Sunday, November 15, 2015

WHITE OF THE EYE (1987) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)

Label: Scream Factory 
Release Date: November 17th 2015 
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 111 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD 5.1, DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles E
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Donald Cammell
Cast: Alberta Watson, David Keith, Michael Greene, Alan Rosenberg, Art Evans, Cathy Moriarty

Synopsis: If you're a wealthy, attractive woman, stay out of Arizona, because you are fair game. A twisted killer is on the loose and he tortures and dissects his beautiful victims as part of a primitive Indian ritual. All the clues lead to one man who is clearly innocent. But nothing is as simple as black and white in White Of The Eye. David Keith (An Officer And A Gentleman, Firestarter, Daredevil) and Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull, Casper) star in this shocking mystery-thriller co-written and directed by Donald Cammell (Demon Seed and co-director of Performance). The film also features an eclectic score by Nick Mason (Pink Floyd) and Rick Fenn (10cc).

I live in Tucson, Arizona and the opening aerial scene of downtown Tucson just makes me happy from the get-go. What's more, while this is actually set in Globe, Arizona director Donald Cammell gives this '80s thriller an art house twist with some stylized cinematography and an Italian whodunit twist, and I love me some Italian whodunits, the Southwestern setting is a nice twist. There's an opening scene of woman returning home after a day of shopping when she is attacked by a gloved killer. The incendiary scene is well-crafted and had the quick stylized look and edit of a classic Dario Argento movie, and while you don't see a drop of blood, through the magic of editing the visceral scene is violent and kinetic with a shot of the victims head smashing through a pane of glass, a broken bottle of red wine, a well-placed meat cleaver and a helpless goldfish out of water make a memorable first kill scene with some nice slasher movie POV lensing, too. 

We're introduced to hi-fi home stereo installer Paul White (David Keith, Firestarter) and his wife, Joan (Catherine Moriarty, Neighbors) and their strangely boyish daughter Danielle (Danielle Smith). They're home life becomes complicated when tire tread marks left near the crime scene lead Detective Charles Mendoza (Art Evans) to question Paul, who soon becomes the prime suspect in the string of serial murders of women around the small Arizona community, and when his infidelity is brought up it only makes things more tense, with his now angry and distrustful wife beginning to doubt his own innocence.

There are several time shifts throughout the story, things are told in flashback, in scenes that have gone through a bleach-bypass process which give the images a unique high contrast appearance, through these we learn of Paul's former best friend Mike DeSantos (Alan Rosenburg) and are told how and why the friendship broke apart, with Paul stealing away Mike's then girlfriend Joan, and a bizarre deer hunting excursion into the desert, which speaks to an early madness in one of the characters. 

The story is a little meandering at times, it keeps you guessing, but the narrative is disjointed and at times the pace was lethal. What does work for me are the visual flourishes director Donald Cammell and co-cinematographers Larry McConkey and Alan Jones (not the British film critic), including some excellent Steadicam POV from McConkey, which lends it that slasher type feel, but with a more European whodunit flavor, including some nice close-ups of the human eye. There are a few elements that are dropped into the story that seemed as if they would be key to the story in some way,  that are dropped-in and never played out to any satisfactory conclusion. Such as the fact that Paul can emit a high pitched sound, and using his sinus cavity like a tuning fork, he can place stereo speakers in any room in the most acoustically proper configuration, I can only guess that in earlier drafts of the script this played out in some way. There's also a Native American slant to the way the murder scenes are staged by the killer, but aside from some very vague face painting at the end it goes nowhere, these are interesting story flourishes that add some superficial texture to the story, but seem to be vestiges of earlier drafts of the screenplay that go nowhere, not unlike some of Argento's whodunits, neat stuff that doesn't pan out. 

Aside from that first stylish kill there's another great murder scene of the gloved-killer grabbing a woman in the bathroom as she prepares for a warm bath, he grabs her around the waste and flips her upside down before dropping her onto her head, knocking her unconscious, which always makes me laugh, it is such an odd choice, but what follows is a frightening and harrowing drowning scene and the killer wraps her in a blanket and binds her, placing her in a the tub under water, holding a mirror over her face so she can see herself dying, which is pretty twisted. If you know anything about director Donald Cammell you may know that he committed suicide in a fashion that is eerily similar to this, not to dwell on it, but when I first learned about how he went out it haunted me to a degree.

Audio/Video: Scream Factory have licensed the 2K restoration from the original negative that was completed by Arrow Video in the UK for their superb 2014 2-disc BD/DVD. The results are very nice, a solid 1080p transfer with a healthy layer of natural film grain, looking very filmic. A few of the darker scenes are on the grainier side of things but that is to be expected, and I am a fan of grain, I love to see it. Colors are nicely saturated and appear to be accurate with warm skin tones and the fine detail in the close-ups is fantastic. 

Scream Factory one up the audio of the Arrow disc with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 in addition to the DTS-HD MA 2.0, optional English subtitles are provided. The surround option does offer a somewhat immersive experience but mostly spreads the solid Southwestern-tinged score from Nick Mason (Pink Floyd) and Rick Fenn (10cc) to the surrounds. Dialogue, score and effects are nicely balanced on the 2.0, coming through crisp and clean. 

Last year I snatched-up the Region B locked Arrow Video Blu-ray of the movie, so I was keen to see what the differences were in the two releases. I'll start by what was carried over to the Scream Factory release, beginning with the audio commentary by Donald Cammell Biographer Sam Umland, which is an informative listen, packed with tidbits about the director and the production of the movie. Umland also provides commentary for the deleted scenes (5 Mins) which were cut from the movie by the distributor. Unfortunately we have no audio for these scenes, but the commentary from Umland suffices. There's also an Alternate Credit Sequence (2 Mins), plus the Flashback Sequences Prior To The Bleach Bypass Process (12 Mins), offering a look at the scenes before they were chemically treated. Also carried over from the Arrow disc is the Into The White - An Interview With Cinematographer And Steadicam Operator Larry McConkey (11 Mins).

Not carried over are the feature-length Donald Callumm doc Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance (75 Mins) and the Donald Cammell 1972 short film The Argument (11 Mins), plus a whopper of a 40 page Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing by Brad Stevens and Sam Umland, and a previously unpublished extract from the memoirs of producer Elliott items not to have, but if you're region-locked the Scream factory does offer some exclusive extras of their own, making this a great alternative option for fans of the movie. 

What Scream bring to the table are two brand new interviews, with actors actors Alan Rosenberg (18 Mins) and Art Evans (16 Mins), whom are very cool and down to Earth, they both speak about how they came to the movie, working with the director and crew, and what it was like on-set during the production. The Scream release also offers a sleeve of reversible artwork with new artwork by illustrator Dennis Calero, which is pretty cool, but the Arrow artwork from Nathaneal Marsh in my opinion is just unbeatable, it captures my favorite moment from the movie. Scream's release like Arrow's is a BD/DVD combo featuring the movie and the same set of extras as the Blu-ray only in standard definition and with Dolby digital audio, I like that Scream went with different artwork options for the separate disc, I am not a fan when  DVD/BD combo packs have the same artwork on both discs, but that's just a nitpick of mine, and not valid here. 

Unfortunately, what neither Arrow Video or Scream Factory were able to do is score a new interview with either of the stars Catherine Moriarty or David Keith. As a fan of the movie I am not familiar with how either received the final film or their experiences on set, do they even like the movie? I really wanted to hear from both of these actors about this movie. If any readers out there are aware of any print or media interviews with either Moriarty or Keith in respect to White of the Eye please let me know. 

Special Features

- NEW Into The Vortex – An Interview With Actor Alan Rosenberg (18 Mins) 
- NEW Eye Of The Detective – An Interview With Actor Art Evans (16 Mins) 
- Audio Commentary By Donald Cammell Biographer Sam Umland
- Deleted Scenes With Commentary By Donald Cammell Biographer Sam Umland (6 Mins) 
- Into The White - An Interview With Cinematographer And Steadicam Operator Larry McConkey (11 Mins) 
- Alternate Credit Sequence (2 Mins) 
- Flashback Sequences Prior To The Bleach Bypass Process (12 Mins)

White of the Eye (1987) is no masterpiece of modern day thriller cinema but it is certainly a captivating, often confusing, and sometimes confounding Southwestern thriller with some tasty art house visual flare and a twist of the Italian whodunit cinema. This one has been hard to find for awhile now in North America, now we have a brand new Blu-ray release from Scream Factory with fantastic A/V qualities and some value-added extras. This one deserves some love, and now that its back in wide release and easy to find I hope it finds a new audience. 3/5