Tuesday, November 21, 2017

EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978) (Indicator Blu-ray Review)


Label: Powerhouse Films/Indicator Series 
Rating: BBFC Cert: 15 
Region Code: Region-Free
Audio: English LPCM 1.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HE Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Irvin Kershner 
Cast: Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, René Auberjonois, Raúl Juliá

Directed by Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) from an scripted by John Carpenter (Halloween), the disco-era American giallo Eyes Of Laura Mars (1978) is a psychic-thriller whodunit set in the high-fashion mecca of New York City, we have titular fashion photographer Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway, Bonnie and Clyde) has been experiencing visions of real-life murder through the eyes of a killer, the horrifying voyeuristic visions literally bleed through into her photographic work, a mix of sexed-up violence, nude women and blood. The graphic images cause quite a controversy, the press often implying that the images are detrimental to scoety and demeaning to women.

Mars has been experiencing these visions for years, but when she begins to see the murder of her close friends and associates through the eyes of the killer it strikes too close to home, beginning with the murder of her publisher. Enter Police Lieutenant John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones, Rolling Thunder), who shows her unreleased images of murder scenes that closely resemble her own violent photography, he makes the argument that her images glorify violence, which is a theme that the movie continues to argue, but not in any meaningful way in my opinion.

Despite their differences the cop and photographer begin to fall for each other, resulting in some hammy exchanges, a particular scene at the park with the two hiding in the bushes arguing about how wrong their relationship is was absolutely, and unintentionally, comical. The movie goes out of it's way to throw red-herrings at you, it's a true American giallo in that respect, the two main suspects are Mars' ex-con assistant/driver Tommy (the always weird Brad Dourif, Spontaneous Combustion) or her possessive ex-husband Michael (Raul Julia, The Addams Family). 

Just looking at this one as an American giallo we have a lot of trademarks, we get the black-gloved killer, a psychic-thriller whodunit motif, and a high-fashion setting along the lines of Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace (1967), though the film has a more down and dirty New York vibe along the lines of Taxi Driver, it doesn't have the visual opulence of say a Dario Argento whodunit. It does however have some stylish scenes involving the photo shoots, but the murders scenes are nowhere near as enthralling as an Argento joint, and the gore is toned-down quite a bit, a scene involving some eye-trauma only hints and some judicial editing.

The movie seems to struggle a bit within its own skin, conflicted about what it wants to be, is it a gritty giallo-esque whodunit, is it a glamorous psychic thriller, it's both but it lacks the visceral edge of a 70's Italian whodunit, it's got the glamour and basic trademarks but lacks the European eye for perverse sexiness and artful execution. It's also a bit slow in spots, and it feels overly and unintentionally campy in other places, as evidenced by the photog's agent Donald (René Auberjonois, Where the Buffalo Roam) dressed in drag and beating a cop with his handbag, and the deliciously strange finale with someone crashing through a huge window and a hint of multiple-personality disorder that had me saying "what just happened?". 

Eyes of Laura Mars is a movie I first sought out because of the contribution of John Carpenter who wrote the initial script, but it went through many changes before making it's way tot he big screen, including the love angle and making it a more of a whodunit than a psychic-slasher. I think it's a hot mess of a movie but it is star-studded and strangely weird in a way that makes it interesting. Adding to the fun is an overwrought performance from Dunaway (just a few years before Mommie Dearest), and an over-the-top turn from Raul Julia as her, plus a suitably creepy role from a very shaggy (and young) Brad Dourif. Tommy Lee Jones seems pretty aloof and subdued for most of the film, but his weirdness does come through at the end and the aforementioned scene at the park with Dunaway. 

Audio/Video: Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) makes it's worldwide Blu-ray debut from Indicator in 1080p HD widescreen 1.85:1, the image looks good with a nice layer of film grain, it's not the most stunning image in terms of clarity and depth but it looks faithful to the source, and there's some modest fine detail to the image in the close-ups. Audio comes by way of a lossless LPCM Mono track, everything sounds clean and well-balanced, the score from Artie Kane sounds great, as do the disco soundtrack selections from KC and the Sunshine Band, Michael Zager Band and a theme song provided by Barbara Streisand - who was originally planned to star!  

Onto the extra Indicator carry-over the director's commentary and original making-of, and the 8-min image gallery of on-set and promotional photography with commentary by documentary filmmaker Laurent Bouzereau, whom discusses the differences in the finished film and the various script incarnations, all from the 2000 Columbia Pictures DVD. The commentary is a bit subdued and very production oriented, I found it a bit dry, the making of doc is a nice vintage featurette from '78 with behind-the-scenes video and an interview with star Faye Dunaway. Onto the new stuff there's a 13-min analysis/appreciation by film critic Kat Ellinger who discusses the slasher/giallo roots of the film, the high fashion elements, and it's place in cinema as an American giallo, it's an astute exploration of the film. Indicator have also included director David DeCoteau's Trailers from Hell episode wherein he lavishes praise on the film. The disc is finished up with a theatrical trailer and an image gallery of behind-the-scenes and promotional images. 

Onto the packaging extras, we get a 20-page booklet with cast and crew info, notes about the transfer, an appreciation with lots of production info from Rebbecca Nicole Williams (aka the Celluloid Sorceress), a '78 article from Playboy magazine with producer John Peters, and vintage critical response from the press.  

Special Features 
- Audio Commentary with Director Irvin Kershner
- Visions: Original Making of documentary (7 min) HD )
- Trailers From Hell: David DeCoteau on Eyes of Laura Mars (3 min) HD
- Eyes On Laura Mars: on-set and promotional photography with commentary by Laurent Bouzereau (8 min) HD 

- The Eyes Have It: an appreciation by critic Kat Ellinger (13 min) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (3 min) HD 
- Image Gallery (68 Images) HD
- Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Rebbecca Nicole Williams, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and historic articles on the film 

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) has been long out-of-print on DVD and fetching some hefty after-market prices on eBay, so I am pleased to see it makes it's worldwide Blu-ray debut from Indicator who offer up pleasing A/V presentation and some old and new extras. I think the movie is a mixed bag, a film that's probably not as essential as it's reputation would imply, but one that has developed a healthy cult-status in the years since its release, perhaps bolstered by the scarcity of the DVD and the a-list cast and crew, but regardless of what lies behind the cult status, it's great to see it widely available again for fans and others to rediscover in HD.   

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