Eye of the Devil

Philippe de Montfaucon returns to his ancestral home because of a failed harvest, telling his wife, Catherine, to stay in the city.  But she follows him because if she didn’t, it would be a very short movie.  Once there, she finds it necessary to have excessively long conversations with people who aren’t listening, until the climax, when she still has the conversations, but now shouts her side.  The community consists of sullen cultists (what good is a cult if it doesn’t make you happy?) that look to Philippe to save them in ways that are obvious to the viewer, but beyond the understanding of Catherine.  Granted, she must be distracted by the bizarre de Caray twins, who look exceptionally good in black and have obviously just returned from a beatnik poetry reading.  They have this tendency of attempting to kill Catherine, which even she blows off after Philippe tells her it’s just one of those local activities.  With her husband becoming progressively weirder, and the locals walking around in robes bought at “Satanists are Us,”  Chatherine sets out to slowly solve the mystery, long after we’ve figured it out and gone to buy popcorn.

Interesting primarily as a precursor to the far superior The Wicker Man, and as one of the few films starring the beautiful Sharon Tate (who was murdered by Charles Manson’s cult in 1969), Eye of the Devil waters-down its message, making it of little value.  It doesn’t have enough story for its short running time, and doesn’t bother to fill out its characters.  But the basic concept is strong, and there are signs of a good movie here, buried deep.

Perhaps the problem was in its difficult production.  Most of the film was completed with Kim Novak as Catherine, before an injury caused her to pull out.  All of her scenes had to be re-shot with Deborah Kerr.  It also went through numerous script changes while filming (with a complete change of writing staff), as well as four directors.  I certainly believe that a movie is a collaborative effort, but this is a little extreme.  At the last moment, the title was changed from the appropriate 13 to the one it currently bears.  The switch would have been reasonable if the film had anything to do with the Devil, or his eye, or anything metaphorically connected to either.  But it doesn’t.

Kerr is reasonably believable in the lead, but not compelling.  I never care that she is in danger or that spooky things are happening around her.  Since all the other characters were willing to let things play out, and aren’t acting as people anyway, but as broad, stage-type “creepy villains,” it is impossible to be invested in the story.  With the mystery obvious to anyone brighter than our current president, it becomes harder to put up with the pointless chatter which fills the picture.  Even the cinematography is sub par (although it varies greatly, probably due to the revolving directors), and is annoying when Catherine is locked in her room: as she attempts to break out, the frame rocks back and forth, as if the camera is mounted on a teeter-totter.

When all else fails in a movie, there’s still the theme.  Certainly, there was the opportunity to say something satisfying.  The “horrific” events in the pictures are a result of the beliefs of a group of Christians who see metaphoric truth in the twelve apostles standing by as Jesus died for our sins.  It would have been easy to point out the folly of faith, but the filmmakers try to escape criticism from Christians by implying that there is nothing wrong with standard religions—problems only come from weird pagan cults, no matter how much they turn out to be just another Christian sect.  Since I’m not aware of anyone advocating cults (even though the difference between a “cult” and standard churches is nothing more than numbers), it’s not much of a message.