26 November 2014

Eye of the Devil (1966)
96 min.
Directed by J. Lee Thompson.
With Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Donald Pleasence, Edward Mulhare, Flora Robson, Sharon Tate, David Hemmings, Emlyn Williams, John Le Mesurier, Michael Miller, Robert Duncan, Suky Appleby.
First you saw Deborah Kerr haunted by the restless spirits of the undead in The Innocents (1961). Now see her terrorized by an evil coven of black magic pagans in Eye of the Devil!

The marquis Philippe de Montfaucon (Niven), his wife Catherine (Kerr), and their two children Jacques and Antoinette (Duncan, Appleby) appear to be a happy, healthy, normal family.

When Phillippe gets word that his family's vineyards are experiencing a terrible dry season, he rushes back to his ancestral home at Castle Bellenac.

Concerned about her husband's new problems, Catherine decides to take the children and pay a visit to Bellenac to lend her husband some support. But when she arrives, Catherine begins to experience a series of bizarre incidents.

A malevolent hanger-on named Christian de Caray (Hemmings) and his icy sister Odile (Tate) seem hellbent on causing Catherine and her two children real harm...a group of hooded figures, led by the creepy priest Father Dominic (Pleasence), hold mysterious candlelit rituals behind locked doors within Castle Bellenac...and worse still, Phillippe seems unusually distant and unresponsive...

It's one thing to feel unwelcome. This is more than that. Catherine soon comes to believe that Phillippe and his family are members of a dark cult of black magic pagans. What could their evil plans be? Catherine may not live long enough to find out.

Based on the 1964 novel Day of the Arrow written by Philip Loraine, Eye of the Devil is a beautifully made horror film of the occult and supernatural, directed by J. Lee Thompson (1962's Cape Fear and 1981's Happy Birthday to Me, among others).

Legendary leading lady Kerr carries the film, delivering another believable performance as a tormented heroine out to uncover the truth...even if it means her own death. (In actuality, Kerr replaced Kim Novak here, who suffered an accident during filming. All of Novak's completed scenes were then reshot with Kerr.)

While the action in Eye of the Devil never reaches the dizzying heights of Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961), there's nonetheless some wonderful things to admire here:

The black & white photography and haunting, dream-like cinematography courtesy of Erwin Hillier perfectly complement Dennis Murphy's rather surreal script.

Following Kerr's lead, the ensemble cast all deliver wonderful performances. Perhaps the biggest revelation are the terrific scenes with the exquisite model-turned-actress Sharon Tate. As Odile, her thousand yard stares and stunning beauty imbue her character with just the right degree of shudder-inducing ethereality.

Taking its cues from Shirley Jackson's 1948 short story The Lottery and foreshadowing themes in David Pinner's then-unpublished novel Ritual (which would ultimately be filmed in 1973 as The Wicker Man), Eye of the Devil is certainly a worthy ride.

Also known as 13.

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