Aug 22, 2011

Eyes of Fire

While still in my preteen years, I experienced a life-changing experience when I received a fairly large cardboard box full of horror VHS tapes. Including in the box were such films as Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Chopper Chicks in Zombietown (1989), From a Whisper to a Scream aka The Offspring (1987), Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1981), The Evil Dead Series, and various other films that I have long forgotten. Naturally, many of these films left a deep impression on my relatively pure soul at the time; the forgotten mystical American pioneer horror flick Eyes of Fire (1983) – directed by unknown auteur Avery Crounse – being one of the most memorable and ultimately rewarding. If you ever wondered what a Gothic horror film would be like had it been set in the woods of 1750s American instead of an abandoned Victorian mansion, Eyes of Fire may very possibly be the only film to offer such a delightful yet equally deranged experience. Although it must have been a horrifying experience for European Christians to blindly immigrate to the untamed Americas and fall prey to mostly hostile and heretical mongoloid savages, few films have dared to dive deep into the metaphysical horror associated with such true-to-life (but never mentioned) experience. Not only does Eyes of Fire feature beastly brown men but it also includes nefarious nude spirits lurking amongst ancient trees and engaged in an unnamed wild hunt. While watching the film as a youngster, I couldn’t figure out whether I loved Eyes of Fire or loathed it, but I certainly found myself magnetized to it as I couldn’t help but insert my Vestron VHS copy of the flick into my VCR in a somewhat religious manner. Although I could not articulate it during my middle school days, I now know that I was awed to the state of virtual hypnosis by the genuinely ominous atmosphere and mystical nature of Eyes of Fire. Hell, I found Eyes of Fire to be so creepy that I derived nil sexual interest from the full-frontal nudity quite a rare find for me during those virginal days without cable television) featured in the film. Like the lucid weird horror tales of H.P. Lovecraft, eroticism is totally trampled and nonexistent (despite the rampant nudity and occasional sex scenes featured within) in the wild wooded world contained within Eyes of Fire. Cheap sex is usually a given in the realm of modern horror cinema, so it is no small feat when a film from the genre has the ability to enamor the viewer without relying on the novelty of botched silicone jobs and tortuously dull torture porn.

Until a couple months ago, I hadn’t watched Eyes of Fire for well over a decade and I really had no interest in re-watching the film as many of the works that I enjoyed in my childhood bring little more than nostalgia for me nowadays. Like old girlfriends, I generally find it hopelessly redundant to revisit films that flabbergasted me in the past for such emotions can never be captured once the naive wonder of youth has faded with time. Admittedly, Eyes of Fire proved to be an exception to my mostly full-proof rule. Like Wes Craven’s Buñuel-esque surrealist horror masterpiece A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Eyes of Fire still manages to hold most of the same cinematic prowess over me as it did when I was a relatively naïve youngster. In fact, I find Eyes of Fire to be a much grander voyeuristic pleasure nowadays than when I first saw the film as a child as it seems much more coherent. After all, it has been nearly a decade since my pre-Fellini-addict days. Like a Fellini flick, Avery Crounse's supernatural American pioneer flick is full of magic but unlike the eccentric character-driven films of everyone’s favorite 1/2 Roman circus magician auteur, Eyes of Fire is of a quasi-pagan nature where the undeniable majesty of the wilderness has infinite power over the various pseudo-Christs and crosses carved out of timber featured throughout the film. In Eyes of Fire, entire families are lost in the abyss of seemingly shallow streams and children are turned into aesthetically pleasing tree bark. Throughout the film, European Christian settlers also fall prey to the ferocity of bastardized Christian prayers, sober Shawnee Injuns, and the arcane chasm of the wilderness itself. If the film has any message, it is that, depending on the worshiper, any religion has the ability to bring prosperity or pestilence and everything in between. In Eyes of Fire, a charlatan Christian reverend (stereotypically named Will Smythe) thinks that it is a blessing that he randomly finds a demonic Indian child that he can baptize, but, instead, he only sparks hell-on-earth for his followers and the wilderness that surrounds them. Maybe if real-life spiritually-intoxicated Christian missionaries took the time to watch Eyes of Fire, they would think twice about baptizing exceedingly dirty third world savages with their precious holy water. As one soon learns early on in Eyes of Fire, only a somewhat insane feisty fire-crotch named Leah with a knack for white magic has the ability to save these cursed Christians and break the black magic spell, thus, one could argue that the film is of a somewhat pro-Pagan nature.

Eyes of Fire may not be a neglected masterpiece of cinema history but it is surely one of the best kept secrets of the most redundant American horror genre. Like most great horror films, Eyes of Fire is big on atmosphere and features a disparate netherworld worthy of being compared to the most distinctive of real nightmares. Also, unlike most films (and that includes Hollywood) in general, Eyes of Fire is pure Americana, but, thankfully, not in the romantic sense. In fact, Eyes of Fire features the kind of atmosphere you would expect from Mr. David “weird Americana” Lynch, minus absurd humor (although, I do suspect that many viewers will find a scene featuring nude entities taking sips from the mammilla of a cow to be somewhat unintentionally humorous) and peculiar sex fetishes (unless you happen to be an individual who finds the great outdoor to be sexually alluring). Eyes of Fire is one of those rare horror films that will be in most cases enjoyable to even those individuals who tend to find all-things-horror nothing short of repellant. Of course, due to its age and the relatively low-budget that it was shot on, Eyes of Fire sometimes has a certain cheesy charm that will satisfy those many individuals that are addicted 1980s horror films.  If Mother Nature ever contracted a vicious venereal disease it would most likely resemble the ferocious forests featured in Eyes of Fire.  If any film has the ability to tap into spiritual chaos in Christian and Neo-Pagans alike, it is indubitably Eyes of Fire.  As for the title "Eyes of Fire" itself, I sincerely doubt I am diving head-first into the pool of absurdity when I state that the film is a pyromaniac's wet dream.  Indeed, the films features literal eyes of fire but it also features a fireworks show of some of the most aesthetically delectable pyrotechnics ever committed to the highly flammable medium of celluloid.

-Ty E


Phantom of Pulp said...

Never seen this. Sounds fascinating!

665+1 said...

So glad your review encouraged me to seek this out. Very creepy a bad nightmare one might have after seeing Aguirre for the first time