Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
I only learnt of Eyes of Fire this year, which surprises me. While it reportedly had a very limited initial release, it still came out at a time when I was actively seeking out new horror films, reading fan magazines and constantly scanning the shelves at video shops. Yet somehow this one passed me by completely. Admittedly, it would be another decade before I developed a taste for folk horror, but the cover alone would have made this an instant rental. Let’s see what I’ve been missing for all these years.
Eyes of Fire is currently streaming on Shudder in the UK.
Eyes of Fire takes place in Colonial America, in 1750. Fanny and Meg believe themselves to be the only survivors of a small backwoods settlement on the border between British and French territories. They have been picked up by French soldiers after straying into their grounds. We open as they tell their tragic story.
Fanny and Meg were part of a small group who fled a larger settlement after the preacher, Will Smythe, was accused of living in sin with two women. Smythe narrowly avoided being hanged for this when the rope snaps. This appears to be Leah’s doing, as she possesses an assortment of ill-defined psychic powers.
Despite being warned away by the local Shawnee people, the group take shelter in a remote valley. Abandoned cabins indicate that they are not the first white settlers to do so. The preacher is delighted when they find a young girl, apparently Shawnee, and decides he must convert her to Christianity. Leah is less pleased, however, as she can see the girl’s true demonic form.
With this serpent in their midst, the small community find themselves under escalating attack by supernatural forces. If any are to survive, they must uncover the dark secrets of the valley and the sinister witch who rules over all from the shadows.
Horror, like any other genre, goes through trends. Following the success of Stephen King’s Carrie in 1974, horror fiction and cinema was filled with children and young adults possessed of psychic powers. It’s something you don’t see much these days, so it’s oddly nostalgic to see the trope so prominent in Eyes of Fire. While Leah’s abilities eventually play a major role in the story, I did wonder at first if they had been shoehorned in to cash in on the trend.
Some of Leah’s visions could come from Twin Peaks. While Eyes of Fire presents a different kind of weirdness than Lynch, I can see the occasional parallel. Hell, there’s even a scene where the dialogue appears to have been recorded backwards and reversed it to make it sound off.
For something that looks and feels so much like a TV move of the early ’80s, it’s surprising when Eyes of Fire ventures into more adult areas. There is little gore, but late on in the film the spirits kill a cow and do things with its head. This is clearly not faked. Some of the spirits of the valley are naked when they appear, but unusually for the time, this is not presented in a titillating way at all. Even more unusually, the film is as casual about male nudity as female. It’s really quite refreshing in this respect.
It was interesting watching Eyes of Fire so soon after Luz: The Flower of Evil. While the two films are utterly different in tone and execution, they touch upon similar themes of the duality of good and evil in nature. Early on, a trapper reminds us “Everything that’s good has an evil side to it,” and “The devil is as natural as a brook or a tree.”
Sometimes a film comes along that utterly confounds me. I really don’t know what to make of Eyes of Fire. Hell, I’m not even sure if I liked it. Even so, it’s unique enough that I’m at least glad to have watched it.
While I’m guessing Eyes of Fire was shot on a shoestring, it doesn’t always look cheap. The sets and costumes are largely convincing. They are helped enormously by the rustic and often beautiful locations, which sell both the period and remoteness of the community well.
The visual effects are never less than interesting. While some are cheaply done and obvious in their execution, such as the witch kneeling down into a trench to vanish, they are executed imaginatively. There are also a surprising number of explosions for what is largely a sedate film. When the settlers take up arms against the spirits, the entities explode like petrol bombs when shot. It is a genuinely odd sequence, reminiscent of the exploding aliens from Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon.
Tonally, Eyes of Fire is all over the place. It seems to have aspirations of serious drama but is oddly campy. This may not have been deliberate. Part of the unevenness is down to the wildly different abilities of the cast. Some sell their roles well, even when given ludicrous things to say and do, but Dennis Lipscomb’s performance as the preacher seems to have been plucked off the stage of a high-school production of The Crucible.
The biggest problem with Eyes of Fire, however, is the editing. Scenes chop and change so abruptly that I kept being taken out of the film as I tried to work out what the hell was going on. While this doesn’t quite render the story incoherent, it does present an unnecessary impediment. Apparently, there is an extended cut, titled Cry Blue Sky, which restores 30 minutes of footage. I’m tempted to watch it to see if it solves some of these problems.
Mainly, I wonder if Eyes of Fire was simply ahead of its time. If it had been made today, would it have been handled more like an A24 film than a straight-to-video cheapie? There are some engaging ideas and unusual storytelling here, but picking them out from the general chaos takes real work.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)
- Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2018)
- Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
- Thirst (Australia, 1979)
- A Ghost Waits (USA, 2020)
- Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
- I Came By (UK, 2022)
- 100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
- Sea Fever (Ireland, 2020)
- Mill of the Stone Women (Italy, 1960)
- Glorious (USA, 2022)
- All the Moons (Spain, 2021)
- Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
- Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
- The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
- Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
- Butterfly Kisses (USA, 2018)
- The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italy, 1971)
- Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
- The Addiction (USA, 1995)
- Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
- The Freakmaker (UK, 1974)
- The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
- Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
- Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
- Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
- The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
- His House (UK, 2020)
- Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
- Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
- Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!