The Film: 4/5
**This review is based on a test disc provided by Arrow Video and may not reflect the final product. We will update the review if and when the final product is received.**
A psycho killer is targeting the rich and bored socialites of Tucson, Arizona. Two quirky local detectives (Art Evans, Michael Greene) have a prime suspect in mind in the person of Paul White (David Keith), a stereo equipment expert to the wealthy elite from the nearby community of Globe, since the tire tracks on his work van match those of the vehicle used by the murderer. With his marriage to his longtime wife Joan (Cathy Moriatry) crumbling under the weight of his infidelities, Paul now finds himself the target of a relentless police investigation and unable to prove his innocence. Could he be the maniac preying on the real housewives of Tucson, or is the sound genius and loving husband and father being railroaded by a psychopath with a flair for artistic tableaus of gruesome death?
On April 24, 1996, not long after he had lost control over the editing of his erotic drama Wild Side, Scottish filmmaker Donald Cammell committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. According to his wife, screenwriter China Kong, he had asked for a mirror so he could watch himself die. Whether or not there's any truth to that will forever be in dispute. If it was true then it would have been perfectly appropriate for a director known for making films that refused to adhere to the conventional rules of narrative storytelling to commit suicide in an unconventional fashion. Cammell's greatest achievement in cinema may always be Performance, the refreshingly non-linear 1970 British drama of violence and identity he wrote and co-directed with Nicolas Roeg. He made films about flawed (often dangerously so) individuals who donned false identities to hide their own physical and spiritual insecurities, and only with the 1977 Dean Koontz adaptation Demon Seed did he dare to work under the rigorous demands of the Hollywood studio system he would have rather avoided altogether. Cammell only made one film during the 1980's, a decade where independence and vision had long been deemed a rare and useless commodity in the industry, and though his acid trip psycho-thriller White of the Eye may not have found much of an audience during its brief theatrical run it found enough love from fans of oddball genre filmmaking to justify its first release on Region B Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Video. Since it has never seen a home video release since the days of VHS here in the U.S. that makes this Blu a modest cause for celebration.
White of the Eye appears to be your standard "madman on the loose" thriller on the surface. But that's just the identity it assumes to pass for a sensible viewing choice in a market overflowing with grotesque, tasteless tales of masked killers slicing and dicing any nubile young starlet with a Playboy centerfold and a Billy Idol music video on their resume. Dig beneath the surface and you'll find an entirely different film itching to be discovered and explored. Cammell and Kong adapted their screenplay from the 1983 novel Mrs. White, written by the brothers Laurence and Andrew Klavan under the pseudonym Margaret Tracy, but the source material seemed ready made for the director's particular sensibilities. Cammell created a hallucinatory potpourri of barren desert landscapes, philosophical dialogue about the cosmic implications of cold-blooded murder, extreme close-ups of eyeballs, and jagged time structures where the past and present often appear to co-exist uneasily. It also provides us with a front row seat to watch a loving marriage disintegrate into chilly contentment, portrayed with brutal honesty by the underrated David Keith and Cathy Moriarty.
Keith has always one of those off-kilter rugged character actors with a hint of malice glimmering behind his eyes, which makes him just ideal for the role of the ambiguous murder suspect Paul. As his distrustful wife Joan, Moriarty rarely lapses into the blowsy histrionics that ultimately dominated the later decades of her acting career. They both share fine chemistry and make for a believable couple who could never completely fall out of love with each other regardless of the circumstances. Art Evans (Die Hard 2, A Soldier's Story) scores a few surprising laughs as the police detective from Tucson with an unorthodox sense of humor, Alan Rosenberg (The Last Temptation of Christ) delivers a nuanced turn as Joan's ex-boyfriend, and Spanking the Monkey's Alberta Watson is sinfully delicious as a bored socialite with whom Paul endangers his marriage by having an affair.
Cammell goes nuts with infusing White of the Eye with stylistic flourishes reminiscent of Dario Argento and one of the murder sequences could have been influenced by Michael Powell's controversial horror classic Peeping Tom (and in turn inspired the director's own mortal end). The style works for the story instead of against it. The town of Globe is peppered with interesting characters like Paul's Japanese-American sheriff friend and the two seasoned cops who banter and bicker like an old married couple. Cammell shot the film on location in Globe and Tucson and took full advantage of the towns' rocky hills, glamorous shopping centers, and isolated neighborhoods. White of the Eye might turn off potential viewers with its carefully deliberate pacing and lack of gore effects, but Cammell more than compensates by crafting a series of intoxicating set pieces, including a pair of hauntingly beautiful kill scenes, an extended flashback to the late 70's when Paul and Joan with marvelous mounting tension, and a third act that confirms all that has transpired and allows the director to unleash every visual and aural trick in his arsenal with a final chase containing less violence than your average family reunion, but just as much lunacy and pain.
The producers of White of the Eye's Blu-ray debut oversaw a new MPEG-4 AVC-encoded, 1080p high-definition digital transfer of the film in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio taken from the original camera negative that is presented on a dual-layered disc. The amount of grain varies depending on how each scene reflects the intentions of director Cammell and cinematographer Larry McConkey (a Steadicam operator on Angel Heart, Mo' Better Blues, Goodfellas, and Basic Instinct), but most of the scenes are virtually stripped clean of the stuff but not to the point where the integrity of the visuals are compromised. Print damage is non-existent, the multiple insert close-ups of frantic eyeballs in motion and sizzling meat are presented with fine clarity, and the film's inventive use of color has never looked as clean and vibrant as it does here. Simply put, this is an excellent transfer for a film that certainly deserves. The immersive and often unnerving sound design is showcased on the disc's sole audio option for the film, a rich and robust 24-bit English 2.0 PCM stereo track with solid volume levels for the overlapping dialogue and the idiosyncratic original soundtrack composed by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason and 10cc guitarist Rick Fenn. There are absolutely no traces of audio distortion and every component of the mix comes through the speakers with astonishing clarity and depth. English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
Previous releases of White of the Eye throughout the world have skimped on the bonus features. Arrow's Blu-ray comes to the rescue with a bounty of supplements that just might give you some welcome insight into the film and its troubled director. The exclusive extras kick off with a new commentary from Sam Umland, co-author of the biography Donald Cammell: A Life on the Wild Side. This is a very detail-oriented track that touches upon the making of White of the Eye and its place in the life and career of Cammell. Umland also offers commentary on a selection of rare deleted scenes featuring an entire character whose deletion was ordered by the film's international distributor Cannon (5 minutes) and Cammell's 1972 short film The Argument (11 minutes), filmed in Utah with cinematography by the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and rediscovered and restored in 1999.
"The Ultimate Performance" (73 minutes) is a documentary about the late Cammell made for the BBC in 1999 by Oscar-winner Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September, The Last King of Scotland) and Chris Rodley that features interviews with Mick Jagger, Barbara Steele, Anita Pallenberg, James Fox, and Kenneth Anger among others. The film constructs an honest overview of the man's successes and travails in filmmaking and makes for an absorbing watch. "Into the White: Filming White of the Eye" (11 minutes) features a new interview with cinematographer McConky in which he discusses his working relationship with Cammell and the unique visual style they collaborated on creating for the film. The flashback sequences (12 minutes) are presented here as they were originally filmed because they underwent a process called "bleach bypass" which gave them an intentionally grainy and high-contrast look, transferred from the original 35mm interpositive elements. An alternate credits sequence (2 minutes) closes out the disc-based extras.
Arrow's combo pack also includes a DVD copy with a standard-definition presentation of the film and the accompanying extra features, a collector's booklet featuring new essays written by Umland and Brad Stevens and related excerpts from the memoirs of producer Elliott Kastner, and original artwork created for this release by Nathanael Marsh. A steelbook version is also available.
There is no easy way to classify White of the Eye. You could call it an arthouse slasher flick, but that would selling the many visual and emotional pleasures this tastefully lurid and entrancing murder mystery has to offer. It is certainly one of the most unique variations on the psycho horror genre ever made and Arrow Video has granted it a top-quality Blu-ray release worthy of its reputation as a classy cult oddity just begging for rediscovery.