Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2017)
Be warned that I am going to spoil the bejesus out this film. While I normally avoid major spoilers in these reviews, it’s going to be hard to do so this time. There is an aspect of Crystal Eyes that ruined the film for me and I can’t really address it without laying all the story’s secrets bare. Sorry about that.
I will at least leave the spoilers until the end of the review, so stop reading before you hit the “Verdict” section if you want to avoid them.
If you want a spoiler-free version, however: Crystal Eyes is pretty much Dario Argento meets John Waters in 1980s Buenos Aires. It’s a low-budget neo-giallo that wears its influences openly and has some fun with them. The world of ’80s fashion presents the perfect garish setting for such fare, even if the film doesn’t always have the budget to bring it to full life. If you’re a fan of gialli, camp, or both, you’ll find plenty to enjoy. It’s just a shame about that other aspect, however…
Crystal Eyes is currently streaming on Shudder in the UK.
Argentinean supermodel Alexis Carpenter is the worst kind of diva. Her cocaine-fuelled petulance enrages everyone she works with, although her fans and her brother still love her. All of this comes to a swift end, however, when her recklessness leads to her catching fire at a fashion show, going up like the world’s most glamorous roman candle.
There is now an Alexis-sized hole in Argentina’s fashion scene and every would-be supermodel wants to fill it. The editor of fashion magazine Attila is planning an Alexis tribute issue, with two of her top models clamouring for the cover spot. Unfortunately for them, a leather-clad figure in a mannequin mask, tottering on impractical high heels, is literally cutting a swathe through the fashion world, brutally slaying anyone who might take Alexis’s place.
Is this Alexis returned from the dead? A copycat? Or maybe an ugly genre trope brought to life? Scroll down to find out.
Crystal Eyes is a very low-budget film. Eye-catching costumes and makeup, and imaginative cinematography offset this, but the sound could come from a ’70s Italian horror movie. Maybe this is a deliberate choice to better emulate its inspirations, but it’s distracting.
Despite the lack of budget, Crystal Eyes nails a particular kind of ’80s aesthetic. Setting the film in the world of fashion excuses a lot of the excess more than most ’80s pastiches.
Crystal Eyes is made up of almost nothing but kill scenes. By the halfway point, I wondered if we were going to have enough victims left to last until the end. There is almost no plot beyond the bare framework required for the set pieces. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does make the film feel empty.
While Crystal Eyes is clearly a love letter to gialli, even down to the black leather gloved hands turning photo album pages in the credits, it feels more like a parody than a pastiche. The acting sometimes feels more soap opera than giallo. This is Garth Marenghi does Argento.
One of the strangest moments is when a TV shows a singer performing a song whose lyrics pretty much recap the plot. In a more serious film, this might have been too much, but here there is no attempt to help the audience suspend disbelief.
While most of the sets look cheap and minimalist, the mansion location used for the final act is spectacular. It should have received star billing.
As Crystal Eyes unfolded, I felt a growing sense of dread. There is nothing particularly tense or frightening about the film, but I was gripped by the expectation that the climax would involve one of my least favourite genre tropes. For a brief time, in the third act, it felt like the film might be trying to subvert this expectation. And then it didn’t.
So, the big reveal is that the killer is actually Alexis’s brother, Matias. Traumatised by her death, he has entered a delusional state where he believes himself to be Alexis. Or maybe he’s actually possessed by her vengeful spirit. It doesn’t matter. Either way, he is inspired to dress up as a fetish mannequin and stab people.
The trope of the cross-dressing or gender-confused killer has been a staple of horror since Robert Bloch’s Psycho, and existed long before. On the surface, it’s probably no worse than a lot of other horror tropes, but it has fed a persistent fear of anyone who steps outside perceived traditional gender roles. At a time when transgender people are being demonised in politics and the press, I worry that such representations unwittingly support dangerous narratives.
At the same time, I could almost argue that Crystal Eyes does something different than Psycho and its imitators. The killer uses a mannequin aesthetic that is closer to a drag queen than any trans woman. And his delusion is born out of an obsessive love for his sister rather than any gender dysphoria. Still, I can’t help but worry that such nuances would be lost on viewers whose prejudices might be supported by this trope.
All of this is especially frustrating, as it ruined what was otherwise a fun and imaginative giallo pastiche, at least for me.
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)
- My Best Friend’s Exorcism (USA, 2022)
- Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
- The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
- Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
- Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
- A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Italy, 1971)
- Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
- Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
- The Freakmaker/The Mutations (UK, 1974)
- Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
- Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
- The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
- Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
- The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
- The Addiction (USA, 1995)
- His House (UK, 2020)
- Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
- Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
- 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!