A modern (well 1981) take on a Hitchcockian thriller but with very early 80’s level of gore (provided by our pal Tom Savini, who also provided makeup and effects for the prior two days’ films, The Prowler and The Burning) and a dash of giallo (expressionist coloring in murder sequences, soft focus flashback); it’s a combination that with only an occasional awkward moment or two meshes well under director Ken Wiederhorn’s supervision.
A madman is murdering women in Miami, and news anchorwoman Jane Harris (Lauren Tewes) is taking it very seriously, almost personally. She issues off-script warnings on the air, which stems from the fact she still feels guilty over an incident that happened when she was a child and failed to look after her sister Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who was sexually molested, and sent into a state of shock that rendered her deaf, dumb and blind (no mention is made to her pinball prowess). Jane’s convinced the murderer is Stanley Herbert, a co-inhabitant of the same trendy high rise condominium, who often seems to come home very late at night. Stanley seemed like such an obvious candidate, that I jokingly remarked to myself while watching it that his character’s name should be Red T. Herring, but in a twist to the twist, Stanley is actually the killer, and Jane’s suspicions were correct! But what happens when Herbert makes the connection whilst watching the news, and sets his eyes on the seemingly defenseless Tracy?
There’s a weird disconnect between the murder scenes, which are very cinematic in their stylistic composition and coloring not to mention the high levels of Savini’s gore (severed heads, slit throats that gusher out blood) and the Jane investigating the neighbor portion which come off as a made-for-TV level Hitchcock tribute (specifically it’s very reminiscent of another high-rise condo set made for television film, John Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me), that is jarring at first, but Wiederhorn has enough skill at both disparate methods, that it eventually gels into cohesion. The film takes another emotional twist when Tracy’s does become involved in the murder plot, and Herbert plays cruel tricks by moving stuff around to fuck with her, and it turns very uncomfortably creepy. And I mean that in the best way!
Lauren Tewes is kind of generic and wooden as a lead, and pales in comparison to another blonde anchorwoman in a 1981 horror film, The Howling’s Dee Wallace, but John DiSanti is effective at a sort of unhinged yet mild mannered psychotic. In a nice nod to Rear Window, he’s made to look very similar to Raymond Burr in the Hitchcock classic. In her screen debut, Jennifer Jason Leigh displays the fine actor she would become, and all without speaking and playing blind. In fact, she elevates one of the dumber moments of the film with her soulfulness when (SPOILER ALERT) she regains her vision after the failed rape attempt by Herbert, I guess like multiplication where two negatives equals a positive, a second sexual assault results in the resurgences of her senses. Leigh looks at herself in the mirror, seeing the alterations since she last had vision, and gently caresses her breast, a signifier of the woman she has become after having her childhood and teen years snatched away. Credit Wiederhorn for keeping that scene in, it’s a gentle and human moment in an otherwise exploitative, but very well made, horror film.