1981 was a big year for Slasher fans. The Friday the 13th and Halloween franchises both released a sequel, My Bloody Valentine hailed from our northerly neighbors in Canada, and a young Jason Alexander starred in The Burning. Movie-goers that year also experienced the likes of The Prowler, Happy Birthday to Me, Just Before Dawn, Graduation Day, and Final Exam. With the release of so many films with a similar premise, the question of "who came first" barely applies. One thing is for certain however; the early 1980's encapsulated some of the best films within the sub-genre and Eyes of a Stranger existed with the rest of the pack all the while.
The film opens with a young woman who receives several disturbing phone calls by a threatening yet psychotic-sounding stranger. She files a claim with the police department but due to a high volume of similar calls, her concerns are taken lightly. This negligent act leads to a most heinous crime; the woman, in addition to her boyfriend, are intruded upon and slain by a masked marauder. Female news anchor Jane Harris, all-too-familiar with the crimes, suspects that the unknown assailant resides in her high-rise apartment complex. Jane must find a way to produce enough evidence to substantiate her claims, compelling enough to captivate the interest of her boyfriend David; a defense lawyer who approaches the situation with reluctance. Are her theories outlandish? Or will her curiosity result in her demise?
Current retiree from the world of special effects makeup, Tom Savini, was a big name in the industry back in the 1980's. Not only was he a regular in George Romero's crew but he lent a skilled hand and a keen eye to various Slasher films of the era - most prominent would be his work in Friday the 13th, followed up by Maniac which was also released in the same year. The year of 1981 was particularly successful for Savini as Eyes of a Stranger, The Burning, and The Prowler would all benefit from his artistic touch. Originally, Eyes of a Stranger received an R rating which rendered many of the gory effects absent from the final release. This exercise of taming a film to abide by society's sense of morality was a standard practice in the industry during this time. Now that audiences have experienced the likes of Saw and Hostel it seems as though censorship boards are more lenient on certain forms of brutality.
Eyes of a Stranger would be director Ken Wiederhorn's second horror movie, as later endeavors materialized with the likes of Return of the Living Dead Part II from '88 and 7 episodes of Freddy's Nightmares. This short tenure was the extent of Ken's foray into horror. In comparison to other no-names in the Slasher game, Ken managed to string together a nice little story with Eyes of a Stranger - everything works out by-the-numbers and stays within the guidelines of mystery and suspense. I'd be speaking untruthfully if I were to say that it's an entertaining entry; no twists or turns or freakish elements to speak of, it merely sits complacently and unwinds to a finish rather dully. Thankfully the screenplay carries itself strongly and frivolous details with laughably bad dialog won't be found for miles.
Eyes of a Stranger is what I'd like to categorize as a safe movie. It offers the viewing audience the facts, laid out on the table, and runs straight to the finish line without any hesitation. Some might say that such a description sounds appealing and while they may be partially right it doesn't allow itself to plateau into stardom. I've given similar reviews to films in the past when I say that this particular title could be played in the background while more pressing matters are attended to. It's not unwatchable or pathetic; the acting is believable and the characters react logically for a change but who really wants to see that? There's a reason why Slasher films specifically dumb down the level of intelligence of the players featured - it gives us, the viewers, a chance to be fully aware of what lurks around the corner even if the lead actor or actress does not. Once you remove that element you're simply watching the villain get bested with little to no effort at all - and in reality, that's not very appealing.