Irvin Kershner, 1978
Starring: Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Rene Auberjonois, Raúl Juliá
A notorious fashion photographer, Laura Mars, has an art opening for her latest book, which features beautiful, lingerie-clad models in various death poses. During the night of her opening, one of Laura’s friends is killed and she has a strange vision where she witnesses the whole thing, seeing through the eyes of the killer. More of her friends are killed and Detective John Neville begins to keep a close watch on her, suspicious of her visions but also anxious that she will be the next victim. She and Neville develop a romantic relationship, while her life begins to unravel as the disturbing visions take over and she loses more of her friends to the murderer. Is the killer her alcoholic ex-husband, possessive business manager, or chauffeur with a criminal history?
Horror fans will be excited to learn that this was written by John Carpenter and is one of his earliest encounters with Hollywood. It was rewritten by David Zelag Goodman, who, according to Carpenter, changed a number of things, including the identity of the killer. Though The Eyes of Laura Mars did not perform well critically or in the box office, it is an interesting, late ‘70s horror/thriller with more of a connection to European horror of the period than the developing American slasher genre.
As with its Italian horror brethren, the visuals are one of the strongest and most interesting aspects of the film. Cinematography was provided by Victor J. Kemper (Audrey Rose, Dog Day Afternoon) and Laura’s giallo-inspired photography of scantily clad, dead models was shot by Helmut Newton. Though the film is concerned with high end fashion modeling, there is definitely the sense of sleazy ‘70s New York about the costumes and sets and this seems to have been a loose, early influence on De Palma’s Body Double. Though the violence isn’t over the top and the murder scenes are viewing through Laura’s visions, there are some interesting set pieces including models in front of cars on fire, lots of ocular violence, shots of mirrors, windows, cameras, and photographs. There’s also plenty of disco music, big hair, scantily clad models, and ‘70s excess. Director Irvin Kershner was given a start by Roger Corman, but went on to fame with The Empire Strikes Back.
Producer Jon Peters initially intended this to be a vehicle for his then girlfriend Barbara Streisand, but she turned down the role because of the violent script. She did agree to do the title song, which is suitably ridiculous. Instead, Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, Mommy Dearest) took over the role and it nearly ruined her career. Despite this, she gave a great performance as the tightly strung Laura Mars. I wish the script was a little more similar to Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, which presents the central female character as a potentially unstable, mentally unravelling protagonist. The cause of Laura’s visions are never explained, which is somewhat of a weak point in the script.
Dunaway is surrounded by an excellent cast of supporting characters including a young Tommy Lee Jones (Rolling Thunder), Raul Julia (The Addams Family) as Laura’s creepy ex-husband, Rene Auberjonois (MASH, McCabe and Mrs. Miller), a particularly wonderful Brad Dourif (Child’s Play, Lord of the Rings), and Darlanne Fluegel (To Live and Die in L.A.).
Eyes of Laura Mars is somewhat of an American giallo film and prefigures the brightly lit, urban focused Italian films of the ‘80s like Fulci’s New York Ripper and Argento’s Tenebre. Though the ending is somewhat predictable and takes a disappointing turn, there are excellent moments of suspense, a number of red herrings, and Laura’s confusing visions. Fans of thrillers and giallo films will definitely want to check this out. It isn’t the greatest ‘70s horror film, but it is well worth rediscovering. Eyes of Laura Mars is available on DVD and comes recommended.