Category: The Occult

Eye of the Devil (AKA 13) (1966)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Philippe is the British owner of a vineyard in France. His family has actually owned it for centuries and when it falls on hard times he’s called back to try to make things right again. He tells his wife that he’s going without her and the kids and that they should all stay at home. After their son has a sleepwalking incident she rushes herself and the kids over to be with him but finds that the town has many many dark secrets *cough Satan cough* and that neither she nor her children are safe but because she loves her husband, she refuses to leave or stop meddling in things that she doesn’t understand. Of course you can figure out pretty easily that things aren’t going to end well for anybody…

It’s always interesting when I stumble on a horror movie that I’ve never even heard of before. I consider myself pretty versed in the genre’s history and when something catches my eye and I’ve never even heard a passing mention of its title before, it peaks my interest like few other things. Obscure films are part of my forte, after all. This one happened to pop up on TCM recently and I was blindsided by not only the fact that I was totally unconscious of its existence but that it has such an awesome cast as well. David Niven! Deborah Kerr! Donald Pleasence! Hell, it was even Sharon Tate’s first credited feature film role (although her voice is dubbed to make her sound British).  Heck, with that cast how can you go wrong? Well…

I’m a bit on the fence about this film. To start with, it does have a lot going for it. Its premise is solid, as are most “someone is isolated somewhere with spooky and dangerous shit” movies. You just can’t go wrong with that basic plot idea.  As I’ve already mentioned, the actors are all great and highly prolific.  It even looks nice, filmed in moody black and white at a huge English castle. As far as atmosphere goes Eye of the Devil does a pretty good job, even if it doesn’t quite match other devil worshipping films made around the same time or later on.
It’s also a really fucking weird film. There’s so many odd camera angles and bizarrely edited scenes that give the whole thing a strange dream like feel. And I do certainly love strange cinema.
The major problem that drags Eye of the Devil down and keeps it from being a genuine cult classic is its slooooooow pace. The running time is only 96 minutes but it feels like three hours!  I know that British films have always tended to be more methodical than American ones and I usually don’t mind when movies take their time but this one ends up being so unsatisfying at its close that it doesn’t really make sitting through the muddled story and flat characters, which are its two other big problems, really worth it.  If you’re going to be ponderous and slow-moving, at least give me something to grab onto at the end. A well filmed but incredibly drawn out climax with a predictable non ending is not that something.  Sorry, movie.  Neither is the kicker at the very end, which you can see coming a mile away anyways.

I’ve read a lot of reviews of this film that are really positive and I can see how people would dig it. It’s certainly offbeat enough to warrant a look if, and that’s a big IF, you really do have a lot of patience and can enjoy a film for its parts rather than its whole. Also for Sharon Tate, who doesn’t do much but sit around and stare but is so jaw droppingly beautiful that she’s totally mesmerizing  anyways. If Eye of the Devil does anything, it’ll make you hate Charles Manson even more than you already should…

Verdict: Stylish, weird, and atmospheric but oh so frustratingly dull.  Catch it if it happens to be on TCM late at night but don’t bother to try to track it down (The DVD is from Warner Archive anyways, and their shit is always way overpriced unless you happen to catch a sale).

Rating: C+

Random Things

  • Kim Novak was originally cast in Deborah Kerr’s part but hurt her back early on and had to be replaced. They’re both great actors that I love but I’d be interested to see how Novak played the same role.
  • There’s a scene where Deborah Kerr is in a vault studying the coffin of one of her husband’s ancestors. His last name is behind her on the wall: De Montfaucon. Only the first six letters are lit enough to be visible. This movie isn’t super great but it certainly has its moments…
  • Man is this thing British though. I don’t think I’ve seen many other movies that scream “I WAS MADE IN ENGLAND” more than this one. Interestingly, it was made by MGM through their British film branch, the same branch that pumped out Village of the Damned, Children of the Damned, and The Haunting.
  • If you want the same sort of “drafty castle and spooky goings on” type of thing but made for less money and a hell of a lot more fun, check out Dementia 13. That one’s also public domain and you can pretty much find it anywhere.