Horror Film Review: Eye of the Devil (dir by J. Lee Thompson)


If you thought Bohemian Rhapsody was overedited, you wait until you see the 1966 British horror flick, Eye of the Devil.

Seriously, I lost track of average number of of cuts that were used in each scene.  It was like, “There’s Deborah Kerr!  There’s Deborah Kerr from another angle!  There’s Donald Pleasence staring at something!  There’s David Hemmings in a corner.  There’s Deborah Kerr again!  There’s an overhead shot of the entire room!  Hemmings again, staring off to the left.  Now, a different shot of Hemmings staring off to the right.  Pleasence!  Kerr!  Hemmings!  There’s Sharon Tate, was she there the whole time?  Another overhead shot.”  All in five minutes.

Now, I will admit that the frantic editing style was a bit more effective in Eye of the Devil than in Bohemian Rhapsody, if just because Eye of the Devil was meant to be a bit of a filmed dream.  The whole movie was set up to be a surreal journey into the heart of French darkness so the disorientating visual style was effective, even if it did kind of give me a headache while I was watching it.

In the film, Deborah Kerr play Catherine, who is the wife of Philippe (David Niven), who owns a vineyard and who is perfectly charming and David Niven-like until he returns to the vineyard.  Then he suddenly becomes withdrawn and cold.  It turns out that the vineyard is struggling a bit.  It’s the dry season, which I guess is a bad thing when you’re making wine.  While Philippe tries to keep morale up among the peasants, two siblings — Christian (David Hemmings) and Odile (Sharon Tate) — wander around the castle.  Christian carries a bow and arrow and seems to be kind of arrogant.  Odile smiles enigmatically and turns frogs into doves.  Meanwhile, Donald Pleasence plays the vineyard priest, who appears to believe that something drastic needs to be done to reverse the dry season.

Soon, Catherine is stumbling across strange ceremonies and discovering that no one seems to care about her concerns that Christian and Odile are going to be a bad influence on the children.  She’s especially upset when Christian points an arrow at her.  Philippe, meanwhile, just laughs off her concerns.  Obviously, it was just a joke! he says.

Eye of the Devil is about as enjoyably pretentious as a British film from 1966 can be.  It’s not just that the movie is edited to the point of chaos.  It’s also that characters have a bad habit of going off on discussions about relationship between magic and reality.  And yet, it’s so pretentious and so silly and so overdirected that you can’t help but love it.  It’s just such a film of its era that it’s impossible not to get something out of it.  Add to that, Sharon Tate and David Hemmings share an otherworldly beauty as the two siblings.  Deborah Kerr shows that she could make even the silliest of situations of compelling.  David Niven is surprisingly effective as a non-charming character.  And then you’ve got Donald Pleasence, making enigmatic statements and showing off the intense stare that would later make Dr. Sam Loomis an icon of horror.

Eye of the Devil may be a mess but it’s a beautiful mess.

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