Umberto Lenzi, 1975
Starring: Martine Brochard, John Richardson, Ines Pellegrini
A bus full of tourists vacationing in Spain are picked off one at a time by a sadistic killer hiding in their midst. This mysterious assailant gouges out the left eyeball of each victim and a Barcelona inspector, days away from retiring, is determined to find the culprit before it’s too late. The only clues he has to go on is that the killer wears a bright red raincoat and red gloves and focuses on the female members of the tour group. Anyone could be the killer, including a marketing agent and his secretary (she’s also secretly his mistress), a priest, a former soldier, a lesbian couple, and more.
While the Italian title translates to Red Cats in a Glass Labyrinth and it is also known as Wide-Eyed in the Dark, The Devil’s Eye, and The Secret Killer, the aptly re-named Eyeball is one of Lenzi’s goofiest, most absurd thrillers. It’s packed with red herrings and ridiculous characters and while I can’t say I didn’t see the ending coming from early in the film, it’s was silly enough to be surprisingly enjoyable. Be prepared for some truly ludicrous dialogue and characters who mindlessly continue enjoying their vacations while their friends and loved ones are dropping dead – an amusing spoof of the (primarily American) middle class tourists who won’t let anything get in the way of their good time, all the while complaining about local customs.
Eyeball is undeniably a flawed affair, but will appeal to anyone who enjoys the trashier side of Italian cinema. Lenzi included all the standard giallo elements – an unidentifiable killer wearing gloves and a raincoat, red herrings, unlikable characters that are all potentially guilty, female nudity, and violence – but such a sloppy way that he seems to be more concerned with having a good time than making a suspenseful film. Like Lenzi’s Knife of Ice, this is a Spanish co-production that takes advantage of some lovely locations in and around Barcelona, and unfortunately there are several scenes where the setting is more interesting than the proceedings.
Perhaps the film’s main flaw is that it lacks a solid protagonist, or, at the least, a familiar giallo lead. Instead, Martine Brochard (The Violent Professionals, A Man Called Blade) and John Richardson (Black Sunday, She) are wholly unlikable. Richardson’s Mark Burton is cheating on his mentally disturbed wife, who is herself a suspect when she fails to turn up at the mental asylum she was supposed to check in to (!) and sends Mark a telegram that she has arrived in Barcelona. Brochard’s Paulette perhaps could have been an interesting character with a more forgiving script; instead her sole function is to act as the stereotype of a jealous, demanding mistress.
When I really think about it, the repetitive deaths, unlikable characters, and undeniably silly elements reminds me more of ‘80s slasher films than ‘70s giallo. While this has the colorful elements of a giallo, much of it is set outdoors in bright daylight, providing a direct contrast to the work of candy-colored, but still dark, menacing work of Bava and Argento, and even to the similar, Gothic-themed and lushly-colored The Vampires’ Night Orgy (1974), where a different busload of tourists meets a sticky end in the Spanish countryside. The killer’s standout signature – a bright red raincoat and matching gloves – is also a departure from the stylish black and dark brown leather trench coats of the early giallo classics like Blood and Black Lace, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and Deep Red. I can’t help but wonder if it’s borrowed from the far more effective English-Italian coproduction, Don’t Look Now (1973), where a small, red raincoat-clad menace terrorizes a grieving couple in Venice.
Eyeball is not available on DVD in the US (yet), though a German disc exists under the title Labyrinth des Schreckens (Labyrinth of Terror). Lenzi completists, Eurotrash fans, and anyone who loves lower grade slasher films will probably get a kick out of this later-era giallo that has more in common with Lenzi’s Nightmare City than it does with Blood and Black Lace. Keep an ear out for a nice score from Bruno Nicolai – regular composer for Jess Franco, Sergio Martino, Sergio Corbucci, and even Tinto Brass – that rises above the proceedings.