Director – Ken Wiederhorn
Cast – Lauren Tewes, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John DiSanti, Peter DuPre, Gwen Lewis, Kitty Lunn, Timothy Hawkins, Ted Richert, Toni Crabtree, Robert Small
Release Year – 1981
Reviewed by John of the Dead
As if the year 1981 could not be any more awesome for the slasher sub-genre after Friday the 13th Part 2, The Prowler, and My Bloody Valentine, the lesser known effort Eyes of a Stranger only adds to the awesomeness. With a story coming reminiscent of Visiting Hours mixed with Someone’s Watching Me!, we get an awesome slasher tale that thanks to great direction also deliver some good horror, and one of the creepier killers I have seen.
When a string of savage murders occur around town, strong-willed reporter Jane Harris uses her publicity to aid the community in preventing the killer from striking again. The murders only become more vicious in nature thanks to her antics, and the horror is upped when she begins to suspect that one of her neighbors, Stanley Herbert, is the killer, leading her to take part in a dangerous cat and mouse game with only walls separating them.
Eyes of a Stranger surprised me. I expected at least a decent effort given its lesser status in regards to slasher flicks, but my expectations were exceeded thanks to the awesome horror written into the film. I loved the idea of the story constantly developing, with the first half of the film centering around the killer and Jane Harris’ frustration over the lack of police and community success in stopping his brutality, and the latter half of the film upping the ante when she becomes convinced that he is living next door to her. To make matters even more intense, Jane’s daughter, Tracy Harris(Jennifer Jason Leigh in her film debut) is both deaf and mute due to a vicious attack she suffered at the hands of a child molester. This causes Jane to feel more pain and remorse for the victims, and more hatred for the killer. As far as character development goes, Jane was well-written for a slasher film, although as with most slasher flicks I root for the killer and not the ballsy protagonist, heh. As far as the killer goes, the true star of the film, I enjoyed how he was used and especially the dialogue written for him. He was brash, unapologetic, and downright terrifying at times, which partly goes credited to direction execution, but also for writers Eric L. Bloom and Ron Kurz for setting things up. As far as kills go I enjoyed them all, and although none of them were all that creative they came at just the right times to keep the pacing good, and that matters a lot in my book. My only real complaint as far as story goes is that it lost steam during the final act and part of the latter half. The first half was downright creepy and awesome, and while the second half held its own it was not as satisfying as I wanted it to be. This by no means lessened the film in quality, it just kept it at a 7-rating instead of the most-likely 8 or above rating that it could have been.
Director Ken Wiederhorn (Return of the Living Dead Part II, Shock Waves) did a positive job executing the film, and I was glad to see that he threw in several shout-outs to his lesser-known debut effort Shock Waves as well. From the get-go he delivers great atmosphere and positive sets that help solidify the horror brought to us by the film’s superb killer. His execution of Stanley was awesome, and in each and every way possible. Stanley’s phone calls to his soon-to-be-victims were incredibly creepy, part of the excellent performance from John Disanti. Some have referred to him as an older McLovin from Superbad, and I can honestly see the resemblance, and it was great having a killer who looks nothing like a killer, just a quiet and honest middle-aged man. The kills were great and very well executed, and Widerhorn threw in some awesome sloppy gore sure to please us gorehounds as well. We get good performances from all involved, even Jason Leigh as the mute and deaf Tracy Harris, all just icing on the cake for this underrated slasher film from a director who failed to receive the recognition he deserved.
Overall, Eyes of a Stranger is another positive 80s slasher flick that delivers good horror and a positive story sure to keep you engaged throughout. Wiederhorn’s direction is fantastic, and he expertly executes the horror to deliver us a creepy killer and awesome kill sequences in this underrated flick that I recommend you check out.