Today’s entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series in 1981’s Eyes of a Stranger. Ken Weiderhorn’s film is a gory and disturbing take on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Instead of the protagonists looking into the murder of their neighbor’s wife, newscaster Jane Harris (played by The Love Boat’s Lauren Tewes) begins to suspect that her neighbor might be the murderer/rapist that has been brutally murdering women in Miami. She has been covering the murders for her news program and discovers that the victims get phone calls right before they are killed. She lives with her blind and deaf-mute sister Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh in her first film role). As Jane gets closer to the truth, she discovers that she and her sister might just be the next targets of the killer.
The incredibly tense moments of suspense are what sets this film apart from other films of the period. There are sequences where Jane is investigating her neighbor that genuinely capture the same level of suspense when Grace Kelly’s Lisa sneaks into the murderous neighbor’s apartment in Rear Window. The film also features practical gore effects by Tom Savini, known for his work on Dawn of the Dead (Romero, 1978) and Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980). It is important to note that as the killer in this film is also a rapist, this film does deal with themes and brief images of sexual assault. Eyes of a Stranger also differs from similar slashers and thrillers by showing the audience who the killer is at the beginning of the film. It is Jane who is unsure of his identity and seeking to prove her theory throughout the film.
Most of the critical attention for the film focused on Jennifer Jason Leigh’s strong performance as Tracy, which is understandable as she does give a great turn as the blind and deaf-mute character. They completely overlook Lauren Tewes’ performance as Jane, however, which I believe is the strongest element of the film. Many just remember Tewes as the chipper cruise director Julie on The Love Boat, which I have always really enjoyed. But in Eyes of a Stranger she goes against type and delivers a really excellent performance. Jane is an incredibly active and assertive lead and is willing to put herself in danger to solve the mystery. The film also focuses on her struggles with misogyny and sexism at the TV station that she works at, as her male co-worker don’t feel that she is up to covering such challenging stories.
Unlike some of the campy and more light-hearted slasher films that I will be featuring this month, Eyes of a Stranger is a disturbing and harrowing thriller. With strong performances from its two female leads, excellent practical gore effects, and an incredible knack for creating edge-of-your-seat suspense, Eyes of a Stranger is a must-watch if you’re looking for a film to shake you up this October. While the film may be a tough watch at times, it is beyond rewarding to see Lauren Tewes kick ass as Jane.
Eyes of a Stranger can be rented from Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. You can purchase the Shout! Factory blu-ray, which features an excellent restoration and great special features HERE.
I’ll see you tomorrow with another entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series.