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 warthe 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 lost 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: Eyeball
 A tale of blinding horror!
Released by:
 Prism Entertainment
 Umberto Lenzi

click to embiggen

Plot: A killer in a red rain slicker is murdering young female tourists on a sightseeing bus tour in Barcelona and gouging out their eyeballs.

Thoughts: Giallo (Italian pronunciation: [ˈdʒallo], plural gialli) is an Italian 20th century genre of literature and film, which in Italian indicates crime fiction and mystery. In the English language it refers to a genre similar to the French fantastique genre and includes elements of horror fiction and eroticism. The word giallo is Italian for “yellow” and stems from the origin of the genre as a series of cheap paperback mystery novels with trademark yellow covers. – Wikipedia definition.

It’s no secret that the Italian Giallo genre, which had its heyday in the seventies, was the prototype for what became the American slasher genre, that rode its peak throughout the eighties. Anyone who’s seen Mario Bava’s classic Bay of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve will know that Sean S. Cunningham borrowed a lot of it for Friday the 13th and flat out stole one of its more gruesome murders for Part 2. Also, John Carpenter was a big Dario Argento fan and copied the Jacuzzi death in Halloween II from a similar bathtub murder in Deep Red. But one thing the American imitators were never able to copy was that distinct Italian Giallo style. The five common devices always to be found in a Gialli include:

1. A bevy of gorgeous young women that will be stalked and killed in a stylish and gruesome manner.

2. A score of red herrings thrown about to keep you constantly guessing as to the killer’s identity.

3. The killer usually wears black gloves and black clothing and uses a knife or sharp blade of some sort.

4. The motive for the killings is most often due to a psychosexual trauma, usually stemming from a childhood incident.

5. There’s always a detective or detectives working on the case, but it’s usually the main hero who figures it all out in the end.

Eyeball, a sleazy little Giallo from the legendary Italian exploitation filmmaker Umberto Lenzi (Nightmare CityCannibal Ferox), follows the five-device rule to a tee. A group of vacationers take a guided tour bus around the city of Barcelona, stopping along the way to check out various landmarks. Unfortunately, someone dressed in a blood red raincoat and matching gloves (straying from the standard black) is killing off the female tourists and gouging out one of their eyeballs as a trophy everywhere they go. A crotchety old police chief with only a week to retirement takes on the case and questions each passenger, but turns up nothing. The tourists are an eclectic mix of suspicious types: a rude American with his wife and daughter, a flirtatious lesbian couple, a priest (?!), a WWII vet with an old head injury, a quirky prankster and an adulteress.

Mark Burton, an American public relations guy, meets up with his secretary and secret lover on the sightseeing trip. His mentally disturbed wife is supposedly checked into a hospital for her nerves and knows nothing of the affair, or does she? When the murders begin she is unreachable, then suddenly Burton’s informed that his wife never even made it to the mental clinic. She’s flown to Barcelona and is checked into a hotel there! Mark’s also having recurring flashbacks of the similar murder of a girl near their home and wondering why he once found his wife lying unconscious on the ground with a bloody dagger in one hand and someone’s eyeball in the other. Throw another red herring on the fire, please.

Even though the murders continue, so does the bus tour. You would think that someone would call it off, but it just keeps going with less and less female passengers on board until we’re only down to a few. I’m not going to spoil the reveal of the eyeball-killer in the bloody conclusion, but let’s just say I’ve seen enough Giallos in my day to guess where this one was going, but unlike the tour group, I had a fun ride along the way.

I’d put this Giallo right next to Sergio Martino’s awesome Torso. Both films are not the most masterfully told mysteries, but they do present all the wonderfully exploitive elements I discussed earlier with a great deal of flair. If someone had never seen a Giallo before, I would recommend this one as a great starter course. It’s got an impressive collection of gorgeous women to be victimized, bloody and stylized murders that make excellent use of red, green and blue lighting gels (especially a kill that takes place in a haunted house ride), a suspenseful score from Bruno Nicolai and lots of beautiful Spanish scenery. I wouldn’t compare it to the classics of Bava or Argento, but it’s one fun, trashy little Giallo. Manja!

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