The Video Nasties #131 – Terror Eyes (1981, Kenneth Hughes)

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‘Our friend really has a taste for the bizarre –

the old head in a fish tank routine.’

Terror Eyes, a title that is hopelessly irrelevant to the movie, is brought to you by the director of beloved children’s classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and that is sadly the most interesting thing I have to say about it. A stupefyingly generic slasher movie, Terror Eyes plods along towards its predictable conclusion without ever raising a pulse, and all the pretty cinematography in the world (from frequent Cronenberg collaborator Mark Irwin) can’t save it.

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A maniac in motorcycle gear is chopping off pretty co-eds’ heads across Boston, and only Judd Austin and his intensely irritating sidekick Taj can put a stop to it. Taj is, I think, meant to be a sort of comic relief character. He delivers every one of his lines in a smug way that suggests it’s meant to be funny, but without the benefit of actual jokes they fall flat.

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His coup de grace is dressing up as the killer and pretending to attack Austin in the final shot of the film. Taj pulls the helmet off to reveal his grinning visage and as the two burst into hysterical laughter at the hilarity of it all, Taj says, ‘So who’d you expect, the headhunter?’ In a perfect world, Austin would’ve pulled out his gun and blown Taj away, but in a perfect world Terror Eyes wouldn’t exist. I guess we’ll just have to make do.

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With its murder mystery element and black-clad killer, Terror Eyes sometimes feels like an American version of the old Italian giallo mysteries, particularly Andrea Bianchi’s unabashed exploitation romp Strip Nude For Your Killer, which features an identically dressed killer. Whereas that film positively oozed the basic tenets of the gialli, namely style, sleaze, savagery and sexuality, here we have to make do with a bickering couple and a boring investigation. And really, for a mystery to work, we kinda need more than two suspects, only one of whom has an obvious motive. Seriously, if you can’t guess the killer within the first 10 minutes, then you’re doing it all wrong.

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The nail in the coffin is the presence of British actress Rachel Ward, who delivers her lines like a robot trying to understand human emotions. She is in the film’s silliest scene though, in which her professor boyfriend draws symbols on her naked body with red paint, while she coos orgasmically at the eroticism of it all. I suppose I shouldn’t knock it ’til I’ve tried it, but I ain’t trying it anytime soon.

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There are a couple of moments I enjoyed, like when a severed head is thrown into an aquarium and hits a poor turtle on the noggin, and a couple of kills towards the end have a bit more go in them, especially the slow motion murder of a waitress. But at the end of the day, it’s not enough. This is the kind of film that makes me yearn for the idiosyncratic films of the 70s, like Axe or even Island Of Death, films that were resolutely unpredictable and wilfully obtuse. What we have here is a film that with minimal cuts could play on afternoon tv straight after Murder, She Wrote.

And while you’re at it guys, why not just cut Taj out too?

Seriously.

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