31 October 2014

(1978)

Eyes of Laura Mars was the first solo production from up and coming producer Jon Peters and was originally meant as a star vehicle for his then girlfriend, Barbra Streisand.

Turned off by the project's violence, Streisand passed on the opportunity and instead opted to sing the haunting title song. The role went to Faye Dunaway, who had spent the better part of the decade as one of the hottest and most acclaimed actresses in Hollywood. Laura Mars came on the heels of her Oscar win for 1976's Network.

The film would also give John Carpenter the chance to have one of his scripts produced (before Halloween). However, Peters wasn't entirely happy with the result and he hired David Zelag Goodman to rewrite the screenplay. Among the changes was the identity of the killer.

Directing chores went to Irvin Kershner, who had been given his first break by Roger Corman in 1958 with Stakeout on Dope Street.

Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) is a fashion photographer who specializes in stylized violence. In her luxurious Manhattan apartment, she has a nightmare that Doris Spencer (Meg Mundy) is viciously stabbed in her eyes with an ice pick.

She wakes up and looks through a soon-to-be-published coffee table book of her photos called The Eyes of Mars, which Doris has edited. In it, there is a picture of Doris...identical to an image she had in the dream.

Laura calls Doris but she gets no answer. That evening, she attends a reception at the Elaine Cassell Gallery in SoHo for an exhibit of her work. A controversial figure, she is besieged by questions from reporters about whether her photos glorify violence and are demeaning to women. A handsome stranger (Tommy Lee Jones) questions the work as well.

The success of the exhibit is disrupted by the horrible news that Doris has been found dead, in the same manner that she met her demise in the dream. Laura is informed of this by her good friend and agent, Donald Phelps (Rene Auberjonois). Later, she hears that sales of her photographs have increased as word of the killing spreads.

Laura gets a call from Elaine (Rose Gregorio), the owner of the gallery...who is all business and who talks Laura into going on with a shoot the next day. Unbeknownst to Laura, Elaine has been having an affair with Laura's ex-husband, Michael (Raul Julia).

The shoot in Columbus Circle starts off well. The whole thing is being overseen by Bert (Steve Marachuk), a representative from the ad agency. Donald is on hand, as are two of her favorite models, Lulu (Darlanne Fluegel) and Michele (Lisa Taylor). Typical of her layouts, Laura has the models dressed in sexy lingerie and engaged in a catfight...posed against the backdrop of burning vehicles.

Suddenly, Laura gets a psychic vision. As with her previous nightmare, it is in the first person. This time, it is Elaine who is in danger.

Laura stops shooting and tells Donald she feels dizzy. Heading downtown towards Elaine's flat, Laura's taxicab stalls in traffic and she decides to walk the rest of the way.

But another vision comes to her. She sees Elaine murdered, punctured in the eye like Doris and then thrown down a flight of stairs just outside her apartment.

She runs towards Elaine's building but it's too late. The place is swarming with onlookers and police officers. When one cop tries to stop her from going inside, Laura tells him she saw what happened.

Naturally, the police believe they may have a witness. Detective Sergeant Sal Volpe (Frank Adonis) questions her but he's perplexed when Laura can't describe the killer - and especially when she tells him she was actually "a few blocks away."

Still, Sergeant Volpe is interested in this lead and Laura is taken to the precinct for a statement. Some of the other people who knew Elaine are there too. In addition, Laura's driver Tommy Ludlow (Brad Dour) is also questioned. Tommy, who carries a switchblade and has an arrest record, is immediately under suspicion.

Laura recognizes Lieutenant John Neville as the handsome stranger from the gallery. He belittles her statement but even Laura understands how preposterous her "eyewitness account" sounds to others. Lt. Neville shows her a copy of her book that has a tear over the cover photo of Laura, directly over an eye. Laura tells him she has seen it before, in a nightmare.

Lt. Neville then shows her photographs of unsolved murders that mirror those that are in her book. Laura says that she began to have images of violence about two years before, around the time when the earlier crimes were committed.

They go to Elaine's apartment and Neville asks Laura to help identify some male clothing that's hanging in a closet. She recognizes them as belonging to her ex-husband and is surprised because she thought he had been living in San Francisco.

"Michael couldn't kill anyone," Laura says. Lt. Neville accompanies Laura back to her residence and gives her his card. She is to call him anytime.

Inside her apartment, Laura is startled by Michael...who still has a set of keys and is now avoiding the police. He says he is innocent with regard to Elaine's murder and is tacky enough to say that she had been his best "meal ticket." Laura gives him 50 bucks to leave her alone. The guy is clearly a loser.

Donald and Tommy pick Laura up to take her to the studio for her next shoot. It's located in a huge warehouse on a Manhattan pier. In the car, Tommy confesses to his boss that he did time in prison for armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.

The news doesn't phase Laura. However, she seems surprised that Donald hired Tommy knowing about his arrest history and yet he failed to tell her.

Left alone to do some prep work, Laura has another vision. But this time, she is the one being stalked. She runs out of her office and through the mostly deserted warehouse, screaming for Donald. He comes to her aid and Laura tells him she saw the killer looking at her.

There isn't time to get too hysterical. The shoot is to begin. With throbbing music in the background, Laura gets down to work. She sets up a shot in which a male model lays dead by a pool, while Lulu stands over him holding a gun. The imagery is too much for Laura. She starts to see some of her previous psychic death visions in her head and she cannot continue.

Lt. Neville is there and he tries to comfort Laura by suggesting that she's overworked. In turn, she attempts to show him what she "sees" by having him look through the lens of a video camera.

In answer to Laura's question about why the killer is terrorizing her, Neville offers the theory that the person could be jealous of her success...or even someone who feels that her work "is promoting porno and decadence and he has a mission to clean up the world."

Her security will be doubled and she's advised to stay indoors as often as possible. Later, Lulu and Michele are brought into the stationhouse to see if they've received any threats. While developing some photos, Laura has yet another psychic moment. The two beautiful models are both murdered in the apartment they share, which of course...actually occurs. And it's somebody they know because Lulu let the perpetrator inside.

After their funeral, a mourner who blames Laura for the deaths of the women, confronts Laura. Neville takes her for a walk in the woods and they kiss. Clearly, they are falling for each other. After they make love, Neville gives Laura a handgun for added defense.

It's Donald's birthday and all his friends attend a party in his apartment. Everybody has a grand time, except for Tommy - who is told to come back for his boss in an hour. During the celebration, Laura receives a call from Michael. He's in Brooklyn and he says he is suicidal.

There's a patrol car outside and Laura doesn't want to lead them to her ex. So she comes up with a plan. Donald dresses up in drag by wearing some of her clothing. The cops follow him and Laura is able to give them the slip.

Unfortunately, the killer is watching Donald as well. Following him back to his building, Donald is murdered in the elevator. Blocks away, Laura "sees" it happen and crashes her car.

Again, Lt. Neville comforts her in her apartment. The doorbell disrupts the coziness of the moment. It's Sgt. Volpe. There's a break in the case and Neville is needed. A search is underway in Tommy's home and the police have found photos of Laura's models taken at various shoots all over the place.

Tommy is nearby and calls his apartment. He speaks with Neville and asks to see him alone. The officers pretend to leave and Tommy returns to his flat. He proclaims his innocence and explains to Neville where he was the night before. Neville produces a piece of evidence...a playing card from a deck that belongs to Tommy, supposedly found in the elevator under Donald's body.

Sgt. Volpe appears and Tommy makes a run for it. On his way out of the building, he stabs an officer who tries to stop him. A chase through the streets of Hell's Kitchen ensues and Tommy is shot dead.

Laura hears that the case has been wrapped up. Neville tells her to pack her bags because he wants to take her away.

He arrives at her building and finds Michael in the elevator. Just then, Laura has a terrifying vision. She sees a struggle between two men and one of them is killed. And even more frightening, the killer is headed towards her apartment. The nightmare isn't over.

As Laura is about to call the police, someone breaks in through a window. It's Lt. Neville. He tells her that Tommy is dead and begins to go into the background of Tommy's life to explain why he committed murder. But something is not right. Laura knows some of Tommy's life story and Neville isn't making sense.

The lieutenant continues, explaining that Tommy's father slashed his mother's throat in front of the child for being a prostitute. But suddenly he begins to talk in the first person. "I sat there and watched the blood dry on her face until it was just about the color of your hair," he tells Laura. The real killer stands before her. "I'm the one you want," he says.

Laura runs to her bedroom and picks up the phone but Neville is right behind her. As he is about to stab her with an ice pick, she tells him that she loves him and then reaches for the gun. In a daze, Neville strikes the image of himself in a mirror.

He approaches Laura and pleads with her to kill him. She's reluctant to pull the trigger so Neville takes her hands and helps her do it. Shot at point-blank range, Neville drops to the ground and Laura calls the authorities.

Director Irvin Kershner would go onto his greatest commercial success with what many consider to be the finest film in the Star Wars series, 1980's The Empire Strikes Back.

That same year, Tommy Lee Jones gave an outstanding performance as the husband of Loretta Lynn in the excellent Coal Miner's Daughter. He won an Academy Award for The Fugitive in 1993 and continues to be one of the most sought after actors in Hollywood.

The career of Faye Dunaway is another matter altogether. After winning an Oscar for Nework and then starring in Laura Mars, she could never recapture her earlier success.

There is an amusing anecdote from the actress in her autobiography about the filming of one particular scene in this film. She writes, "The climax of the Columbus Circle scene called for me to suddenly stop in the middle of directing the action, appear suddenly confused, and finally make my way away from everyone. What editing would later insert at that point was the flashback I was experiencing of yet another murder taking place.

Ironically some of those passing by who had gathered to watch the scene being shot thought there was something wrong with me. For me, the price of being convincing in that scene was having my publicist field calls the next day from the tabloids that were tracking reports that I had gone into some sort of catatonic state and then wandered off."

Special mention should be given to cinematographer Victor J. Kemper, who had also worked on several other genre films including Coma, Audrey Rose and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud. The stunning photographs were courtesy of Helmut Newton and Rebecca Blake.

Laura Mars' score by Artie Kane was nicely complemented by the excellent use of popular disco in key scenes.

Excellently shot and featuring a still beautiful Dunaway, glossy Eyes is about as close to eurohorror as American terror lovers are likely to find. Stunning fashion models, a pervasive attention to style (both in terms of what Laura sees as well as the camera's eye) and some rowdy, offbeat characters hearken to the most entertaining of Italian giallos.

But where Eyes sets itself apart from typical euro fare is its rather respectful attachment to plot coherency. No, it doesn't reinvent the wheel. But Eyes does boast a generally logical (if supernaturally-tinged) storyline with an understandably-motivated killer which provides a nice end jolt. Red herrings may abound, but in the end Eyes makes...sense. How novel.

The actors are all good, but it is Dunaway who carries the entire picture. She is rarely out of a frame and she's a knockout. A true star performance by someone in her prime. You might say the other main attraction is the city of New York itself...the film perfectly captures the beauty and grit of this great metropolis in that era.

An irresistibly chic and urbane thriller, Eyes of Laura Mars reaches an orgasmic crescendo during a stylish photo shoot in a warehouse. Sexy models pose as if they've just walked out of Studio 54 while the hypnotic disco classic "Let's All Chant" blares. It's Seventies nirvana bliss, broken only by the sudden bloody visions in Dunaway's head. Freak out, indeed.

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