director/writer: Donald Cammell; screenwriters: China Cammell/from book “Mrs. White” by Margaret Tracy; cinematographers: Larry McConkey/Al Jones; editor: Terry Rawlins; cast: David Keith (Paul White), Cathy Moriarty (Joan White), Alan Rosenberg (Mike Desantos), Art Evans (Detective Charles Mendoza), Michael Greene (Phil Ross), Danko Gurovich (Arnold White), David Chow (Fred Hoy), China Cammell (Ruby Hoy), Alberta Watson (Ann Mason), Danielle Smith (Danielle White), Pamela Seamon (Caryanne), Mimi Lieber (Liza); Runtime: 111; Kastner/Cannon; 1987-UK)

“The brilliant cinematography in this slasher thriller is what takes it out of the ordinary realm of such gory thrillers.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The brilliant cinematography in this slasher thriller is what takes it out of the ordinary realm of such gory thrillers and makes it into a diverting artistic venture. Esteemed cult director, Donald Cammell (Performance/Demon Seed/The Wild Side), has never quite lived up to the potential he showed in the masterpiece he co-directed, “Performance.” He tragically in April 1996 shot himself through the head, mirroring the bizarre ending scene of “Performance.”

In “White of the Eye ” Cammell shows an artistic eye for odd details that he catches with his sexy camera, as he heads to the Tuscon, Arizona, area and follows a gruesome, woman hating, serial killer around.

The film opens as an attractive, wealthy housewife leaves Goldwaters Deparment Store and is followed home by a psychopath. Her last phone conversation to a friend is a complaint about her haircut. Her bad hair day will pale in comparison to what happens next, as the unseen psychopath ritualistically slices her up and leaves on the table an ancient mystical Indian sign.

Detective Charles Mendoza (Art Evans) investigating the crime scene, is impressed by the Picasso cubist style murders of the killer. This is the second such ritualistic killing in Arizona within the year, but this time there is a break in the case as truck tire tracks are found at the scene and the police are able to say for sure that there were only 44 sets of those expensive tires recently sold in the Arizona area and they have the names of all the owners.

Paul White (David Keith) is an expert soundman, an artist in putting in upgraded stereo equipment for his wealthy clients. The half-Indian native of the former mining town of Globe, who has been a good citizen as an adult but who has a criminal record as a juvenile, is now a suspect because his tires match those at the crime scene. It is now up to the cops to track down all the other tire owners and narrow their field of suspects.

The story is told in flashback, as it goes back to an earlier time when Paul is asked to fix a damaged car stereo system by a bickering New York City couple heading to Malibu Beach. The attractive Joan (Cathy Moriarty) is ticked off at her violent boyfriend, Mike (Rosenberg), and purposefully damages his prized car stereo system. They find Paul’s trailer and he is able to fix the stereo. He soon befriends Mike and goes hunting mule deer with him. He will later on walk off with Mike’s woman, as it seems there was an immediate attraction between the two.

Mike has disappeared from the scene for the last 10 years. Paul and Joan have a young girl (Danielle Smith) and seem to be madly in love with each other, though Joan is a wee bit jealous that a rich movie actress who happens to be a stunner, Ann Mason (Alberta Watson), has eyes on her man. Assuming that Paul is having hanky-panky with Ann she spies on him and spots his truck at her residence, and she lets the air out of his tires.

The next day Paul is questioned by the detectives, as there was another ritualistic killing of an attractive woman who happens to be the next-door neighbor of Ann Mason. But Joan provides him with an alibi and the detectives, though, still suspicious, let Paul go for the time being.

The question posed asks if Paul is being framed for the killings or is he the killer? The only other logical suspect, whom the police don’t know about, is Mike. He has returned to live in an abandoned mine telling Joan, whom he accidentally meets in a gas station, that he is a changed man after spending some hard time in Attica prison and has come back to Globe to trace his Indian roots.

The film’s title refers to an Apache legend about those who look into the eye of violence close-up, which allows the mystical eye to be on them. But, as a film about mysticism, it fails to materialize as anything but so much nonsense.

For a film that has such a weak story and fails to be absorbing as a character study this is, nevertheless, a well-crafted visual spectacle. It features an array of beautifully stylized color co-ordinated scenes and out-of-the-way shots that create a bizarre atmosphere that fits the brooding mood of the film. If it is the mystery story itself that you are looking for, I’m afraid you will be disappointed as it adds up to nothing much. But in those visual shots…there is a real passion for filming a ritualistic killing. It might disappoint some who think Cammell could have made something more than a slasher film; but, then again, his strength as a filmmaker is through his eye. Even in this low-rent film, his images remain strong and his themes have a strange complexity. His visions are oddly effective, even when they shouldn’t be.

White of the Eye Poster