Eyes of Laura Mars is a film that seems like it’s bound to have a massive critical reappraisal in the years to come. It’s a stunning piece of work based on an original script by John Carpenter. It was meant to be a low-budget horror flick, but ended up becoming a big Hollywood film directed by Irvin Kershner, who off the back of this would get the directing job for Empire Strikes Back.
Faye Dunaway plays the title role, a famous fashion photographer who has the ability to see through the eyes of a killer. The murders bear a resemblance to her own photography, which has taken a more violent turn in recent years, and interestingly it’s mostly woman-on-woman violence, which is rare in these kinds of films. Detective John Nevile (Tommy Lee Jones) notices these similarities, and soon Mars is under investigation—but soon enough he knows that she is innocent of murder. They join forces to find out who the killer is, and in the meantime a romance blossoms between the two.
The film is a clear attempt to Americanize the Giallo, which was a prominent genre of horror thriller in Italy throughout the ’60s and ’70s and a predecessor to the very American genre of the slasher film. I’ve never been a massive fan of the Giallo, other than some notable exceptions—mostly Mario Bava’s forays into the genre he birthed. However, this film has a great, lavish, coke-fueled Studio 54-type design palette that suits this sort of film, and the ridiculous disco soundtrack just compliments the aesthetic.
Faye Dunaway brings a stunning intensity to the role, her first screen performance after her much-deserved Oscar win for her part in Network. Tommy Lee Jones as always is good, but it’s hilarious to see him in ’70s garb and with black hair, especially since it wasn’t till the late ’80s/early ’90s, after he went grey, that his career really kicked off in a big way. Brad Dourif plays Dunaway’s driver, and does the scenes as his usual wild-eyed self. He is really one of the America’s finest actors, and the fact that he hasn’t been getting the work he should be in recent years is a real crime against cinema.
Overall, Eyes of Laura Mars is real forgotten gem of the ’70s. It’s a brutal but beautiful-looking thriller that predates some of what Brian De Palma would do so excellently as well in Body Double and Dressed To Kill in the ’80s. Interestingly, the red herrings never seem forced, and the film will hopefully keep you guessing who the killer is till the final reveal. Everything is helped by Victor J. Kemper’s cinematography (Kemper also shot Dog Day Afternoon and Slap Shot, and many other great ’70s films) and the solid editing by Michael Kahn, who has worked mostly exclusively with Steven Spielberg for the last 40 years.
The extras include a commentary by Kershner, a vintage making-of, a newly filmed appreciation by Kat Ellinger, a 1999 featurette about the various drafts of the screenplay, and the Trailers from Hell commentary from David DeCoteau. The disc package is rounded off by the theatrical trailer and a stills gallery. The booklet includes a new essay by Rebecca Nicole Williams, an overview of the film’s initial reception, and more.