused to let them kill Rambo though the script had originally called for it because he hated the thought of our hero dying at the end, causing all sorts of problems on that production. Sly didn’t like his heroes going to TOO dark of places and you won’t find another film this close to a thriller/horror film in Stallone’s filmography. This was absolutely another departure for an actor just coming off a risky performance that history would look on favorably but the jury was still out on at the time.
Unfortunately, while Eye See You was in post-production for three years, Stallone suffered the releases of Get Carter and box office bomb Driven. Which may have surely helped poison the chances Eye See You to actually be… well, seen. But before we get to all that collateral damage *Arnold clip screaming “I’ll give you fucking Collateral Damage here if you like* Eye See You had a lot going for it… starting with a script by Howard Swindle and Ron L Brinkerhoff that made for a pretty original thriller by mixing together the original book idea with quite a few horror subgenres in the writing blender and then watching them spin round’ to a beautiful and well… literal, eventual… oblivion.
After an opening that is at the very least an “homage” to the opening of Seven (and who could blame them? The Seven opening rocks the shit); The story of Eye See You begins with FBI Agent Jake Malloy hunting a serial like any other crime thriller would, only this one has a little more horror panache than most. This killer likes to announce himself to his victims by using a hand drill and drilling out their eyes when they look in the peephole of their front doors before doing Michael Myers levels of post death arts and crafts on their bodies and orifices. Things like hanging them from the ceiling like an Eli Roth patented human Thanksgiving turkey and shoving a cops baton down their throats and into their chest cavities. You know, like they do in all the Hallmark Christmas films.
The first half of Eye See You plays out like an entire movie in itself where a violent game of cat and mouse between Stallone and the killer lead our Detective Malloy into a suicidal, alcoholic tail spin. This in turn leads our plot to its isolated horror trappings when Malloy is sent to a secluded recovery center inside of an abandoned army command and control post in the middle of an icy and snowy nowhere. Once secluded and stranded by a snow storm, the law enforcement only members of the recovery center and its staff, each with their own eclectic personality traits start dying one by one in apparent suicides. It’s all very Dream Warriors-esque before Malloy and the remaining patients realize there’s a serial killer afoot. Which is when the Scream-like “which one of you f*ckers is doing this?” storyline takes hold.
Given the landscape this could not have been a very fun place to shoot a movie. You could see it in the actors faces. Stallone even joked with an interviewer that during one of the many reshoots “we were met at the airport by the teamsters. They’d have a sign in front of them saying DETOX (one of the three names of the movie) and all these actors like Kris Kristofferson, Tom Berenger and myself looked like we were going into rehab rather than a film shoot.” Which is about the most positive thing you’ll see Stallone say about the experience.
The cast that makes up this wild and ambitious story is even more dizzying. Charles S Dutton plays Malloy’s colleague and best comrade in a mostly away from the action partner role like that of Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels in Speed or Bruce Willis and Reginald VelJohnson in Die Hard. Pick your poison. Kris Kristofferson is perfectly cast as the heartfelt but “will still whoop your ass and throw a Stone-Cold stunner on you if necessary” leader of this experimental Law Enforcement recovery center, “Doc”. Jeffrey Wright is also there in a strange performance that in no way tips off what a great actor he’s soon to become. Tom Berenger plays a quirky groundskeeper named Hank, Stephen Lang plays your biggest red herring as the serious version of Ben Stiller in Happy Gilmore. But let’s be honest. We’re all just glad there’s no turkey basters in the kitchen (Don’t Breathe joke). Robert Patrick even joined the cast as the biggest prick this side of Texas. He plays the living shit out of the role of a chain smoking, speed taking super-dick who takes out his insecurities by belittling the mental issues of the others. He’s like the T-1000 of assholes. The entire cast is honestly a Leonardo DiCaprio pointing at the TV in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood going “I know that guy!” extinction level event that also includes Robert Prosky (completing the action hero bingo card after starring as the projectionist in Last Action Hero with Schwarzenegger), Dina Meyer, Courtney B Vance, Christopher Fulford and Sean Patrick Flannery. Like I said, this film had so much going for it. Until it didn’t.
The film was finished initially in 1999 when Universal had some test screenings that were received poorly. Test screenings… you know, those things that had audiences giving notes like “More Busta Rhymes in Halloween Resurrection, please!”. Re-shoots were ordered and everything was downhill from there. The simplest of things turned into the hugest of obstacles. The film went from name change to name change (with some physical media copies still floating about that show the name D-TOX on the cover) and composer to composer. John Powell who’s composed everything from Face/Off to Shrek made two entire scores for the film with one of them being rejected entirely and most of the remaining score being replaced by multiple others.
Stallone himself said it best in 2006: “For some unknown reason the original producer pulled out and right away the film was considered damaged goods. By the time we ended filming there was trouble brewing on the set because of overages and creative concerns between the director and the studio. The studio let it sit on the shelf for many months and after over a year it was decided to do a re-shoot.”
At one point even Ron Howard of Apollo 13 and Cinderella Man was brought on to supervise some post production. One part of the film that needed a re-shoot was the ending itself, which Stallone called an “afterthought” and “had that actor brought back to do”. I’m guessing here but I can only deduce the extra shots involve the scene in which he literally un-impales the snarky bad guys body so that he can re-impale him face first complete with a Stallone-esque one liner. Which I felt necessary and awesome, personally. F*ck that guy.
As mentioned before however, while all this re-shooting and Ron Howard-ing was going on, three years had passed and so did Stallone’s disappointing returns on Get Carter and Driven. America was also post Columbine and 9/11 at this point when the sort of violence once enjoyed in movies like Eye See You was no longer something studios were very excited to risk. Eventually, Eye See You just had as Stallone put it, “a smell of death about it. Actually, if you looked up, you could see celluloid buzzards circling as we lay there dying on the distributor’s floor”. Jeez, Edgar Allan Stallone. Someone’s been listening to their Hawthorne Heights CD lately!
Eventually it was released solely overseas before being dropped unceremoniously in the US shamefully like that extra box of Christmas Tree Cakes you nabbed at the grocery. I don’t judge you. The film netted over $6.5 million in worldwide returns and only $79,000 domestically on a $55 MILLION dollar budget according to Box Office Mojo. Doesn’t sound like anybody saw a whole lot of anything. We’re lucky Warner Bros David Zaslav wasn’t in charge back then. Eye See You might have been used as a tax write off for I.R.S. These production companies wanted nothing to do with it. Which is insane because it’s actually a bit of a diamond in the rough. As one on the films few positive reviews would go on to say, “Amidst the unwashed masses of direct to DVD tripe, it’s a gem”. And I would totally agree. Maybe just because the term “unwashed masses” reminds me of Leonardo DiCaprio telling the hippies to get their “mechanical asshole” off of his lawn in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
When the film finally was able to BE seen whatsoever it wasn’t received with great praise from other critics. It currently sits on Rotten Tomatoes aggregate site with a 17% Rotten Critics Consensus and a 28% Rotten audience score. It’s worth being said that a lot of these reviewers appear to have recency bias during a time when critics were basking in the death of the action hero icon. Both Stallone and Schwarzenegger suffered this strange anger towards them as if they never belonged and folks finally had the nerve to say it out loud. Many of the reviews completely overlooked the film and instead used it as an excuse to beat up on Stallone when he was down, rooting for this to be his demise and saying things like “Surely this is it for Stallone” and “a further nail in Sylvester Stallone’s popularity coffin”.
Jokes on you guys! I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. Rocky Balboa, Rambo 4, The Expendables franchise, a thoughtful and critically appreciated acting performance in the Taylor Sheridan TV series Tulsa King and oh yeah, an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor in Creed. There were more misfires along the way, sure. But you know the line: “Life ain’t about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward”. I only wish Stallone could have moved forward into a few more horror movie roles. Because that would have been rad.
While Eye See You might not be an overwhelming widely accepted cult hit success story even today….when brought up around fans of 90s and 2000s thrillers, surprising slasher-esque films and especially fans of Stallone’s underrated dramatic acting abilities? You will absolutely find some die-hard fans of Eye See You happy to talk about how it got a bad rap. There is a lot to love about the film when you can look past some plot points, bad editing, and studio meandering. Eye See You can absolutely be enjoyed as an atmospheric isolation thriller, gritty serial killer story, whodunnit, Seven homage with an emotional performance by Stallone in his stand-alone horror film. And that’s WTF happened to Eye See You. Or The Outpost. Or D-Tox. Oh, f*ck it.
What’s your most recommended “unwashed masses” type direct to video horror or thriller film like Eye See You? And have you checked out the film yourself? Comment below and let us know! Thanks for watching!
A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!