March 23, 2014

Movie Review: The Headless Eyes

Barely released theatrically way back in 1971, The Headless Eyes appeared to be one of those grindhouse quickies that was destined to be forgotten, nothing more than a blip on a very large radar. However, the movie found renewed life in the VHS era when Charles Band and his Empire Video label got their hands on it and reintroduced it to the world as a movie that was “Too gory for the Silver Screen.” Of course, that is just a marketing line, this is nowhere near too gory for the movies, but Band knows how to sell stuff and this thought forgotten feature gained new legs through the late 1980's. Of course, that renewed interest seems to be short lived.

The Headless Eyes was written and directed by Kent Bateman. It was his first feature. He only made a couple other low budget films and directed a few television shows. This is the only one of his films I have seen and despite enjoying this one, it is pretty clear he did not have the skills to go to that next level. Still, he does have a lasting legacy in entertainment, you see he is the father of Jason and Justine Bateman. But that is neither here nor there.

Arthur Malcolm (Bo Brundin, who would go on to be in the infamous The Day the Clown Cried a year later) is a literal starving artist in New York. As the movie opens we see Arthur robbing an apartment, this is what he has turned to in order to make ends meet. Unfortunately, the resident is at home, she wakes up and as the struggle Arthur cries about needing a “lousy $65 for his rent.” As the struggle continues, she grabs a bedside spoon (?) and scoops out his left eye. Leaving behind an audio loop of him screaming about his eye. Not a bad start.

We pick up a few months later, Arthur now sports an eye patch and a rapidly deteriorating mental state. He has nightmarish visions of eyeballs hanging from a mobile, haunting him of his loss and its affect on his art. Arthur takes to the streets and begins to attack women, scooping out their eyes and using them in his “artwork.” With each eye, the nuttier he gets.

That is really all there is to it. Well, maybe not, but it is not exactly a deep film. Still, Bo Brundin is allowed some great ranty moments that give Arthur a little added depth, a good one is when he attacks the woman in the office space and goes off about her eyes and what he is going to do with them. Towards the end, we get another moment of potential depth, a woman shows up and shows legitimate interest in Arthur and his work. Unfortunately, Arthur does not know how to deal with this, leading to a chase sequence and a bit of an underwhelming conclusion.

The Headless Eyes is a low budget, grimy looking feature with a weak script, poor acting, and a droning, maddening score. The crazy thing about it is that it works. I actually liked watching this goofiness play out. It is also kind of funny that the idea of the starving artist who goes a little nutter was the idea behind another movie I saw recently, Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer. These two movies are spiritual kin, covering similar ground. The difference being, The Headless Eyes dives right into the grimy exploitation that it is (although it could have gone further), while The Driller Killer was caught between exploitation and arthouse. Neither film is completely effective, but both are certainly worth spending a little time with.

I went in with no expectations for this movie and came away a little better for the experience. It is a wacky premise that works. It is one of those things that dives right into the grime and pays no mind for realism, going for a more abstract grit that creates its own reality. Unintentionally humorous at times, amateurish throughout, grimy and involving. If you like oddball old school grindhouse, this is certainly one to try on for size. And you have to admit, The Headless Eyes is a pretty good title...


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