Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway, The Three Musketeers) is a high-end fashion photographer who’s rocketed to the top of the industry on the strength of her striking photos which combine high fashion and advertising with violence. She’s a controversial figure and a glamorous (and few times did glamorous, if incredibly tacky, as well as the late 1970s) première of her latest show and her first book, The Eyes of Laura Mars, is set to be a huge success. Unfortunately the horrible news that someone has murdered her editor Doris Spenser (Meg Munday) interrupts Larua’s triumph. Worse, Laura herself saw the murder-through the eyes of the killer, in what she thought was a nightmare. Laura sees each murder as her associates are killed one by one. The police offer protection but are powerless to stop the killer. As the body count mounts, Laura and the police detective in charge of the investigation, John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones, The Park is Mine), fall in love. Can they find the killer before he ends Laura’s visions for good?
The Eyes of Laura Mars is a very interesting if flawed film. Based on a script by John Carpenter, it was made and released before Halloween. Like Halloween it features shots from the killer’s point of view, though Mars provides an in-movie excuse for the scenes. The film uses the device to great effect, playing up Laura’s helplessness during the attacks and even giving us several confrontations where she can see the killer approaching her, but can’t see through her own eyes to defend herself or escape. In many ways the film is Carpenter’s attempt at a Giallo film, as it includes a gimmick about perception, an amateur detective trying to solve a murder before she is herself killed, a murder mystery, a disturbed killer with a psycho-sexual motivation, the fashion industry, and a killer whose only glimpsed as gloved hands as we watch him murder his victims. Irvin Kershner (Never Say Never Again) directs, and delivers a glossy, smooth film. The Eyes of Laura Mars is beautifully shot, making excellent use of Manhattan locations and the high glamor of photo shoots and premieres. The supporting cast is wonderful, and includes Brad Dourif (Graveyard Shift) as Laura’s ex-con driver, Rene Auberjonois (The Patriot) as her agent, Raul Julia (Moon Over Paradour) as her sleazy drunk of an ex-husband, Frank Adonis (True Romance) as Neville’s partner, and Darlanne Fluegell (Bulletproof) as one of her models.
The high-strung Dunaway is perfectly cast as Mars, and Jones is acceptable as a police detective, but their romance feels forced and is classic “movie love”, where the leads to fall in love in an incredibly short time because the plot demanded it. The ending twist is the weakest part of the film, and, since all the remaining suspects are quickly wiped out, there is little doubt about the killer’s identity for the last 20 minutes or so, even though the film tries to play coy with us during that time. The killer’s expository speech is, quite frankly, rubbish, and was apparently improvised by the actor himself; reportedly this weak ending was changed from Carpenter’s script-one can only wonder if his script was better, as most of the key suspects are either incredibly unlikely or obvious red herrings. The psychic connection the killer and Mars share is never explained, which would be fine, but more than a hint that their connection goes back earlier than the first murder (and which the film sort of hints at) would strengthen the overall story.
While The Eyes of Laura Mars suffers from an unsatisfying resolution, it’s worth seeing for fans of 1970s genre films, students of slasher film history, fans of 1970s high fashion ludicrousness and fans of Dunaway and the supporting cast (personally, it was worth it for Rene Auberjonjois’s over-the-top agent alone), and it may be the only Giallo/Slasher film with a theme song by Barbara Streisand (who was originally set to star!). The film is currently available at Crackle in its entirety.
The TV spot: