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A bunch of good old actors and nice backgrounds were not enough to make it into something greater...
With a cast of recognisable faces from a nostalgic era, Eye of the Devil sounded like an engaging horror film from a more classical time.
Originally, I had envisioned Eye of the Devil to be a horror film along the lines of a Vincent Price movie such as House on Haunted Hill (1959). Unfortunately I was too optimistic in that hope because none of the actors in Eye of the Devil were able to convey any kind of feeling along the lines of that man's talents. In a Vincent Price movie, the man is always an engaging presence whether he is a hero or a villain in the story. With Eye of the Devil, neither the main hero or villains at all that interesting. The story centres predominantly around a woman trying to uncover the mystery behind a murderous occult preying upon her husband's vineyard estate. The only thing interesting about all of this is that the vineyard is pretty to look at due to some strong scenery and production design. When it comes to the actual story, there is no reason to be engaged.
No backstory is given to the characters in Eye of the Devil so there is no reason to be all that concerned for any of them. We don't even see much interaction between them or gain an understanding of the structure surrounding the family at the heart of the narrative. So when there is a sudden shift in the attitudes of the characters later on, we have not actually seen them behave any differently in the first place and so their odd behaviour is presented very much as the norm. While there is a sense that the occult themes may have influenced British director Robin Hardy's cult horror classic The Wicker Man (1973) in the manner that the element of sacrifice for restoration of former glory is touched upon, J. Lee Thompson finds no way to make his story engaging in its pursuit of this plot point. The motives of the villains in the story are very plain and the attempt to keep them elusive means we are given no understanding towards their identities, removing any sense of actual threat. The melodramatically theatrical nature of the direction doesn't help to build any thrills in the film either, so the film doesn't really channel as an insightful or frightening piece. Eye of the Demon is therefore inert as both a dramatic film and a feature of the horror genre, and the classical sense of nostalgia that comes with its black-and-white Hammer Horror feeling isn't enough to carry it all the way to the end.
Perhaps it is one of the earliest films to deal with horrors of an occult which explains its existing cult following as well as the presence of numerous actors who maintain big names in cult cinema history, but that establishes the appeal of Eye of the Devil as being far too niche to really reach out to a significance audience. Audiences that aren't sucked into this while find that the few things that actually happen over the course of the story prove that the narrative has to be stretched to feature length. And as a result the pace just ends up being way too slow, particularly when compared to the ratio of the drama in the film. Attempting to keep the mystery of the film alive establishes that the drama has to be restrained and subtle in a manner that keeps audiences guessing. But it also severely limits the type of impact the material can make. Since the slow pace prevents the dramatic mood from really developing anywhere, there is nothing particularly striking about the film or eerie about the wait in between the climactic moments. As a result the entire film comes with a very blank and monochromatic feeling, illuminated rarely by the imagery. The musical score to the film is decent and occasionally sparks upon the atmospheric ambitions of the feature. But these ambitions exceed the grasp of J. Lee Thompson.
And even with a talented collection of cast members, Eye of the Devil fails to illuminate its lacklustre story.
Of all the cast members in the film, the story in Eye of the Devil focuses around a character played by Deborah Kerr. Despite being a six-time Academy Award nominee, Deborah Kerr is so ridiculously hammy that the film plays out more like a soap opera than a genuine piece of horror cinema. Much of it comes down to the odd sense of direction in the story, but either way Deborah Kerr fails to make her character interesting in any way. She spends the entire film as a damsel in distress who ultimately makes no change to the story, meaning that the entire film is an extended period of watching her run around and scream. This gimmick gets tiring extremely quickly, and yet she just doesn't go away. Eye of the Devil is clearly not one of Deborah Kerr's finer efforts.
And David Niven is no help. Though the actor has a classically handsome charm to him, he is reduced to being a background character in the film and ultimately shows no charisma in the film. He freezes himself into a blank tone of voice and singular facial expression and just forces himself through the story like a chess piece being moved by an uninspired player. Perhaps it's for the best that he gets so little screen time, but his character is one who audiences really should want to understand. The story suggests that he could have been an interesting figure, but the actor plays it out as blankly as the tone of the rest of the film. David Niven contrasts Deborah Kerr's over-the-top melodrama with a completely blank and lifeless effort where he doesn't even really try.
One of the reasons Eye of the Devil has its cult value is due to the fact that it features the debut of infamous actress Sharon Tate, the star of Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Sharon Tate is presented as a blank slate; someone who is pretty to look at but doesn't really have anything to do in the film aside from being eye candy. She is certainly a pretty sight, but frankly it comes as no surprise that the film did nothing for her career when she has essentially no purpose to actually be in the film. If you removed her character from the story, it would make essentially no difference whatsoever.
Frankly, Donald Pleasance is the most interesting presence in the film due to the actor's natural talent and ability to portray a restrained and introverted enigma with a mystery lying beneath his shell. However, the actor is ultimately under-utilised as he is played off as a stock character who comes and goes at random moments without any lasting relevance to the story. I can't remember any actual impact his character had on the narrative, yet I do remember him as being the most interesting character due to his natural charm and inherent ability to portray a creepy character. He is unpredictable and always keeps audiences guessing, reminding us how natural a talent the actor is. It's nice to have another reminder of Donald Pleasance's role in horror cult film history.
Eye of the Devil's few moments of imagery and Donald Pleasance fail to compensate for its extremely blank story, plodding pace and uninteresting characters.
Building up a strong plot with atmosphere and direction, this thriller takes it's time to set up for a haunting and satisfying conclussion.
I swore on the bible but surely God will forgive me...
A family owns an estate that grows orchards to make wine. One year there are complaints of a drought so the husband asks his family to stay behind and heads to the estate to try and rectify the issue. The family becomes worried and follows him to the estate. They arrive to find the father and servants of the house possessed in some kind of cult ritual...
"Apparently the horse kicked her head..."
J. Lee Thompson, director of Cape Fear (1962), Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, The Guns of Navarone, Firewalker, Death Wish 4, and The White Buffalo delivers Eye of the Devil. The storyline for this picture is a bit straightforward and cliché. The scenes are more eerie than scary and the characters are not as dynamic as some films in this genre. The acting is better than average and the cast includes Sharon Tate, David Niven, Donald Pleasence, Flora Robson, David Hemmings, and Edward Mulhare.
"The Earth has to have sacrifice. There must be blood."
This was recently on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) for the holiday season so I had to DVR it. This was just okay and far from a classic, must see within the genre. Overall, this is a bit bland with a few good sequences. I only recommend this to diehard fans of the horror classic genre.
"People don't want to hear the truth."
Interesting film with no real violence, no deaths...just lots of mystery, suspense, drama and a bit of a thriller. Everybody is crazy and there is some weird black paganistic religious cult thing going on in the town where the family stays. As slow as a film like this would sound, it was interesting the whole time and it ends pretty appropriately. Not the most exciting concept for a film, or maybe it is, but it wasn't made out to be 5-star entertaining.
Before The Wicker Man, there was Eye of the Devil. Director J. Lee-Thompson certainly has an eye for stylish high-anxiety situations. The cast of the movie is impressive.
Slickly made modern day horror film about David Niven returning to his ancestral family estate, only to be followed by his family who are taken aback when they find that the locals have returned to paganism. It's a far cry from "Rosemary's Baby" but are some echoes of that film. Where this film goes wrong is that they lay out the paganism right away, whereas "Rosemary's Baby" kept it a mystery. Still, this film has it's moments and was directed by the underrated J. Lee Thompson. The film also features Donald Pleasence, Sharon Tate and David Hemmings.
A young Donald Pleasance and a beautiful Sharon Tate are interesting to see, but J. Lee Thompson overdirects a slow moving plot with a rather weak script and some lackluster performances from other cast members. Not recommended.
Okay spooker is missing some important backstory that would make it more compelling. Niven is disengaged in the lead, leaving a slackness to the main thrust of the movie but Deborah Kerr is suitably panicked as the questioning wife. What a supporting cast though! Flora Robson, Edward Mulhare, Emlyn Williams all contribute little bits of color and Donald Pleasance is ideally cast as an ominous presence who keeps popping up his liquid eyes betraying nothing but giving the viewer the creeps nonetheless. David Hemmings has little to do but stare into the distance and give off an unpleasant vibe which he does well while being disturbing in his beauty. Speaking of beauty, this was Sharon Tate's first big role in her regrettably short career and she gets the corresponding introducing credit , man alive was she breathtaking! She gives an approriate performance all glacial looks and dreamy line readings, the part doesn't demand more than that. But the camera loved her and when she's on screen you look at no one else, a vital component of a star, would she have achieved that position-who knows but the ingredients where definitely there. The black & white photography is most evocative and was a wise choice to set the proper tone for the piece. Not a great film by any means but a decent view near Halloween.
A wonderful overlooked gem, Sharon Tate shines in her first onscreen role opposite David Niven.