DVD. Region 2. Marketing-Film. Not rated.
In her rare moments of down time, when she’s not assisting The Doc with his sewing or dragging badly dubbed Italian kids through trans-dimensional tombstone portals, Mrs Freudstein likes to relax with a nice cup of coffee and a biscuit and a bit of daytime TV. Foremost among her guilty pleasures is the Channel 4 show Coach Trip, in which the genial and ever-so-slightly camp Brendan Sheerin whisks a rotating cohort of ill-matched tourists around various European destinations. Depending on how well (or not) they perform their allotted tasks and get on with their fellow travellers, the contestants are voted off the eponymous coach until Brendan arrives at a winner. Now, just imagine if the format were tweaked ever so slightly and instead of being voted off, the participants were bumped off and had their eyes gouged out for good measure. Not very conducive to a sight seeing holiday, eh? Let’s further suppose that even when the cops are called in, they’re so loath to spoil the holiday fun that they let the coach roll on as eyeless corpses pile up in its wake… “Preposterous”, I hear you cry. And yet this is precisely the plot of Umberto Lenzi’s 1975 giallo, Eyeball (perhaps the cops wanted to keep a lid on it… lid… geddit?)
The jolly holidaymakers rolling around Catalonia on this charnel house charabanc (they even make it to Sitges though for some reason Eyeball never picked up any awards there) are precisely the kind of motley crew that tends to end up trapped in crypts and vaults in those wonderful EC adaptations that Amicus released in the ’70s… there’s a bickering married couple, the Alvarados (played by Daniele Vargas and Silvia Solar), a bickering lesbian couple – photographer Lisa (Mirta Miller) and her model Naiba (the stunning Ines Pellegrini), a quintessential “ugly American” (Hamilton, played by John Bartha) and his jailbait daughter Jenny (Veronica Miriel), plus George Rigaud’s Reverend Bronson (!) and sexy secretary Paulette Stone (Martine Brochure.) Yep, the ingredients for this soapy slasher-on-wheels couldn’t get much cornier (cornea… geddit?) and when you top that little lot off with a randy, practical joke-playing cunt of a tour guide, Martinez (Raf Baldassarre)… you’ve got a sure-fire recipe for a holiday from hell!
When the party disembarks in Barcelona, Hamilton expresses anxiety about his daughter’s potential amorous intrigues: “I’ll boot her rump if I catch her spooning with a boy!” Jenny’s heavy petting antics turn out to be the least of their worries, though, when a local floozy is stabbed to death and has her eye gouged out (poor Pepita!) with several of the coach party in sufficient proximity to the dirty deed to fall under suspicion. Arousing even more suspicion is Mark Burton (John Richardson), who’s trailing the coach across Catalonia in pursuit of Paulette while his wife Alma (Marta May) resides in some loony bin (how very gallant of him) and always seems to be at the scene of each subsequent eyeball atrocity. Is he the unpleasant eyeball plucker or is he being stitched up like a kipper a la Jon Finch’s character in Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972)?
Lenzi and Felix Tusell (who debuted as a co-writer on this film and was never asked to pen another!) continue to shift suspicion clumsily and mechanically around their dramatis personae. It would, perhaps, be inappropriate to describe Lenzi’s direction of this coach-bound whodunnit as “pedestrian” (yuk, yuk) so let’s just settle for “shit.” As if taking his cue from the director, the mighty Bruno Nicolai phones in one of his feeblest scores ever.
Local police honcho Inspector Tudela (Andres Mejuto) is a few days away from retirement when the massacre mobile rolls into town. No, he’s not about to be tragically offed (as would invariably be the case in an American action flick), it’s just that he was looking forward to emptying his desk and going fishing. At this point in his career, he really can’t be arsed … pretty much like Lenzi! As previously mentioned, he just lets the coach roll on and the pile of one-eyed corpses mount up. Maybe he thinks this is the only way to draw out the killer’s identity. Maybe he doesn’t really care much for the endangered holiday makers… when one of them has her throat cut but both of her eyes are left in situ, he announces that it “wasn’t a sadistic murder”(!)
It’s as though Lenzi, who had contributed several significant early entries to the giallo cycle (usually starring Carroll Baker) and managed to make such worthy contributions as late as Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972) and the idiosyncratic Spasmo (1974) was cynically pissed off at being outstripped by Dario Argento, whom he often describes as his protege (an apt pupil? Geddit?) Perhaps dressing his assassin in a red pacamac was a parody of the leather raincoated assassins in Argento’s pictures? Talk about a kagoulish liberty… or maybe Lenzi was trying for some kind of subliminal connection with Argento’s big hit of the same year, Deep Red? Or perhaps he was making an allusion to the killer in Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973)? Or maybe I’m just clutching at straws here trying to dignify a terrible movie with some kind of significance. Actually, I’m surprised that Lenzi has been uncharacteristically silent (or perhaps I missed an interview here or there) regarding two plot elements from Eyeball that get, er, recycled in Argento’s Tenebrae, seven years later… notably lesbian infidelity in a crappy night club as a prelude to home invasion and murder, plus an elusive, aggrieved wife who keeps jetting around and popping up where she’s not supposed to be. Eyeball could also reasonably be cited as an influence on Bigas Luna’s Anguish (1987)… and don’t even start me on Lucio Fulci!
After a hilarious sequence in which a farm girl falls victim to the eyeball-extracting wacko and her pigs add insult to eye injury by eating her corpse, then a flamenco performance that is clearly intended to puff up the film’s running time towards an hour-and-a-half, the denouement comes clunking in, with the dim light bulb over Burton’s head finally flickering into life (catatonia in Catalonia) as he belatedly makes sense of the ludicrous sequence of events that previously unfolded back in his home town of Burlington, Vermont. Namely, the small matter of his wife being found unconscious next to their swimming pool with a bloody knife in her right hand and the eyeball of his murdered girlfriend lying next to her. Presumably he’s had much time and much cause to ponder these events but only now do the pennies drop that a) Alma is left handed and b) he once discovered a collection of eyeballs in another character’s drawer but dismissed them as “good luck charms” (duh!) If you didn’t see the final revelation coming, don’t be too hard on yourself… nor could half of the hacked-up holidaymakers! Mark and Alma are reconciled in a puke-inducing happy ending, Inspector Tudela gets to go fishing and the rest of us are left to reflect on 90 minutes of our life that we’ll never get back.
Richardson was in many, way better films than this… the Hammer brace She (1965) and One Million Years B.C. (1966), Mario Bava’s pasta paura milestone Black Sunday (1960), Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989 )and, in a more pointed comparison with this travesty, Sergio Martino’s superior giallo Torso (1973.)
Joesph Brenner Associates, who had reduced Sergio Martino’s The Corpses Show Traces Of Carnal Violence (1973) to a terser “Torso” for its U.S. grind house run, did a similar tidy up on this one and incredibly, their “Eyeball” better encapsulates the plot of Lenzi’s picture than its original title, Gatti Rossi In Un Labirinto Di Vetro (“Red Cats In A Glass Labyrinth”) chiefly because the film features precisely no red cats and exactly bugger all Glass Labyrinths!
The edition under review here is the German DVD identified as Labyrinth Des Schreckens (“Labyrinth Of Terror”) on its sleeve, “The Secret Killer” according to its credits. The transfer is washy looking and presented in distinctly non-anamorphic wide-screen. You could experience Eyeball in 5.1 Surround if you chose this disc’s German language option but I imagine the comic impact of such classic lines of dialogue as: “I was like you… before this friend of mine ripped out my eye, playing doctor with me… leaving an empty socket!” might be ssomewhat diluted in translation.
No sign of an imminent UK release but all manner of appalling rubbish is coming out these days so keep your eyes, er, peeled…