Skip to main content

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars
(1978)

(SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman (Straw Dogs, Logan’s Run) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

Streisand dropped out because the subject matter wasn’t her thing (too “kinky” as Peters later put it). She was replaced by Faye Dunaway, who’d appeared in a number of hits during the previous decade yet had proved a firmly resistible box office draw in her own right; The Eyes of Laura Mars duly performed respectably, but it wasn’t the hit it ought to have been. Certainly given the amount Peters spent on it (not least in publicity). The aftereffect of Streisand’s involvement was a song for the soundtrack, a soundtrack that goes to lengths as notable as the location shoot to establish a sense of time and place, awash as it is with synth disco – most notably Let’s All Chant, but not the Pat and Mick version, alas – mainly during Laura’s photoshoots.

Photoshoots that have made Laura Mars famous for her Helmut Newton-tinged marriage of sex and violence. It emerges that her disturbed style has been formed through flashes of images she’s been privy to over the past couple of years. Now, though, she is experiencing full-blown visions of acts of murder. Acts perpetrated on those she knows. Director Irvin Kershner duly presents a roster of possible perpetrators, including her flamboyant friend Donald (René Auberjonois rocking a Barry Manilow look), her driver Tommy (Brad Dourif in his third film role, and since he’s already been typecast as unhinged, clearly earmarked as Suspect Number One) and her ex-husband Michael (Raul Julia).

Investigating the case is Tommy Lee Jones’ police lieutenant John Neville. For various reasons, he’s the least likely person to have committed these crimes, so when it turns out to have been him all along, it rather undercuts Kersh’s stated desire to inject realism into the proceedings (“the original script was a trick, and I didn’t want that trick. I wanted it to be a result of psychological truth”). The Wiki summary suggests Neville’s behaviour is down to multiple personalities (reasonable to the extent that he has only just empathically spent time berating Frank Adonis’ Sal for gunning down Tommy with “He didn’t even know what he’s doing, Sal. He’s sick, Sal. He’s sick!”) If so, then it’s another risible Hollywood take on multiple personalities (MKUltra only occasionally gets a look in from Tinseltown, but that’s probably a good thing if insights are coming via Max Landis). Carpenter, it seems, had an idea very much in line with Michael Myers’ unmotivated massacres, in the form of a killer unknown to the audience.

If the picture never rises above the structural stir and repeat of Laura getting a vision, vision getting killed, Laura getting another vision, whittling down suspects and offering an occasional red herring as she gets it on with the copper, it is nevertheless diverting due to its more than solid cast. Julia’s unable to do much with a few scenes as Laura’s alcoholic ex, but Dourif’s a typically nervy livewire while Auberjonois relishes all the best lines (“Hey, I do a terrific Lloyd Bridges” he tells a cop at one point, before proving it).

Kershner can thank the movie for getting him The Empire Strikes Back gig – purportedly, an early rough-cut impressed George Lucas – but there’s little here (or indeed, in his work either side of that classic) to suggest the finesse and detail of his Star Wars foray. There are some fine compositions, yes, but little real sense of creative vision outside of Laura’s photography. Indeed, the Laura-eyed view, all gauzy POV, is particularly uninspired. And as Carpenter pointed out in his critique, the director’s decisions, far from supporting them, rather went against notions of realism (“In my version Laura Mars was a crime photographer. Also, I think Irvin Kershner failed at making the visual style of the visions compelling. Finally, if you could see through someone else’s eyes you would be essentially blind to your own surroundings. You’d experience vertigo, lose your balance, etc.”)

By changing Laura to a fashion photographer, Kershner seems to be striving for a slice of lofty commentary about on what that world does to women. Except that there’s little sense of such thematic content in the final film, aside from Laura’s statement on her art (“I’ve seen all kinds of murder. Physical yes, but moral, spiritual and emotional. I can’t stop it, but I can show it”). And, of course, Kershner’s professed envisaging would make Laura herself a perpetrator. Production values aside, the only element that really sets the picture apart from serial killer outings to follow is how scrupulously Kersh avoids lashings of the red stuff. But if he isn’t attempting to titillate by slasher standards, The Eyes of Laura Mars’ leery structure more than does that job for him.


Popular posts from this blog

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

I don’t think Wimpys still exist.

Last Night in Soho (2021) (SPOILERS) Last Night in Soho is a cautionary lesson in one’s reach extending one’s grasp. It isn’t that Edgar Wright shouldn’t attempt to stretch himself, it’s simply that he needs the self-awareness to realise which moves are going to throw his back out and leave him in a floundering and enfeebled heap on the studio floor. Wright’s an uber-geek, one with a very specific comfort zone, and there’s no shame in that. He evidently was shamed, though, hence this response to criticisms of a lack of maturity and – obviously – lack of versatility with female characters. Last Night in Soho goes broke for woke, and in so doing exposes his new clothes in the least flattering light. Because Edgar is in no way woke, his attempts to prove his progressive mettle lead to a lurid, muddled mess, one that will satisfy no one. Well, perhaps his most ardent fans, but no one else.

It looks like a digital walkout.

Free Guy (2021) (SPOILERS) Ostensibly a twenty-first century refresh of The Truman Show , in which an oblivious innocent realises his life is a lie, and that he is simply a puppet engineered for the entertainment of his creators/controllers/the masses, Free Guy lends itself to similar readings regarding the metaphysical underpinnings of our reality, of who sets the paradigm and how conscious we are of its limitations. But there’s an additional layer in there too, a more insidious one than using a Hollywood movie to “tell us how it really is”.

It becomes easier each time… until it kills you.

The X-Files 4.9: Terma Oh dear. After an engaging opener, the second part of this story drops through the floor, and even the usually spirited Rob Bowman can’t save the lethargic mess Carter and Spotnitz make of some actually pretty promising plot threads.

He's not a nightstalker, and it'll take a lot more than bench presses to defeat him.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) (SPOILERS) The most successful entry in the franchise, if you don’t count Freddy vs. Jason . And the point at which Freddy went full-on vaudeville, transformed into adored ringmaster rather than feared boogeyman. Not that he was ever very terrifying in the first place (the common misapprehension is that later instalments spoiled the character, but frankly, allowing Robert Englund to milk the laughs in bad-taste fashion is the saving grace of otherwise forgettably formulaic sequel construction). A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master boasts the most inventive, proficient effects work yet, but it’s also by far the least daring in terms of plotting, scraping together a means for Freddy to persist in his nocturnal pestilence while offering nothing in the way of the unexpected, be it characterisations or story points.

Give daddy the glove back, princess.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) (SPOILERS) Looking at Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare , by some distance the least lauded (and laudable) of the original Elm Street sextet, you’d think it inconceivable that novice director and series old-hand – first as assistant production manager and finally as producer – Rachel Talalay has since become a respected and in-demand TV helmer. For the most part, Freddy’s Dead is shockingly badly put together. It reminded me of the approach the likes of Chris Carter and Sir Ken take, where someone has clearly been around productions, absorbing the basics of direction, but has zero acumen for turning that into a competent motion picture, be it composition, scene construction, editing or pacing. Talalay’s also responsible for the story idea here, which does offer a few nuggets, at least, but her more primary role actively defeats any positives.

Monster nom nom?

The Suicide Squad (2021) (SPOILERS) This is what you get from James Gunn when he hasn’t been fed through the Disney rainbow filter. Pure, unadulterated charmlessness, as if he’s been raiding his deleted Twitter account for inspiration. The Suicide Squad has none of the “heart” of Guardians of Galaxy , barely a trace of structure, and revels in the kind of gross out previously found in Slither ; granted an R rating, Gunn revels in this freedom with juvenile glee, but such carte blanche only occasionally pays off, and more commonly leads to a kind of playground repetition. He gets to taunt everyone, and then kill them. Critics applauded; general audiences resisted. They were right to.

Give poor, starving Gurgi munchings and crunchings.

The Black Cauldron (1985) (SPOILERS) Dark Disney? I guess… Kind of . I don’t think I ever got round to seeing this previously. The Fox and the Hound , sure. Basil the Great Mouse Detective , most certainly. Even Oliver and Company , so I wasn’t that selective. But I must have missed The Black Cauldron , the one that nearly broke Disney, for the same reason everyone else did. But what reason was that? Perhaps nothing leaping out about it, when the same summer kids could see The Goonies , or Back to the Future , or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure . It seemed like a soup of other, better-executed ideas and past Disney movies, stirred up in a cauldron and slopped out into an environment where audiences now wanted something a touch more sophisticated.

Oh hello, loves, what year is it?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) (SPOILERS) Simu Lui must surely be the least charismatic lead in a major motion picture since… er, Taylor Lautner? He isn’t aggressively bad, like Lautner was/is, but he’s so blank, so nondescript, he makes Marvel’s super-spiffy new superhero Shang-Chi a superplank by osmosis. Just looking at him makes me sleepy, so it’s lucky Akwafina is wired enough for the both of them. At least, until she gets saddled with standard sidekick support heroics and any discernible personality promptly dissolves. And so, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continues Kevin Feige’s bold journey into wokesense, seemingly at the expense of any interest in dramatically engaging the viewer.

The voice from the outer world who will lead them to paradise.

Dune (2021) (SPOILERS) For someone who has increasingly dug himself a science-fiction groove, Denis Villeneuve isn’t terribly imaginative. Dune looks perfect, in the manner of the cool, clinical, calculating and above all glacial rendering of concept design and novel cover art in the most doggedly literal fashion. And that’s the problem. David Lynch’s edition may have had its problems, but it was inimitably the product of a mind brimming with sensibility. Villeneuve’s version announces itself as so determinedly faithful to Frank Herbert, it needs two movies to tell one book, and yet all it really has to show for itself are gargantuan vistas.