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White of the Eye
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by Jack Sommersby

"Sometimes-Arresting 'Eye'"
4 stars

The studio had no idea how to market this oddity, so they pretty much dumped it in only a handful of theaters. Kinda a shame.

Donald Cammell's Arizona-set serial-killer tale White of the Eye is a tough picture to call because the first two-thirds are quite commendable only for the last third to go so far off the deep end it were as if the projectionist had switched up the reels. The movie is unlike anything you've seen involving a serial killer; in fact, it's unlike anything you've seen, period. The British Cammell has made only two previous features, 1977's muderous-computer horror classic Demon Seed that I thought was that year's best, and before that the interesting 1970 crime drama Performance starting Mick Jagger. Suffice to say Cammell is diametric of your common Hollywood hack cranking something out every year or two; the material he chooses he makes absolutely his own in every conceivable way - there's no chance whatsoever you'd mistake his works with some other director's. Demon Seed was an adaptation of best-selling Dean R. Koontz' novel, and White of the Eye is one from a novel co-written by Andrew Klavan, one of our most eccentric of American popular fiction (he loves taking familiar story premises and infusing them with deep-seated eccentric ingredients). White of the Eye takes place in the small Tucson suburb of Globe, with that fantastic actor David Keith playing Paul White, a sound expert who makes and installs expensive hi-fi stereos in the posh homes of its rich residents; he revels in his work, and is the loving husband of Joan (Cathy Moriarty, another fantastic thespian) and father to an adorable ten-year-old daughter. Paul positively exudes confidence and a love for life - unable to contain himself he's always singing along to songs in his head. He's well respected in the community and is so enigmatic you feel he could run for mayor and win in a landslide. It's nice to see the beefy and charismatic Keith, usually a character actor, in a lead role again after his first lead assignment in the fine The Lords of Discipline five years prior; seemingly incapable of a single false note, he's mesmerizing here as Paul, such the exuberant and carefree individual that Keith cannily suggests maybe there's a crack somewhere, that someone can't be this ingratiating without something of an ulterior motive behind it, to cover for something possibly troublesome. Or is Paul simply this happy-go-lucky? The skillful Keith keeps us guessing whether Paul is constantly walking a mental tightrope of sorts. And equally interesting is the blonde, husky-voiced beauty Moriarty, who I thought was the best thing in Martin Scorsese's overpraised Raging Bull; she more than held her own opposite Robert De Niro, and a year later she did the same opposite John Belushi in the underrated black comedy Neighbors. She and Keith match up marvelously, with Joan and Paul coming off as completely believable spouses, which enriches the movie for their central relationship is absolutely crucial to the proceedings, otherwise there wouldn't be the dramatic gravitas supplying it a crucial core. Their docile existence is shattered, though, when the third wealthy housewife in the area has been viciously slain in her home, with police forensics turning up a tell-tale clue of a distinct tire tread that Paul's work van just happens to possess, and which just happened to leave the impression next door to the home of the victim whose neighbor Paul was doing a job for (only forty-two vehicles in the state have these tires); this results in the lead detective Mendoza (the superb black actor Art Evans) to begin questioning Paul and requesting alibis on the day of the murders. And we should be alarmed, for the murderer is merciless to say the very least - the way Cammell has masterfully staged the slaying, and that wunderkind Terry Rawlings (Alien) has edited it, with maybe fifty shots, some slow-motion and some regular, it's the kind of horrifying thing that can long haunt one's dreams, with not even the woman's goldfish being spared (its been put in meat juice in the kitchen that spills and is subsequently suffocated). And when it's revealed Paul has been carrying on with another well-off client (the vivacious Alberta Watson) we see this initially-idyllic man might not be all he portends.

There's no doubt Donald Cammell is insanely talented, with a complexly developed visual sense that's all his own. He loves atmospherics, giving us hypnotic helicopter-shot long takes of this desert community that are thrilling to behold. The town of Globe and its sense of dailiness are vivid, and we never for a second feel any part of the movie was shot on a sound stage - there's an authenticity to it all that helps the movie cast a spell of its depiction of a dastardly fiend piercing its serenity with unspeakable evil. Everyone wants it to be an outsider from, say, Phoenix, but Mendoza hasn't any illusions that amorality can both puncture and punctuate anywhere; at the same time, he doesn't uncouthly hound Paul in that he's cerebral yet fair-minded. It's he who deduces there's a Native American astrology to the crimes based on what the killer leaves behind as his "signature" with the post-mortem arrangement of crucial household items; not coincidentally, Paul is of Native American heritage he's proud of. In a subplot that at first seems superfluous but eventually coalesces into something relevant, we get flashbacks of Joan's previous lover Mike (an affecting Alan Rosenberg) who drove them through Arizona on the way to Malibu, California before stopping in Globe to get his car stereo fixed; these scenes have been lighted in a different hue, something diffusing, and it all comes full circle in a literally explosive conclusion. Like another visual British maestro Nicholas Roeg, Cammell has some trouble with narrative: he's so committed to "seeing" his movie he's negligent when it comes to streamlining it, so the pacing winds up lagging and you get some episodic bits that temporarily stall things out. There's a crucial "through-line" missing, so White of the Eye isn't nearly as seamless as you wish it to be - it's undeniably clunky at times when it needs assuredness the most, and this is its greatest flaw. And when the ultimate culprit is revealed and sticks of dynamite are taped to his torso and red-blood paint smeared on the bottom of his face with both homicidal and suicidal intentions that are right out of the Grand Guignol, you're either on or off the bus, and this is the movie's litmus test, and there's no going back. The movie is as infuriating as it is fascinating, and for the life of me I've no idea how to call it. But I can guarantee with White of the Eye you've never seen anything like it in your life, and on this basis I can slightly recommend it. It's just too damned screwed-up original to priggishly ignore in a subgenre that can oftentimes be far from original; in essence, it's akin to trying to eschew the fundamental interest in witnessing a train wreck happening right before you in Dolby-equipped Technicolor. There's a morbid curiosity to the whole thing that, in a refreshing way, brushes aside any semblances of basic common sense - in its own unapologetic way it's a bona-fide "out there" entertainment that takes absolutely no prisoners and double-dares you to free yourself of its mesmerizing grasp.

The Shout Factory Blu-Ray is highly recommended for die-hard fans.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=33770&reviewer=327
originally posted: 09/19/20 19:19:17
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  20-May-1988 (R)



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