The F*ckin Black Sheep: Eyes of a Stranger (1981)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

Eyes of a Stranger (1981)
Directed by Ken Wiederhorn

“An effectively creepy thriller, slowly paced and simple, but completely unsettling.”

There’s been a lot of fantastic slasher movie titles over the decades: TERROR TRAIN, SLEEPAWAY CAMP, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, and MY BLOODY VALENTINE just to name a few. EYES OF A STRANGER doesn’t exactly stand up when comes to great, creative horror titles. If fact, it sounds more like a Lifetime special rather than something from the writer of the FRIDAY THE 13th franchise.

However, that title does make a little more sense considering it was written and developed as a straight up thriller, but part way through the production decided to gore it up and attach the film to the recent slasher craze of the early 80s. The result? Well, more on that below.

In case you missed this one, EYES OF A STRANGER revolves around a nosy TV reporter Jane Harris (Lauren Tewes) as she becomes obsessed with finding the brutal killer of women in Miami. At home, she lovingly cares for her deaf/mute sister Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), but the closer she gets to the truth of the killer, the closer she realizes the danger has come to her. Why? Because killer Stanley Herbert (John DiSanti) lives in the high rise directly across from her (and from here it’s really not hard to figure out where the plot goes).

Directed by Ken Wiederhorn and written by Eric L. Bloom and Ron Kurz (who made Jason Voorhees into the killer he became), EYES OF A STRANGER plays exactly as if the production decided to change tones part way through. Where the film works best comes when it combines the slasher genre with Hitchcock’s classic REAR WINDOW. 

Ok, we don’t get James Stewart with a busted leg in a wheelchair, but we do get a very young Jennifer Jason Leigh as a blind/deaf/mute. (Quick side note: It’s pretty strange that Leigh was a year OLDER than Tewes…even though she looks about 14…which ends up being realllly awkward when she ends up nude).

Instead of Grace Kelly as the woman venturing into the supposed killer’s apartment, we get the very cute Lauren Tewes (good as the determined reporter who can’t leave a story alone) digging into the supposed killer’s apartment directly across from her own. Hell, the filmmakers even hired a Raymond Burr look-a-like, even down to the glasses, in DiSanti.

So what’s the end result? While the obviously low budget EYES OF A STRANGER doesn’t offer anything new to the genre, the slasher elements don’t fit. Thankfully, however, after filmmakers decided to make it into a bloody slasher affair they brought in gore master Tom Savini. His best moment occurs at the start when a hot blonde’s boyfriend gets his head lobbed off, ending up as a fish tank ornament.

I’m never one to turn down some Savini special effects, but somehow within the framework of EYES OF A STRANGER, that gore ends up feeling forced and unnecessary. Regardless, it doesn’t completely distract. The flick plays as an effectively creepy thriller, slowly paced and simple, but completely unsettling.


Extra Tidbit: Are you a fan of EYES OF A STRANGER?



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