A madman is on the loose. Worryingly, his distinctive modus operandi appears to be modeled on the fumetti character Doctor Dark, a Jekyll and Hyde figure who is a respectable professor by day and a serial killer by night, enucleating his babysitter victims in a distinctive manner apparently derived from the ancient Egyptians (Dark is a scholar of pagan religions) by way of Lenzi’s Eyeball crossed with Carpenter’s Halloween.
Got my black gloves on, got my ski mask on...
Contrary to what it might look like, this is not Fulci's The New York Ripper
At a press conference organised by comic's publishers, Doctor Dark’s co-author Giovanna Dei comes in for criticism a la Peter Neal in Tenebre, which she deflects in much the same manner as her predecessor, albeit with the responsibilities of “Smith and Wesson” mutating into those of “Black and Decker,” and the foregrounding of media violence and its influence more generally over the specific topic of violence against women. (“How do you reply to the accusation that your comic strip has a negative effect on its readers?”)
Just in case you forget which type of film you are watching
Though she resolves to keep writing the popular, profitable fumetti, and persuades her collaborator to likewise continue, Giovanna also agrees that it would be a good idea to get away from the city and work for a bit. And not a moment too soon, since upon returning to her studio she finds some evidence of the killer’s having paid a visit, including eyeballs floating in a jar…
Contrary to what it might look like, this is not Lenzi's Eyeball
Surprisingly, however, the black clad, masked figure presumably responsible for the crimes then proves comparatively easy to apprehend – albeit after a few more victims and ‘presents’ for the increasingly terrified Giovanna.
The police, however, are not convinced that the man – a reporter, named Caligari no less, who had earlier attended the press conference called by Giovanna’s publisher – is anything but a crank who tried to take advantage of the murders to further his own moralistic agenda…
And, given that we are less than half the way into the narrative nor are we likely to be, nor surprised when the killings continue – especially when the Tenebre intertext and that the fact the film was made too early to be Se7te – i.e. Se7en, Italian style – are also taken into consideration.
I mention the latter film in relation to Gli Occhi dentro / Eyes Without a Face / Madness’s three greatest surprises.
First, that it was directed by notorious hack Bruno Mattei, albeit under the pseudonym Herik Montgomery.
Second, that it was released in 1994 rather than 1974 or 84, Mattei otherwise being the sort of filmmaker who could be pretty much relied upon to cash in on a trend – or even likely-seeming trend – as soon as possible in the time-honoured manner of the filone filmmaker.
Third, that it is actually rather good, making one wish that he had turned his attentions to the giallo sooner and made more films within it, keeping one engaged throughout and delivering the requisite suspense, shocks and generic tropes.
“I thought you’d gotten used to these things!”
“In the movies, doctor, that happens only in the movies!”
Yes, there are a few moments of ‘gratuitous’ nudity and violence, but to be honest one wouldn’t expect anything else given the giallo and fumetti pedigree, with these in any case forcing us to bracket the notion of gratuitous somewhat: what is an exploitation movie if it doesn’t contain exploitative elements?
In case you had the film and Doctor Dark confused with Sexy Cat...
Fundamentally, however, Gli occhi dentro is harmless fun rather than the kind of thing you might find yourself having to justify enjoying, more a Strip Nude for Your Killer or Eyeball style romp than a New York Ripper scuzzfest.
This is not, it must be understood, a criticism of Fulci’s film. Rather it is about trying to understand each film in its own terms, recognizing that a one size fits all approach does not work.
The more stylized approach Mattei takes, flooding the screen with blocks of bright primary colours, with contrasting yellows and blues predominating, introduces that degree of distance from reality missing from Fulci’s more problematic masterwork.
But then, as Opera and Madness alike remind us, it also “all depends on what you mean by reality”
The actors aren’t the greatest, but have the right looks for their roles, especially the attractive, vaguely Cristina Marsillach like Monica Seller / Carol Farres, who also displays a nice line in Fenech-style hysteria.
Where is she now – another victim of the death of the Italian popular cinema?
The scoring, if hardly giving the best of Morricone or Nicolai’s work two decades earlier a run for the money, nevertheless pushes the appropriate buttons in ratcheting up the suspense and augmenting the shocks.
[A torrent of the film, from which these screen captures are taken, is available from Cinemageddon]