I’m not sure whether 1981 counts as a vintage year for horror cinema, but it was certainly a prolific one.

In fact, the likes of fellow ‘From The Vault’ entries Graduation Day, Nightmare In A Damaged Brain and Halloween 2 all came from that particular year, with varying degrees of quality.

And in truth Eyes Of A Stranger sits somewhere in the middle ground, with some scenes of genuine tension allied with wild implausibilities and a troubling streak of misogynism.

Directed by Ken Wiederhorn, the flick is a twist on the usual slasher format in that the viewer knows who the killer is pretty much straight from the off.

A serial killer/rapist is terrorising the streets and women of Miami – and that killer is revealed to be the creepy Stanley Herbert, played with relish by John DiSanti.

Chunky, bespectacled and an avowed loner, Herbert is an impressive creation, and a definite upgrade from the faceless killers that so often populate films of this genre.

Wading into this crime spree is TV journalist Jane Harris (Lauren Tewes), who somehow deduces that Herbert is the killer and sets about proving it, as naturally no one believes her.

Conveniently enough the killer lives in the same apartment block as Harris – directly opposite her in fact.

Now this all may seem well and good, but snooping around after Harris only succeeds in putting her flatmate in danger – her blind younger sister Tracy, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh in her big-screen debut.

It all builds to a decent climax, with plenty of blood shed along the way.

Tom Savini came up with the effects for this one, and, despite a chunk of his work being snipped by the censors, there is still plenty for gorehounds to soak up.

There are throat slashings and stabbings and even a decapitation with a head ending up in a fishtank.

There is though, also, a constant stream of female nudity, whether it be the clothes being ripped off victims or scenes set in seedy strip joints.

Yes, I know the perpetrator is a sex killer, but is there really any need for the camera to lovingly linger on Herbert tearing off a woman’s top before stabbing her?

Perhaps it is just me getting old, but I found it all a bit tiresome.

To balance that, director Wiederhorn deserves credit for staging a handful of very impressive set-pieces, with a scene with Herbert toying with the blind Tracy a standout.

There is also a well-worked scenario at the film’s climax, with Jane breaking into the killer’s apartment at the same time he is breaking into hers – with them able to see each other through the windows.

DiSanti also proves another highlight, with a memorable performance as the sweaty, sleazy killer – which also includes a batch of creepy phone calls to his potential victims that really hit the spot.

Eyes Of A Stranger failed to make much of a mark at the box office back in the day, and remains low on the slasher checklists.

But compared to some of the more turgid efforts that flooded the markets in the early 80s, this one is definitely worth a watch.

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.