The Underrated: The Eyes of Laura Mars

Well, this film was unexpected. I put it on the list as it was initially released on August 2nd 1978, which I deemed close enough to my actual date of birth to include it in the birthday series. Since then it’s been superseded by another film, but, regardless, I was intrigued about the premise enough to give it a watch. Probably because it sounds a lot like Blink with Madeleine Stowe and I really like that film. Nevertheless, though, The Eyes of Laura Mars was a pleasant surprise.

Faye Dunaway taking pictures. There are lots of these shots in this film. And lots of shots of her eyes as well.

The Eyes of Laura Mars has a hugely impressive pedigree. Originally it started life as a John Carpenter script (yes, that John Carpenter) and you can still see his marks all over it. The script passed around the studio for a while, before being picked up by Jon Peters’ as a starring vehicle for his then girlfriend Barbara Streisand. It was slightly rejigged (the ending) and eventually Irvin Kershner (yes, that Irvin Kershner) signed up to direct it. As a completely random aside, IMDB tells me that this is the film that inspired Lucas to hire Kershner for Empire Strikes Back, which is a left field choice, but does show that on his day Darth Gizzard was a good judge of other people’s talent. Not his own, obviously, just to be entirely clear on that.

Streisand passed on the script due to the amount of violence and nudity in the film, but did still deign to supply the theme song. Nevertheless, the lure was enough to attract Faye Dunaway (fresh from her Oscar win for Network) to play the title role. It also drew Tommy Lee Jones, Raul Julia, Rene Auberjons, and a young Brad Dourif to play various parts. This does beg the question as to why? What was it about this little Giallo that attracted this calibre of talent?

Look at that! Even the Hairpiece himself would think twice about this combo

The Eyes of Laura Mars is one of the only American attempts at an Argento style Giallo. Now, before you laugh and disregard it as being rubbish, bear with me while I explain. The story is astonishingly simple: Laura is a high-class fashion photographer. She starts having visions of her friends and co-workers being killed, which she sees from the killers’s point of view. What we have here is basically a supernatural whodunnit with a twist- and a pretty interesting and exciting one to boot (even if it is incredibly obvious who the killer is).

Dunaway, not someone I usually think of as a scream queen, is excellent here. She’s got a powerful set of lungs when required, but most of the time she’s forced to actually act. Just as well she’s on fine form, really. Tommy Lee Jones, on the other hand, is having a whale of a time (inexplicable hair and monobrow combination aside). He plays the film with a big shit-eating grin on his face, and fair play to him. Raul Julia is magnificently sleazy playing Laura’s alcoholic ex-husband, and Brad Dourif is all twitches and unpleasant ticks as Laura’s ex-con driver. This is a well acted piece.

I really wasn't joking in that earlier caption,

The writing, on the other hand, isn’t actually up to too much. I would actually like to know who the original killer was in Carpenter’s script, because the twist ending here is highly predictable from a very early point. Nevertheless, to a certain extent this is a message film. Carpenter jammed the script full of links between the fashion industry’s glamourisation of violence and the actual horror of murder. Laura made her name taking “art” shots of models holding guns and the like, and her big set pieces in the film are a post-apocalyptic New York motif and a tableau with a murdered model in a pool. It’s a touch unsubtle (and the film repeats it in dialogue, just in case we missed it) but nevertheless at least they made the attempt to elevate what would otherwise be a pretty standard slasher/ giallo with a supernatural twist.

A model with a gun. Subtlety is not Laura's strong point.

Where the film scores hugely, though, is in the design and the direction. Helmut Newton (who I’d never heard of before this review) was apparently a hugely important and influential 70’s fashion photographer. So, it’s a clever move to have him construct the actual fashion shoots in the film. Secondly, Kershner handles almost all of the scenes with some aplomb, and as this is surprisingly fundamentally dialogue driven, he handles both the pacing and the character scenes with some style. Aside from this, though, he’s clearly aware what a sleazy film this is at heart and as such allows the  nudity and violence to go to town when required, and scores the whole film with the disco music of the time. This reeks of sex and sleaze and it is to his immense credit that he manages to balance the more exploitative aspects with the message in the film.

I described this above as a giallo, and it obviously is. The film reeks of the Italian directors of the time, notable Argento in the serial killer visions, and Fulci in the repeated focus on the characters eyes. Not that I would recommend Fulci as a model for anything other than how not to make a film (I still haven’t forgiven the cocksucker for The Black Cat). Nevertheless, in a film essentially about observation, it’s somewhat appropriate to see so many close-ups of eyes etc- it does make the point neatly. This is an intensely stylish film, and much like the industry it is studying, the style is a huge part of the appeal, if not all of it.

Where are the Kaiser Chiefs when you need them?

Is it flawless? No. The writing, as mentioned above is extremely patchy, occasionally didactic and dogmatic, and I honestly believe that it could have done with a rewrite (change the  killer’s identity). Furthermore, there is a fundamental problem here that the film never bothers to address: why is Laura having these visions? She just has them, it’s accepted by everyone that she’s having them, but there’s no rhyme, reason, or purpose to the visions. Actually, the film is just as successful without her supernatural interludes, and it could quite easily have worked without them. This kind of paranormal nonsense needs resolution as the question “is she plagued with this forever” remains. As a result, the Eyes of Laura Mars is strangely unsatisfying.

Overall, I do recommend this film. However, I recommend it for the sleaze and style that oozes off the screen. What I’m more interested in, however, is why on earth has it disappeared? It’s a cast with multiple Oscar winners and a horror legend, directed by the man who made the greatest sequel in history and written by a future genre icon. It makes no sense at all to me that it has sunk without trace, and as such I do recommend that you search out a copy of it. There are certainly worse ways to spend a couple of hours.

Until next time,

Jarv

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

18 responses to “The Underrated: The Eyes of Laura Mars”

  1. Jarv says :

    Also, I really, really like that poster. I’m actually thinking about buying it.

  2. Xiphos0311 says :

    This is a good movie from what I remember, but it’s been at least 15 or more years since I’ve seen it. The copious nudity is a plus.

    • Jarv says :

      I was honestly surprised. I’d never even heard of it until I was assembling that list of crap (I’m now a whopping Seven minutes into Xanadu, and it may possibly be the worst film of all time).

      Mrs. Jarv’s only real complaint was with serial-killer cam, and the reveal of who it was. The first was a not-so-great effect and the second was flamingly obvious. Still, Jones’ hair is immense in this film.

      It’s a big leap to go from this to ESB though.

  3. Xiphos0311 says :

    I seem to remember there being a bunch of theses supernatural thriller/mystery types of movies that came out around this time. I think this might have been the best one.

    • Jarv says :

      Europe, notably Italy, banged out quite a few- Strip Nude for your Killer leaping to mind. This is easily the best I’ve seen, in that it’s a coherent film. And a good one.

      It’s also the best Giallo not called Suspira that I’ve ever seen.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        I was thinking more along the lines of cheapie drive in styles movies because I can guran-damn-tee you I wasn’t watching European movies in ’78, hell I barely watch them now.

      • Jarv says :

        I’m sure that there were loads of American cheapie B-movies on the same line. I’ve just seen loads of European ones, due to bloody Shameless films.

        It’s a pretty easy template: Hot women+ Serial Killer+ Nudity+ idiotic twist= script written.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        You would think that such an easy concept would be bullet proof and safe from idiots messing up such a simple formula yet they mange to do it was some regularity.

      • Jarv says :

        It should be un-fuck-uppable.

        I wouldn’t mind a remake of this, actually, but I can’t believe you’d get a cast as good as this one. Or a director as good actually. Can you imagine Eli Roth’s version?

      • Continentalop says :

        Can you imagine Eli Roth’s version?

        Unfortunately yes. And now that you’ve brought this up, I can expect Eli to go out and try and remake this.

  4. Droid says :

    This certainly has some pedigree to it. I’ll have to check it out.

  5. Continentalop says :

    Have to see this again. Haven’t seen it since I think the 80s.

    And thanks Jarv for reminding me of Strip Nude for your Killer. I was trying to forget that and The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardoh.

  6. Frank Marmoset says :

    I like this one, too. It crops up on telly now and then so I’ve seen it a few times over the years. There’s nothing earth-shattering in it but it’s a solid little thriller.

    Nice write up, Jarv.

  7. ThereWolf says :

    Got to be nigh on 20 years since I saw ‘Laura Mars’. I don’t remember much – the killer reveal was a bit cack. By all accounts Carpenter was entirely dis-chuffed with what they did with to story. And, yeh, Laura’s telepathic episodes aren’t explained well at all. Good enough film, though. I’ll have to see this again…

    Nice one, Jarv.

  8. Bartleby says :

    Yea I saw this years ago….sought it out after we had a dumbass video store patron (yes, I worked at one, is anyone surprised) come in asking for, and I quote, ‘The Ass of Laura Mars’. When questioned if he was thinking of a porno, he could only stammer ‘no, the Fugitive guy is in it’.

    I’m assuming the copious nudity had burned his brain. When I did find it, I recall holding the video box–one of those giant clamshell deals–up to his idiot face when he returned. Surprisingly, he didn’t want it anymore. Perhaps the switch from ass to eyes was too much.

    From then on, our running joke when he walked in was ‘Here comes the Ass of Laura Mars’.

    On another note, this is a good movie with a bad case of ‘who is the villain’ meltdown towards the end.

    They also crapped up a Carpenter script with Black Moon Rising as I remember, also with Tommy Lee. That one was a bit less interesting than this.

    Also way more obvious than they think it is.

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