Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about. Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the forgotten charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: The Headless Eyes
Genre: Slasher/Psychosexual Thriller
Tagline: He’s out there… out of sight, and out of his mind!
Released by: Wizard Video
Director: Kent Bateman
Plot: Desperate to pay his rent, a starving New York artist gets one of his eyes gouged out by a young woman while he attempts to rob her. Driven insane by pain and rage he goes on a crazed murder spree throughout the city, killing young females and cutting out their eyes with a spoon for his bizarre art exhibit.
Thoughts: There were many creepy, sleazy psychosexual thrillers from the great grindhouse era of the seventies and early eighties that all seemed to be coated with an extra layer of slime. Films like Schizoid, Don’t Go in the House, Impulse, The Love Butcher and William Lustig’s classic Maniac are wonderful examples, but Kent Bateman’s The Headless Eyes is also quite a “sight” to behold. It’s a murky-looking little flick with a 16mm porno production quality, a mono soundtrack with a simple yet effective score and tons of eyeball related gore. It’s all complimented by a deliciously hammy performance from Bo Brundin as our one-eyed maniac on the loose.
The film opens with a failed robbery performed by struggling New York artist Arthur Malcom (Bo Brundin) as he attempts to steal some cash from a sleeping ladies’ purse in an apartment he’s broken into. The young woman awakens and fights the would-be crook, who pleads with her, “I only need to pay my rent.” before she grabs a nearby spoon, widely known as the bluntest of all eating utensils, and somehow manages to cut out one of his eyeballs with it. This sends Arthur into a maddening rage of searing pain and anger, as he struggles down the fire escape ladder screaming, “My eye! My eye! My eye!” over and over again, which is played on an audio loop that goes on so long it becomes beautifully comical.
Cut to a few months later and Arthur has healed from the loss of his orb physically, but mentally he’s one fucked up dude. Now sporting an unflattering eye patch, his work is totally driven by eyeball imagery. You could say the artist has become completely obsessed with them. That combined with a powerful new hatred of all women prompts him to go on a psychotic killing spree through the streets of The Big Apple, murdering young ladies and removing their eyes with a spoon. He then takes his little “trophies” and freezes them in ice, to be added later for freakish eyeball collages. It’s some weird shit that would make Lucio Fulci say, “What the fuck!”
Okay, so this is definitely a so-bad-it’s-good entry into the genre. Its tone is equal parts creepy and unintentionally hilarious. There’s a sequence in which an obnoxious drunk couple makes fun of our protagonist through the glass window of his art studio. He follows them home, where he’s allowed entrance by the suddenly sober and friendly pair and attacks them with a hammer, removing their peepers. The next day a news report is done outside the victim’s building with a huge crowd gathered and nobody seems to find the creepy-looking guy with the eye patch standing around in the least bit suspicious.
Bo Brundin’s wonderfully over-the-top performance as our serial eyeball gouger is what sells this flick for me. His Shakespearean inspired monologues are tremendously hammy, yet he gives them an air of sophistication that elevates it to a new level of psycho killer awesomeness. I actually felt some sympathy for him as he attempts to form a possible relationship with a young girl he stalks, but sadly she ends up becoming another potential victim instead.
Even though this movie was made for practically nothing and is horribly under lit, it makes excellent use of the sleaze-soaked atmosphere of early 70’s New York. The crazed meat packing district finale is awesome and slightly reminiscent of Kubrick’s The Shining if H.G. Lewis made it on mob money. In short, if you can find a copy of this 42nd street masterpiece of grimy pre-slasher horror, sit back and enjoy!
Post Thought: Well, it’s about time I got down to doing a horror film released by the iconic kings of exploitation analog, Wizard Video. Their vast library of titles include: Zombie, Return of the Zombies, Oasis of the Zombies, Zombiethon, A Virgin Among the Living Dead, Breeders, I Spit on Your Grave, Mandinga, Space Vampires, Savage Island and Fiend, to name a few. Their beautifully painted big box covers are considered amongst VHS collectors to be some of the most highly coveted. A mint condition Wizard VHS can cost a pretty penny depending on who’s selling it. That combined with their incredible catalog of obscure exploitation oddities and a totally rad company logo makes them just about the coolest thing that ever happened to home video in my opinion. The good news for VHS collectors both old and new is that you can now purchase brand new copies of all those amazing big box releases on line from Wizard Video here from the good folks at Full Moon. They’re a bit pricey at fifty bucks a pop, but come signed by the legendary Charles Band (or forty five bucks for an unsigned copy) and most of these films will never be available on DVD ever. I seriously doubt The Headless Eyes will receive the digital jump, making my original, slightly worn copy all the more priceless to me. Just feast your “eyes” on that amazing box art above. It’s sublime and like most Wizard Video covers better then the actual film is.
WATCH THE ORIGINAL VHS TRAILER!: