Eyes Of Laura Mars (1978)

Director: Irvin Kershner

Starring: Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Rene Auberjonois, Raul Julia, Frank Adonis

Written by David Zelag Goodman and (also story) John Carpenter

Running Time: 104 mins

Original UK Cert: AA

Original UK |Release: 31st August 1978

If Eyes Of Laura Mars had been directed by Italian giallo director, Dario Argento, it would have a stylish, graphically detailed thriller. Instead, this was Hollywood’s first attempt at the popular horror genre and while it has a distinct style all of its own, it lacks that eye for the visuals to make it fully effective. In a troubled production, it is surprising that it got made at all.

Laura Mars is a highly respected and controversial photographer who uses violence as part of her work. While preparing for a new exhibition, she finds she is the witness to a murder, except she is nowhere near the scene of the crime. She sees the whole thing from the point of view of the killer. Is she going mad? Or can she  connect with a serial killer who is closing in on her and her world?

Based on a story and script by Halloween director, John Carpenter (who left the project soon after production with artistic differences), you can see the giallo influences: damsel in distress coping with a crime that she cannot stop, surrounded by characters that could quite easily be the killer. The only thing that stops it from being all out giallo is the lack of graphic gore. When the murders do occur, the scene cuts to Laura’s reaction.

Directed by Irvin Kershner, who up to that point had been a workmanlike director with nothing massively renowned to his credits (he did go on to direct the best Star Wars movie to date, The Empire Strikes Back) doesn’t really do much to show the full giallo effect. His lighting, set-ups and even his editing is fairly standard Hollywood fare. The only way we can tell that the Italian style is there is in Carpenter’s script. This is a trashy thriller that could have been ripped from the pages of a pulp fiction novel. yet it’s still strangely enjoyable.

Originally intended as a Barbra Streisand vehicle (she sings the theme song, “Prisoner”), Faye Dunaway seems more at home in the role of the photographer (at the time she was married to world famous photographer, Terry O’Neill). Bringing a heady mix of tough, no-nonsense artist and terrified woman on the edge of madness, Dunaway conveys both with natural ease. A very young Tommy Lee Jones is quietly commanding as the cop who is never sure if he believes her but falls for her charms.

Throw into the mix a typical creepy performance from Brad Dourif as Laura’s chauffeur, Rene Auberjonois camping it up as Laura’s manager and Raul Julia (or as he is oddly known in the opening credits, R.J.) as her suspicious ex-husband, you have a band of character actors who could be the killer. Let the guessing begin.

Eyes Of Laura Mars was not a happy film to make, with several reported “differences” occurring during shooting (mainly between Dunaway and producer Jon Peters), and there are times when you can almost see the strains. While it may not be a Hitchcockian masterpiece, it passes the time and you can have some fun watching some of the biggest hair ever to appear on screen. This might be time for a remake, possibly using Carpenter’s original script and a director who really understands this genre. Is Dario Argento available?


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