Sunday 4 August 2013

Eyeball (Umberto Lenzi, 1975) Review

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Umberto Lenzi is best known for such violence-spewing film fare as Nightmare City and Cannibal Ferox, but as a director who dipped his toe into numerous pools, some of his other work has faded into the background. Lenzi's optic-bothering giallo Eyeball is one such obscure effort.

“The flowers of death? I'm far from ready.” A bus-load of American tourists are in Barcelona to see the sights but, for some, the glint of a raised dagger will be the last image to flash across their moist little peepers. The holidaying ensemble are a motley bunch – the unhappily married Alvarados, a grandfather with his bored granddaughter Jenny, shifty-looking Reverend Bronson (George Rigaud, The Case of the Bloody Iris), letchy photographer Lisa and her lesbian muse Naiba, all leaving secretary Paulette (Martine Brochard) looking positively dull by comparison.

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“All of you are involved in these crimes … and the killer could just be one of you.” On the surface they're all as plain as one another – self-involved and distracted middle class Americans – until Lenzi scratches at their surfaces. Paulette is having an affair with her secretive boss Mark (John Richardson), whose unstable and youth-hating wife Alma (Marta May) has gone AWOL en-route to a psychiatric hospital. Soon, as a red-gloved killer with a thing for left eyes starts slicing and dicing their way through the tour group, one-and-all will fall under the suspicion of retiring Inspector Tudela (Andrés Mejuto, learned it on the street) and in-coming Inspector Lara (José María Blanco, learned it in a book).

“Sure, what occurred was horrible, but what's it got to do with us?” Incredibly though, as blue-eyed beauties are dispatched to the morgue, the tour group unashamedly continues on their holiday – at one point skipping off to their next location immediately after attending a funeral! Whether such absurdity is, or is not, the intention of Felix Tusell's exposition-heavy screenplay is debatable, but even with this rabble of egocentric holidaymakers, the film quickly takes a dive into ridiculous plotting. Gialli are, by their very nature, forever twisting tales, but Lenzi and Tusell merrily skip across the line of believability. Indeed, at the half-way mark you're almost convinced that they've blown the entire mystery with one-too-many misdirections, thus sapping the intrigue for a good twenty minutes before heading into the climax.

“Even the craziest of killers follow a certain logic.” Lenzi is well known for his brash approach to filmmaking, but here he seems more interested in viewing Barcelona's sights than in winding up the tension or stoking the drama (see the fast-paced opening minutes of Oasis of Fear). While Inspectors Tudela and Lara are on the case, their investigation feels lethargic at best, however when you consider how the police were often represented in the giallo genre, they're not doing too bad a job. In The Bloodstained Shadow (Antonio Bido, 1978) the coppers do practically nothing, while in The Case of the Bloody Iris (Giuliano Carnimeo, 1971) they're actively inept, and in Torso (Sergio Martino, 1973) they’re out-right mocked by the youth of the day.

“Red. All in red.” Visually speaking, Eyeball doesn't measure up to the dizzying heights of Sergio Martino's superb forays into gialli, but there are scattered flourishes to Antonio Millan's cinematography and Amedeo Moriani's editing – such as the killing in the funhouse – that provide enough spice between the soft-edged intervals to make the journey worth continuing to the conclusion. Sparks fly on occasion in fits and starts, but for the most part this is a fairly gore-lite outing … on the other hand there's always just enough reason for another glimpse at some bared boobs.

“It's a personal tragedy to realise I'm not in the least immortal.” With characters that hold promise, but who often fail to live up to it, Eyeball could have used some arresting performances to paper over the cracks in the mixed bag screenplay. Unfortunately, such giallo heavyweights as Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Anita Strindberg, or Ivan Rassimov are nowhere to be seen – and so, with Lenzi's uncharacteristic half-speed direction of an uneven plot, the ensemble cast just can't quite ride it out until the end. Most of the cast get brief moments to shine, particularly Mirta Miller (photographer Lisa) and George Rigaud (Reverend Bronson), but there's just not enough meat on these bones to provide viewers with a fully satisfying meal.

“And on the ground next to her was a human eye.” While not a total bust by any means, this Lenzi outing nonetheless lacks that special sense of beauty-in-the-brutality that defines the best giallo films – and yet it is not without worth. Followers of either Lenzi or gialli will want to view Eyeball as a curiosity, but an apparent lack of inspiration to the production sets it below the high points of the genre in all regards. There are effective moments throughout, and Tusell does manage to regain a sense of mystery in the final act, however when it comes down it, this is unfortunately only an average giallo.

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