Eyes Without a Face 1994
aka Madness aka Gli Occhi Dentro
Directed by: Bruno Mattei
Starring: Monica Seller, Gabriele Gori, Emy Valentino
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
If you look at the majority of films from the Italian exploitation directors of the late seventies and early eighties, many of them worked within similar – if not identical genres. After Fulci’s ‘Zombi 2’ was a major box office success, Umberto Lenzi (Nightmare City), Marino Girolami (Zombie Holocaust), Andrea Bianchi (Burial Ground) Claudio Fragasso (After Death) and Joe D’Amato (Erotic Nights of the Living Dead) all jumped on the bandwagon to helm their own gory genre-additions. The same could be said about Ruggero Deodato’s Jungle Holocaust, which led to the production of movies like Cannibal Ferox (Umberto Lenzi), Mountain of the Cannibal God (Sergio Martino) and Antonio Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse.
By far their biggest contribution to Horror cinema has been the Giallo, which to those that don’t know, is basically the Italian version of the American slasher movie – only the Giallo came first. You can blame Mario Bava. His 1963 and 1964 murder/mysteries (The Girl who knew too much and Blood and Black Lace) are in fact credited with launching the cycle. If you check through the filmography of any of the Euro exploitation titans that were working throughout the years that followed, then you’re sure to find a Giallo lurking in there somewhere.
It came as a surprise then when I learned that Bruno Mattei (arguably the sleaziest filmmaker of them all – and the first to jump on the bandwagon) – hadn’t blessed the genre with his own contribution right up until 1994. Now I know that the Italians kept working with the slasher/Giallo category long after the Americans had realised that the cash-cow had been well and truly milked – but by 1994, pretty much the entire world was aware that masked killers were truly a thing of the past. Perhaps that explains why Eyes without a Face or Madness (Gli Occhi Dentro – surprisingly NOT a remake of George Franju’s classic of the same name) has become such a tough little cookie to track down. Even the copy that I eventually found was coverless, subtitled in French and was almost unwatchable due to the poor quality.
Artist Giovanni Dai (Monica Seller) comes under fire from the media when a masked maniac begins emulating the murders committed by the lead character in her comic Doctor Dark. It tells the tale of a murderous schizophrenic that spends his days working as a Pagan professor, but spends his nights murdering babysitters. The assassin then removes his victim’s eyeballs and places broken glass over the bleeding sockets. Before long the slaughters begin getting closer and closer to Giovanni and her boyfriend and it’s left up to the dedicated detective Callistrati (Anthony Zequila) and his squad to stop the psychopath before he finally reaches her…
Madness begins with a surprisingly engaging scene, which hints at the argument that violence in home entertainment has a huge effect on behaviour in the community. This is a popular debate that has stretched from books to cinema and more recently video games and it still rages on even today. “If they kill someone with a power drill, do they take it out on Black and Decker?” Giovanni asks sarcastically. I guess that it depends on your own personnel views whether you agree with that statement or maybe you look at it from a different perspective. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that this topic is being discussed by a character in a movie directed by Bruno Mattei; a filmmaker that has never been credited for showing intelligence in his works. In fact, this feature does a fair amount to disprove the fallacy that Mattei doesn’t have a shred of talent in his body and is just an exploitive hack – something that his critics will always leap to acknowledge. Some of the photography is smartly planned and exciting, the score’s brilliantly orchestrated, the gore’s fairly restrained and he even manages to create a large amount of suspense in a number of the stalking scenes.
The mystery is fairly well constructed and should keep you guessing up until the slightly over ambitious climax. There are also a few moments when Mattei unleashes a few of his trademarks. The first murder victim suffers a particularly graphic eye impalement, which brought back fond memories of Margit Evelyn Newton’s infamous fate in Zombie Creeping Flesh. It doesn’t take too long either for Monica Seller to rip off her clothes and jump on top of her boyfriend – another of Mattei’s necessities. That’s all you’ll get in the gore and nudity department, even if the other murders are hardly ‘family viewing material’. The inspiration for the feature looks to have stemmed mainly from Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball; however the killer dresses in a black mask and fedora like a more familiar Giallo bogeymen. He also heavy breathes like an American ‘slasher’ – so it’s obvious that Bruno had taken a dose of the genre’s American counterparts before production.
After a promising start the pace does huff and puff somewhat until the climax and a few more murders would have been nice. It’s also a shame that this was yet another victim of abysmal dubbing for the English speaking market, which made the movie even tougher to appreciate.
Even so, the net result is a fairly decent murder mystery that should push the right buttons for fans of the slasher/Giallo genre. It’s only a shame it’s as rare as a bus in the rain, because it may have done a fair bit to boost Mattei’s debatable cinematic reputation. Give it a try if you can manage to track it down. You may even find that you’re pleasantly surprised…
Final Girl √√