Eyes Of A Stranger – Ken Weiderhorn – 1980

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The first time I saw Eyes of a Stranger, it was part of an all night slasher-fest that Quentin Tarantino was hosting in the early days of QT fest. The Alamo Drafthouse had but one location, on fourth and Colorado, and my at the time suite-mate at UT asked me if I’d like to go to a Quentin Tarantino film festival.

“But doesn’t he only have like, three films?”

“They’re not showing his films. He programs the festival from his collection.”

“He’s going to be there?”

“Yeah, and introduce all the films.”

So I went. I was eighteen, mind you. This night, there were other Austin luminaries in attendance, such as Robert Rodriguez, Mike Judge and Richard Linklater. I was pretty star-struck to see all these dudes together, but all that crap faded away when the films started playing. The first film was Black Christmas, a classic to be sure, but a film I had seen before. It was okay because the next 5 were all new to me and the very next one was Eyes Of A Stranger.

I was floored by this movie at the time, because I’d never seen a high rise horror film at the time, and this is one of the better ones, even though I’d say it benefits from the work done by both the previously re-viewed Someone’s Watching Me!, and the grimy classic Don’t Answer The Phone, not to mention the debts all these films owe to Rear Window. In any case, I like these films, and this was the first of them I saw. What this film really has different than those others is a blind, deaf, and beautifully vulnerable Jennifer Jason Leigh, who really must be the best actress out there for me. Her performance here is dynamite and she’s just a kid.

Lauren Tewes plays Jane Harris a local television lady who discovers that her neighbor is the rapist/murderer terrorizing the city. Jane cares for her young sister, (JJL), who is deaf and blind from some childhood trauma. Tewes plays Jane pretty plain, but like I said above Jennifer Jason Leigh makes the sister simultaneously capable and pitiable. Since Jane is taking care of this creature, we like her.

Clive Barker once said that your story is only as good as the villain, and in this tale, I have to say, this is the only real weak spot. Even though the killer is in Jane’s apartment at the end, she really seems one step ahead of him the whole film. I get that this is female empowerment, but we really don’t feel his full on creep factor until he’s fucking with a blind girl. And really, as far as characterization of the villain, we get nothing. He’s just kind of an old, fat guy.

But, man, the staging and suspense of the final ten minutes with JJL and the killer is great stuff! I mean, they stole the conceit from Wait Until Dark, but it works, and the ending is quite bloody and satisfying. Ken Weiderhorn’s Eyes Of A Stranger is a compelling genre exercise and front-runner for more femme-centric thrillers. Years lather Joe Ezsterhaus would make millions doing these same types of films.

I recommend this film to people who like sleazy movies about Miami or Jennifer Jason Leigh. 

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