In this 1981 slasher film, bad things are happening in the city of Miami.
There’s a serial killer on the loose. He’s chopping off heads and leaving bodies on the beach and basically just making a huge mess of things. Local new anchorwoman Jane (Lauren Tewes) is upset that there’s a killer roaming the streets of her hometown. She even talks about how upset she is during a local newscast, which takes everyone at the station by surprise. I don’t know why they’re so shocked. Don’t they know that Jane has a younger sister named Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and that Tracy’s been blind, deaf, and mute ever since she was attacked by a maniac?
One day, Jane is returning to the apartment that she shares with her sister. As she’s parking her car, she sees her neighbor, Stanley (John DiSanti), stuffing what appears to be a bloody shirt in a trash can. Oh my God, could he be the murderer!?
Well, yes, he is. The film actually makes no attempt to hide the fact that Stanley is the murderer. Stanley is one of those movie murderers who is either hyper competent or totally oblivious, depending on what the scene demands. For instance, despite being a rather heavyset, middle-aged man, he can still sneak up behind people without them ever hearing and chop off their head with one wave of a meat cleaver. On the other hand, when he kills a couple on the beach, his car ends up getting stuck in the sand.
Anyway, Jane is pretty much instantly convinced that Stanley is the killer and she immediately starts doing stuff like taunting him over the telephone. (Despite the fact that she’s on TV every night and her voice is apparently heard by everyone in Miami, she makes no effort to disguise her voice whenever she calls Stanley.) She also breaks into his apartment to look for clues.
As I watched this film, I found myself thinking about how much more interesting it would have been if Stanley hadn’t been the killer and if Jane felt so guilty about what happened to her sister that she ended up harassing a totally innocent bystander. But no, Stanley is the murderer so naturally all of this leads to an extended sequence where Stanley breaks into and then follows Tracy around Jane’s apartment.
So, Eyes of a Stranger is a fairly mediocre film, one that would probably be totally forgotten if not for the fact that it’s also the debut film of Jennifer Jason Leigh. While the film is obviously meant to showcase Lauren Tewes (a TV actress who gives a rather wooden performance), Jennifer Jason Leigh steals every scene in which she appears. Her total commitment to her character shines through and she even manages to sell a rather implausible plot twist that occurs towards the end of the film. John DiSanti also deserves some credit for his performance as Stanley. Again, it’s hard not to feel that the film would have worked better if it had tried to keep us guessing as to the question of Stanley’s guilt.
Eyes of a Stranger was directed by Ken Wiederhorn, who also did the far superior zombie movie, Shock Waves. It’s interesting to note that both Lauren Tewes and Jennifer Jason Leigh would subsequently appear in Twin Peaks: The Return, though Leigh’s role was significantly larger.