By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Gouging eyes for daughter.
Dr. Leonard Chaney (Richard Basehart) is a man tormented with guilt. He was the one driving the car the day he got into an accident that caused his daughter Nancy (Trish Stewart), who was a passenger in the vehicle, to lose her sight. Since he already had a background in eye research he begins working on finding ways to restore her vision. He finally comes upon the idea of transferring the eyes from a person with sight to hers. He chooses her boyfriend Dan (Lance Henrikson), who is also a doctor, as his guinea pig. At first the surgery is a success, but then later Nancy again goes blind. Chaney becomes even more determined to find a cure and begins kidnapping more people for his eye harvesting. Once the victims have their eyes removed he does not kill them, but instead keeps them prisoner in a cage in the basement of his mansion where his nurse and cohort, Katherine (Gloria Grahame), feeds them while also sending them electrical shocks through the metal bars of the cage just in case they try to get out-of-line.
The was the first feature length film to be produced by Charles Band, who has become known has a B-horror movie maestro. He had just gotten done producing the short Last Foxtrot in Burbank, which was virtually a shot-for-shot spoof of the Last Tango in Paris, which won him enough attention and accolades that it allowed him to get funding for this project. The star of that film Michael Pataki was commissioned to direct this one and Frank Ray Perilli, another B-actor who helped write the script for the first one, was assigned writing the screenplay here. Although the story is quite ghoulish the special effects are decent and the microscopic close-ups of eyes being poked at while in surgery will effectively make many quite squeamish.
Unlike other low budgets horrors the acting is excellent. Basehart, who was a one time considered an up-and-coming leading man but was clearly in a career decline by this point is still able to drive the story. I liked the way his character is conflicted and feels through his guilt that he’s doing the ‘right thing’ even when he isn’t, which made him a far more interesting villain than just the one-dimensional evil one. Gloria Grahame, another actor who had success, and even an Academy Award, decades earlier before plummeting into B-movie hell, isn’t as strong and her paralyzed upper lip, the unfortunate effect of too much cosmetic surgery, I found a bit annoying when she spoke, but fortunately she isn’t seen doing that too often. Henriksen is great as a caged prisoner who refuses to go down without a fight, but Vic Tayback, who had appeared with Grahame just a few years earlier in another horror flick, Blood and Lace, gets stuck with an extremely small role, as a police sergeant, which has very little screen time.
The script is a bit one-note and the second act has a redundant quality as we see one eye surgery after another. The victims become a bit too easy to subdue as well. One scene has two angry men, played by JoJo D’Amore and Al Ferrara, who chase Chaney into his home after he crashes into their car. All the Dr. does to ‘make it right’ is hand them a check for $1,000, but the men accept this offer too quickly. How would they know the check wouldn’t bounce, or that Chaney would stop payment on it before they tried to cash it? Other segments have him kidnapping a hitchhiker (Katherine Stewart) and a real-estate agent (Donna Andressen), but it’s never shown how exactly he’s able to overpower them. This was a short guy who was aging (already in his 60’s) and not too big, so he wouldn’t have necessarily had the upper-hand on these other women who were much younger and more agile, so playing-out the struggles he has with them should’ve been shown.
The blinded victims locked in a dungeon is what helps this film stand apart. Granted there are logistical issues that never get explained like how do all these people crammed into a small space pee and poop? Do they just all do it in the small cage and if so how and who scoops it out? Other than that though the make-up effects where their faces are shown with empty eye sockets is genuinely horrifying and realistic. Their efforts at trying to escape are both gripping and exciting.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: October 1, 1976
Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes
Director: Michael Pataki
Studio: Charles Band Productions
Available: DVD, Blu-ray