It’s getting dark around here so I’m going to light a candle by gushing about a flick that fascinates the heck out of me, 1983’s EYES OF FIRE. This one has come up a bunch of times on these pages over the years and every time it does, I declare I’m going to watch it again immediately and then I usually don’t. That is because the thought of it stirs up some freaky unease in me and I mean that as a compliment towards its effectiveness. It’s been feathering the inside of my mind more than usual lately after seeing THE WITCH so the other night I returned to it again only to find that its spell on me has lessened exactly zero percent over the years. There’s something so elemental and mystical about EYES OF FIRE that even on the occasion that it sports garishly dated video effects, it somehow makes them work. And there’s something so primal going on that the entire experience of watching it feels like a forgotten memory from another life being unearthed. One thing that I think EYES OF FIRE excels past THE WITCH in, is convincing the viewer of the endless depth and open, uncharted nature of the forest its story nests in. Whereas THE WITCH has a definite (and comparatively comfortable) sense of a home base, EYES OF FIRE makes you feel dazed and lost and scrambling in the middle of nowhere.
When I was a critter nothing scared me more than anything concerning big bad Satan. That slippery dude was lurking behind every corner back in the spook-aholic seventies. As I’ve grown older those fears have become less potent. Sadly, a lifetime of witnessing holy rollers spewing more venom than any invisible demon has weakened my trepidations concerning ol’ Scratch (if only I could sue the Bible thumpers for diluting my DVD collection with their relentless overplay). Luckily EYES OF FIRE is a movie that knows exactly how to leap frog over my skeptic (read exhausted) view of religion by presenting evil as a force that is a fundamental part of nature itself (for example, a fox isn’t evil but if you are a bunny he might as well be). More importantly (and this moral concept can be found in many a horror flick), evil actions leave a residue that breeds more evil in the future and places that have tasted an excess of misery turn bad. That’s not superstition, that’s science!
IN EYES OF FIRE a group of pioneers are cast out of their village (sound familiar?) and must fend for themselves in an unwelcoming frontier world. It’s a large group (that’s sure to dwindle) and two of the main players include an adulterous priest bent on spreading the good word (that he fails to follow) and a talented witch working overtime to clean up his mess. In other words, the person who puts on false airs of piety causes all the destruction and reaps all the rewards and the truly spiritual one quietly saves the day and gets shafted. My how things haven’t changed. To escape a tribe of marauding Indians they venture into a cursed valley that they know the superstitious (respectful) Indians won’t follow them into and as you might expect, learn that maybe they don’t know everything. The disgraced priest even has the brass-ball hubris to suggest he can “save” a young Native American orphan through baptism but a bark-faced witch and a gaggle of naked tree spirits let him know that the local beliefs are about to become way more pertinent.
EYES OF FIRE is a unique movie though I’m sure much of what makes it special to some will be seen as drawbacks to others. It’s a low budget affair but that helps to keep it both grounded and undomesticated. You don’t sense a Holllywood vibe anywhere and the un-caged atmosphere feels both freeing and dangerous. It has always seemed to me sort of like an educational historical film you’d see in junior high school that goes horribly wrong. Which is not to say that there are not more than a few moments of incredible beauty, some documentary natural, some arthouse surreal. As I said above, there are a few wonky moments of dated effects but they come off as mostly charming and may even help the viewer jump backwards to an earlier, more wide-eyed and accepting mind-set. The acting is good enough that you’re hardly aware of it and, more often than not it leaves you feeling like a present but invisible observer. And may I please give a shout out to character actress FRAN RYAN who used to pop up as a battle-axe in just about everything from PRIVATE SCHOOL to STEWERDESS SCHOOL back in the day? She rules.
Sometimes when a movie is not available on DVD its reputation is exaggerated simply due to its obscurity but let me tell you, EYES OF FIRE really is an outstanding and poetic horror film. It may be too patient and quirky to garner unanimous approval but those who dig subtle supernatural horror (see again: THE WITCH) should be all over this like mold on corn. In fact, I’m thinking if it had enjoyed a proper release back in the DVD gold rush days its reputation would be comparable to LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH by now (and yep, it would be cherished by a similar crowd). I for one am a devout fan. It hits me in a way that few films do and why shouldn’t it when it’s basically a ginger-led backyard rendition of DAYS OF HEAVEN meets CATHY’S CURSE (only half kidding). The truth is, EYES OF FIRE comes from a place where it seems to be authentically mesmerized by the world that it depicts and that way of seeing things has a knack of swaying the viewer to do the same.
EYES OF FIRE is currently available on YouTube and you should watch it while you can. There’s no guaranteeing it will ever be available any other way and the crime of watching a movie for free is far less than the crime of allowing a piece of art to die. Hey, look (below)! EYES OF FIRE features Black Phillip’s ornery great grand pappy and he’s eating all the books! There’s your true Devil! The true Devil separates man from art and ideas!