Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

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As far as American gialli go, Eyes of Laura Mars presents itself as something of an ideal. Stylishly directed by Irwin Kershner, front loaded with a star-studded cast and hung on a tastily absurd concept – she sees what the killer sees! – you’ve got everything you need to hit a home run. For the most part, Laura Mars delivers the goods but it also flounders where you expect it to soar.

So much of a giallo’s success rests on your protagonists face. It’s a voyeuristic genre that spends as much time watching the hero react to or puzzle over something in extreme close-up as it does showing you their POV. So securing a face as photogenic and expressive as Faye Dunaway – hot off of her Oscar win for Network no less, a fact the theatrical trailer proudly boasts – is a major coup. The famously curmudgeon Tommy Lee Jones co-stars as the love interest, though perhaps un-surprisngly given that he avoided returning to this territory again, he doesn’t seem to be engaged with this at all. Aside from Dunaway most of the heavy lifting falls to the supporting players who all make their limited screen time pop (hey Brad Dourif! Raúl Juliá!).

Setting it in the photography world, where glamorous women decked out in skimpy high fashion take part in lurid photo shoots, makes for an optimal backdrop too leading to an endless supply of stimulating window dressing. The extravagant penthouse sets and photography, drenched in large swathes of expressive shadow are suitably lush, ensuring you can see every cent on screen. In fact all of these individual ingredients are so good that I bet Argento himself was kicking himself that he didn’t put these pieces together first.

Even though Laura’s strange ailment is never explained, the mystery elements work well enough to keep you engaged – shout out to Spielberg’s editor Michael Kahn for the supreme cutting – but it eventually fizzles out into a predictable finale that belongs to a much lesser movie. It’s here where all the A-list razzle dazzle falls apart and its sub-par b-movie origins rise to the surface. It’s something of a giallo trademark for a great mystery to be extinguished by a ludicrous third act, but I can’t let this one off the hook so easily. It’s not necessarily the action that’s disappointing, but the way the film goes about it.

There’s a sense that the filmmakers were too proud to commit to what they were making or that they were trying to heighten Eyes of Laura Mars into something more respectable. All the sequences that should be electrified by some impressive and inventive gore effects are instead pitched as if they’re in a straight forward thriller. By failing to embrace the high gloss grotesqueries of the giallo, and not matching the high-calibre production value pound for pound with high-calibre shocks the film is done a great disservice, turning what could have been a minor classic (it originated from a John Carpenter screenplay after all) into a minor entertainment.

Viewed on Indicator blu-ray.

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