Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) a (incredibly) belated review

There are certain movie posters from the past that have stuck with me.  The poster for Jaws is certainly a classic…


Though I’m not huge fan of the film (one of the very few, I admit), this one is pretty memorable, too (I know, I know, I’m a master of understatement)…

Star Wars

I could go on and on, but I’ll get to the point:  There is another movie poster that is perhaps not as memorable to the general public yet has stuck with me for many years, and that is the one of the (for the most part) forgotten 1978 Faye Dunaway starring film The Eyes of Laura Mars

Eyes of Laura Mars

Unfortunately, the graphic above doesn’t quite do the poster justice as it looks way too dark.  Other images I’ve found online (check them out here) tend to overly lighten up Ms. Dunaway’s face, so this is about as close to the original piece as I could find.

I first saw the film many moons ago, probably right around the time it was released in the late 1970’s or shortly thereafter in the very, very early 1980’s.  There were bits and pieces of the movie I remembered, the bloody murders, the sleazy kinkiness (this movie, to my then very young mind, featured an awful lot of nudity!), and the general dreaminess/nightmarish tone.  Other than that, the image of that movie poster was what I recalled the best.

Until yesterday, when I gave the film a whirl for the first time in over thirty years.

The movie’s story (brought to you by John Carpenter!) involves controversial fashion photographer Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) “seeing” crimes as they are committed through the eyes of a serial killer…a serial killer who is targeting her friends and associates.

The movie starts with just such a killing as “seen” through the killer’s/her eyes.  In this scene the killer looks through an advanced copy of a book featuring Mars’ work and finds his target, the publisher.  She is killed with an ice pick and Laura Mars is introduced, waking up from a sleep with those violent images going through her mind.

Unsure what if anything they mean, she heads out to a well attended, glitzy art gallery showing off her latest work and promoting this upcoming book.  Here we find that Laura Mars’ photography is very controversial as it includes very sexy images merged with very violent images.  Laura Mars wanders the floor of the gallery and bumps into John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones in one of his very early movie roles), a New York detective who, she will find out shortly, is investigating the death of the publisher of her book.  We are also given a glimpse of the many people in her life, all of whom could be the mysterious killer…

Shocked that her publisher is indeed dead, Laura Mars abruptly leaves the show.  Shortly afterwards and during a wild daytime photography shoot on the streets of New York, Laura Mars has another vision.  She rushes away from the shoot and arrives at her friend’s house…but it is too late.  Her friend becomes another victim of the serial killer Laura Mars can “see” through.

I won’t go into too many more details of the plot, but suffice it to say that some of the shocks I felt upon first seeing this film way back when are much more muted today.  Upon re-seeing it I realized the movie was very much an American version of the Italian Giallo horror/thriller.  This definition, presented in the Wikipedia, effectively defines The Eyes of Laura Mars:

Giallo films are generally characterized as gruesome murder-mystery thrillers that combine the suspense elements of a Hitchcock film with scenes of shocking horror featuring excessive bloodletting, stylish camerawork, and often jarring musical arrangements. The standard plot, used in countless films, involves a mysterious, black-gloved psychopathic killer who stalks and butchers a series of beautiful women. The killings are invariably violent and gory, including throat-slashings and decapitations. These murders often occur when the victim is most vulnerable (showering, taking a bath, or scantily clad). The literary whodunit element is retained, while being filtered through Italy’s longstanding tradition of opera and staged grand guignol drama. There are also stories that involve supernatural forces, ghostly spirits, etc. Giallo films often include liberal amounts of nudity and sex, with several actresses becoming strongly associated with the genre such as Edwige FenechBarbara BachDaria NicolodiBarbara BouchetSuzy KendallIda Galli, and Anita Strindberg.

Gialli typically introduce strong psychological themes of madness, alienation and paranoia.

Check…check…and check.

The Eyes of Laura Mars is all that, though in comparison to some of the better Giallo films out there, isn’t quite on their level.  Nonetheless, it is a stylish film that is very much of its time, offering an intriguing look at a far more sleazy New York than most may find today.  And because the film is about fashion, we also get to see plenty of late 1970’s fashion trends, and they’re a hoot!  The music is also very much of its time, featuring some memorable disco songs, including “Let’s All Chant”.

As for the plot and the identity of the mysterious killer, it is pretty easy to figure out.  With the very second killing most of the suspects are at Laura Mars’ side when she experiences her “vision”.  Given that her “visions” are concurrent with the actual crimes, all those around her are thus eliminated as suspects in one quick swoop and we are left with only two possibilities…and one of those suspects is so strongly presented as likely to be the killer that you immediately discount him for that very reason…and therefore all is revealed.

The Eyes of Laura Mars was directed by Irvin Kershner and his work here apparently so intrigued George Lucas that it is rumored he hired him to direct The Empire Strikes Back on the basis of this movie.  Mr. Kershner manages to retain a good level of tension but sometimes the acting is really over done to an almost comical soap opera level.  Still, despite its age the film is very watchable if not a “classic”.

In the end, The Eyes of Laura Mars is what it is, an American Giallo complete with blood, murder, sex, and psychology, along with a delicious late 1970’s visual vibe.  If those elements alone intrigue you, you could do far worse than spend a bit of time with Laura Mars.

One little note:  Actor Tommy Lee Jones, intriguingly enough, has appeared in two films written, but not directed, by John Carpenter:  The Eyes of Laura Mars and the 1986 thriller Black Moon Rising.  He has yet to appear in any film John Carpenter has directed!