Eyes of Fire

(USA 1983)

I never heard of Eyes of Fire or anyone involved in it until it appeared on the roster for a local horror film festival. Featuring a team of inconsequentials—writer and director Avery Crounse completed two more projects I never heard of after this and most of the actors continued on to television roles—it’s a low budget fantasy/horror flick relegated to obscurity. It’s no wonder why.

Set in 1750 colonial America and told in flashback, Eyes of Fire follows vain and flighty missionary Will Smythe (Dennis Lipscomb), his small flock of devotees that includes his mistress, Eloise (Rebecca Stanley), and a ginger named Leah (Karlene Crockett) who everyone thinks is insane but is really a fairie, and Eloise’s estranged husband, Marion Dalton (Guy Boyd), as they stumble through the Eastern Woodlands looking for a safe haven. To escape attacking Shawnee natives, Dalton leads the group into a valley that Smythe takes to be “the promised land” and settles into the abandoned campsite there. Dalton is uneasy about staying. Leah also senses something amiss and starts seeing spirits—sometimes they’re clothed, sometimes they’re naked and covered in mud. They don’t look happy. An orphaned native girl (Rose Preston) appears on Smythe’s doorstep, and he takes her in to convert her to Christianity. Immediately, strange things start happening: Fanny (Sally Klein) disappears and is found in a coma, Meg (Erin Buchanan) is found hanging upside down from a tree, and a rotten skeleton pops up out of the dirt. !!! Leah figures out what’s going on: a devil-witch is trying to steal their souls and trap them all in the trees in the forest. Can she and Dalton stop the madness?

I’d be lying if I said Eyes of Fire isn’t silly. It takes itself so seriously, too. The story is easy to follow, but Crounse packs an awful lot into it: folklore, witchcraft, the supernatural, colonialism, ethnic superiority, religion, morality. Whatever points he makes are lost in cheesy special effects—lots of Tesla lightning, negative images, and distorted sounds. The trees have gruesome faces, and at one point they all puke bilge. The devil-witch looks like Captain Caveman made out of twigs. It all warrants a great big “whatever.” Even with its low-budget giveaways, though, I found this film weirdly fascinating—it plods along slowly but somehow kept me engaged. The simple stuff works best—the scene in the forest with white feathers covering the entrance to the valley (repeated later with pages torn out of Smythe’s books and spread all over the campsite) is beautifully ominous and visually arresting. Too bad there isn’t more of it.

86 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) C-

Music Box of Horrors

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