Friday, May 10, 2013

Film Review: EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978, Irvin Kershner)

Stars: 3.5 of 5.
Running Time: 104 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Faye Dunaway (NETWORK, BONNIE & CLYDE), Tommy Lee Jones (ROLLING THUNDER, THE PARK IS MINE!), Raul Julia (THE ADDAMS FAMILY, STREET FIGHTER THE MOVIE), Rene Auberjonois (MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER, THE LITTLE MERMAID), Brad Dourif (CHILD'S PLAY, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST), Darlanne Fluegel (BULLETPROOF, TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.).  Written by John Carpenter and David Zelag Goodman (STRAW DOGS, LOGAN'S RUN), based on a story by John Carpenter.  Produced by Jon Peters (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, BATMAN, BATMAN RETURNS).  Cinematography by Victor J. Kemper (DOG DAY AFTERNOON, PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE).  Edited by Michael Kahn (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, JURASSIC PARK, TRUCK TURNER).  Featuring a soundtrack with selections by Barbara Streisand, Odyssey, KC & the Sunshine Band, Heatwave, and the Michael Zager Band.
Tag-line:  "You can't always believe what you see..."

In familiar, darkened alleyway:

"How about a New York City disco horror-thriller set in the world of high fashion, from the director of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and written by John Carpenter?"
–"Where do I sign up?!"
"Not so fast, buddy.  It's not quite as good as it sounds."
–"Aw, nuts."
"Well, don't despair, either– it strikes a middle ground."
–"So is it like a proto- HALLOWEEN?"
"Not really.  Carpy and 'Kersh (and co-writer David Zelag Goodman) have definitely taken a page from the giallo playbook on this one.  It's got some psychic phenomena, POV weirdness, and a lot of dreamy, Fulci/early Argento-esque setpieces.  It's got a bit of a sleaze factor to it that's very Eurotrash in flavor– or maybe that's just the 1970s."

–"Didn't you say "disco" earlier?"
"Hell yes, I did– this movie has caught a fever: disco fever.  It's the good old days, the popped collar and flared pants days, the studio 54 days, the gold lamé and mountains of cocaine days, the days when a pop song would have a radio edit that was three minutes, and then a full version that lasts for three hours, packed with harpsichord and oboe solos and all sorts of extraneous material."
–"You're exaggerating."
"Well, maybe, but the definite highlights of this film are the morbid high-fashion montage scenes, set to endless versions of classy disco classics like 'Let's All Chant (Your Body, My Body, Everybody Work Your Body)' by the Michael Zager Band and '(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty' by KC & the Sunshine Band–

which is to say hilariously insane 70s decadence intercut with supernatural danger and car wrecks and models wearing fanny packs and smacking each other with fur coats."

"Well, let me back up a little bit. Let me give you the background. Our hero is Faye Dunaway, who plays 'Laura Mars,' and she's definitely on the cusp of the mind-blowing melodramatic overselling of the MOMMIE DEAREST era.

She's a high-fashion photographer who's known for her macabre and controversial portraiture

but she's been having visions of her friends being murdered– murders that actually end up happening! Then she's confronted by the police with the fact that her photographs eerily mirror actual crime scenes that have been kept from the public."

–"Sounds kinda like a typical giallo.  So whodunit?"
"Like I'm going to tell you, bub.  But let's look at the rogue's gallery of supporting players.  We got a super-young Raul Julia as her drunken ex-husband and a born screw-up,

we got a delightfully intense Tommy Lee Jones as the detective helping to protect her (and a part-time shag-carpet love interest),

we got Rene Auberjonois (who I always just call Rene Aubergy-bergy-wah) as her delightfully fey manager, rocking well-coiffed 70s hair,

we even got Darlanne Flugel as a model-friend of Laura's,

an actress who later carved out a niche as "the female" throughout a ton of great testosterone-soaked 80s action flicks like BULLETPROOF and RUNNING SCARED and LOCKUP and TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A."
–"That's cool.  I likes me some Darlanne Flug–"
"I'm not finished yet.  Last, and definitely not least, we got Brad Dourif."

–"Hot damn!"
"Yeah, he plays Laura's chauffeur, and as you can see, he has a hard time keeping his eyes on the road.

At one point, he says 'You tryin' to take me to fuckin' Bellevue or what?' and it's kind of amazing because there's definitely a touch of Billy Bibbit from ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST to his performance here."
–"Looks like he's givin' it his all."
"Dourif never gives anything less.  Then, we even got Babs Streisand– sort of.  She sings the title theme without ever appearing in the film, which was a first for her.  It's because she was initially going to play Laura Mars.  She dropped out when it got too 'kinky,' which is to say, 'not kinky at all.'"
–"Well, what's the verdict?  Now I'm just confused."
"On the whole, it's not quite a lost Carpy gem, but kind of a classier precursor to Lucio Fulci's New York Trilogy (ZOMBIE, NEW YORK RIPPER, MANHATTAN BABY).  And hey– that's alright with me.  It's also allegedly the basis by which Lucas hired 'Kersh to do THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, so you might even call it the impetus for the best STAR WARS movie.  Three and a half stars."

–Sean Gill


J.D. Lafrance said...

Yeah, this is a weird film that is probably best remembered for being snapshot of that time and place, but little else. Forgot about all the people in this one, including Dourif! Man, he can do no wrong in my book.

Of course, I'm always left wondering what this film would've been like had Carpenter directed? Lots of gliding, steadicam shots a la HALLOWEEN? Maybe something more like SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME?

Sean Gill said...


Yeah, it does make you speculate on what a definitive Carpy version would have been like– I have to imagine more like SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME, but if he infused it it with a darker, more oppressive atmosphere (a la HALLOWEEN or PRINCE OF DARKNESS) it'd feel like a totally different movie. As is, it's sort of like dreamy giallo juxtaposed with lighter high fashion stuff, whereas it could have been pulse-pounding tension all the way down the line (with an unrelenting Carpy soundtrack, too, presumably).

Also the weird thought just occurred to me– Tommy Lee Jones has been in two of the rare films written by Carpenter that he didn't direct (LAURA MARS, BLACK MOON RISING), but has never worked directly with the man himself. Weird.

John Guedes said...

"...the days when a pop song would have a radio edit that was three minutes, and then a full version that lasts for three hours, packed with harpsichord and oboe solos and all sorts of extraneous material."

This part gave me a much needed laugh on my Monday morning. Hilarious!

Sean Gill said...

Glad you enjoyed, John!

Dobson said...

I'm a sucker for this movie the way I'm a sucker for basically all American Giallo. It's a nice little thriller that bridges the gap between Blow-Up and Dario Argento and Carpenter's original Halloween. Also this blog is relevant to my interests!

Sean Gill said...

Thanks for stoppin' by! You're right, that was a nice little stretch there for American giallo before the slasher took over completely, stuff like LAURA MARS, EYES OF THE STRANGER, the De Palmas, and even something like CRUISING.