The Movie Waffler BluRay Review - <i>White of the Eye</i> (1987) | The Movie Waffler

BluRay Review - White of the Eye (1987)

Reissue of Donald Cammell's neglected eighties thriller.

Directed by: Donald Cammell
Starring: David Keith, Cathy Moriarty, Rick Fenn, Nick Mason

The movie:

The British director Donald Cammell has had a wayward career. While his co-director on their debut film Performance, Nicholas Roeg, went on to flourish as one of the key British filmmakers of the 70s and 80s, Cammell had to wait another seven years before he got the opportunity to direct again with the interesting Demon Seed. That marriage of the meat and potatoes story telling of Dean R Koontz (the Costco Stephen King) and the more wayward psychedelic visuals and hippy freak out aesthetic should not have worked. In truth, Cammell’s films all use the tropes of the genre film and warp it through the prism of his own idiosyncratic personality.
If Performance is his gangster movie and Demon Seed his sci-fi body horror hybrid, then White of the Eye (finally getting its due, with a spanking good blu-ray restoration) is his serial killer picture. Barely released at the time, a victim of the financial turmoil at Cannon films, Cammell’s penultimate film has become a cult curio that has gradually accrued critical acclaim. Cammell has always been an interesting filmmaker (his life story alone would make a fascinating tale of debauchery and violence) but none of his solo work could ever be considered an unqualified success.
The time it took him to get films off the ground seemed to arrest his cinematic growth, never truly losing that 60’s sensibility, but at the same time wishing to appear modern and current. White of the Eye has all the insight and intellectual rigour of 70s Wim Wenders and Michelangelo Antonioni but in its look feels so 80s. The opening murder is so stylised that it comes across like a mix of old style Dario Argento meets Memorex TV Ad (strangely, Manhunter has the same adherence to 80’s ad visuals, but in service to the more straight down the line narrative of his serial killer it feels less dated and more of a period piece).
Cammell turns on the style for the murder scenes but seems much more interested in the family unit, examining the fracturing of the relationship between Paul White (David) an audio installation expert and his wife Joan (Moriarty, face of an angel, voice of a truck driver). The stifling Arizona atmosphere is almost a character in itself, the feeling of oppressive stifling dry heat bearing down on the married couple and their daughter Danielle (Danielle White) just as troubling as the pressure exerted by the police, who have Paul in their sights for the murders.
Using a flashback structure that builds up the characters rather than just wrong footing you, and showing off his cinematic tricksiness, this becomes in essence a tug of love story between Joan, her husband and her previous lover Alan (Mike Desantos). That one might be a dead eyed sociopath doesn’t necessarily rule him out as the more worthy suitor.
There are stand out set pieces that stay in the mind. A mirror held to a victim so she can watch herself die is eerie and striking (and prescient if China Kong’s story about his eventual suicide is true) and the not quite certain what is behind the bath panel moment adds a sense of fairytale dread to the film's climax.
If at the end it reverts to by the numbers thriller plotting and a pedestrian climax, it has taken the more unexpected route to get there. Keith David has never been better than this and Moriarty adds spark and vim to a role that in lesser hands could have been a boring wife role. Don’t worry about the conventions, see it for the acting and the mastery of mood and scene.

Arrow are up to their usual high standard of audio and visual presentation with this release. It is the extras that turn this from a worthwhile to necessary release. Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance, a feature length documentary about the director, made by the BBC, is a must watch, featuring a wealth of talent talking about this most mercurial of filmmakers. You also get a worthwhile commentary from biographer Sam Umland who performs double duties on Cammell’s short film The Argument, which is also included. A host of deleted and alternate scenes as well as a trailer and the standard Arrow reversible sleeve and booklet on the film. The extras do the film proud; this release treats with respect a film that was dealt a shabby hand on release.

Jason Abbey