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Eye Of The Devil (Blu-ray Review)

Warner Archive Collection released a sweet lot of horror titles back in October. While late to the game on reviewing them, the review copies weren’t sent out til later on. In the current climate of home video physical media distributing, there have been many a fulfilment center delay on titles each and every month. So that’s not too surprising at the end of the day. Nonetheless, still very exciting with what they chose to put out last month. Eye of the Devil caught my eye in this lot with its director and a cast that boasts Donald Pleasence, David Niven, David Hemmings and the feature film debut of Sharon Tate. This is its first time on Blu-ray with a new 2021 1080p master, lossless audio and a trailer. The disc was released back on October 19th, but its available to order now from the paid Amazon Associates link below.

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Film

A forbidding French chateau and its surrounding vineyards are the setting for Gothic thrills in this haunting excursion into the occult. Deborah Kerr and David Niven, costarring for the first time since Separate Tables, lead an exceptional cast (Sharon Tate, Donald Pleasence, Flora Robson, David Hemmings, Edward Mulhare, Emlyn Williams) in a chiller reminiscent of the later The Wicker Man (1973), in which an innocent outsider to an enclosed world peels back layers of mystery to reveal a shocking truth. Kerr plays the outsider, the wife of a troubled marquis (Niven), who discovers – perhaps too late – that her husband’s ancestral chateau is home to witches, warlocks, a sinister priest, 12 hooded figures…and terror.

J. Lee Thompson had an interesting directorial career, from well regarded war pictures to genre/franchise entries (Planet of the Apes, Death Wish) to just making some Charles Bronson films to cap off his filmography. One of his notables in the horror genre is, of course, the original Cape Fear. But a few years following that, he has another piece of terror that is a definite entry to stop and check out and a fine effort looking to be rediscovered; 1967’s Eye of the Devil. I’m not sure I’d throw Thompson is as one of the more abstract type or “artsy” type, but Eye of the Devil a look into his chops for that style.

While Eye of the Devil boasts a pretty stellar cast, its star comes in the form of its visuals and their delivery. Shot by Erwin Hillier, the film really plays around with many different lenses and lighting schemes all around the picture. Hillier produces some unsettling camera movements and angles so timelessly effect that can set a modern viewer at unease. Editor Ernest Walter, who had previously cut Robert Wise’s classic The Haunting (As well as Children of the Damned, which I just reviewed the Blu-ray for), is able to take Hillier’s work and crank it up a notch and really send this thing to the stars. The film showcases many a dream or nightmare sequence as well as frightening confrontations. Walter’s ability to find a rhythm and punch to present them in grand effect is a masterstroke in the artform of editing. There’s an incredibly effect, psychedelic haunt to this film that gets into your head thanks to the collaboration of these two gentlemen. This has disturbing British horror look to the highest degree.

The film falls in line with both the secluded haunted mansion/castle genre as well as the terrorized woman that no one will believe and she can’t prove what she’s seen genre. You could also argue this has many qualities of a folk horror picture, resembling the kind of thing you would find six years later in a film like The Wicker Man. A lot of the film’s suspense derives from the sheer frustration, uncertainty and danger presented before Deborah Kerr (and her children) throughout the film’s progression.

Accompanying Kerr for the film is a wonderful cast that you get to enjoy playing some of their most deviant, mysterious and creepy roles. Donald Pleasence is no stranger to this and he’s got quite a nice sense of restraint as you could see another performer taking his priest role a bit more into camp territory. David Niven has a wonderful slow burn from trusted friendly husband to someone you’re not sure you could trust. David Hemmings does well in a nice small, slightly aggressive part. But, its Sharon Tate in her feature film debut that really brings the thunder to this. Commanding every frame she touches with even the smallest gesture of the eyes, her unbelievably beautiful but also unbelievably evil role is one of the films greatest treasures. The camera loves her and she plays right into what is there on the page quite horrifyingly. She’s especially impressive when holding her own against the likes of Niven, Pleasence and Kerr in a way feeling like this is just another day at the office.

Eye of the Devil is a proto-folk horror delight, setting a path for films to come later like The Wicker Man and Rosemary’s Baby. The film’s visuals carry an inspiration from satanic ritualistic spun movies not too far removed from something like Mario Bava’s Black Sunday and at times almost feels touches of Hammer/AIP movies but in a modern setting instead of the period one. In terms of horror history, aside from it being Sharon Tate’s debut, I’m not sure I’ve seen much discussion on just how good this film is. J. Lee Thompson’s film is definitely one looking for a rediscovery.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Eye of the Devil debuts on Blu-ray as Warner Archive Collection gives it a new 2021 1080p master make-over. The print looks to be in great condition and the image has a nice sharpness and clarity to it. It handles all kinds of lighting schemes and wicked camera movements with ease. The saturation of blacks, whites and grays comes through swimmingly. There’s a really fresh, clean touch to this image that makes it incredibly pretty and really draws out the horror in many psychedelic 60s dream sequence.

Depth:  Depth is one of the strongest areas in this transfer. The scale and handling of the more wider camera lenses is remarkable with big pushback and spacing, handling the quickly shifting and sweeping camera with ease. Motion is natural, smooth and carries a swagger that never has any issues regarding a blur or jitter with rapid movement.

Black Levels: Black levels dip close to some more natural levels and are plenty rich and add a bit of a more well esteemed tone. It handles all the black robed figures and darkened corridors with ease, never hiding information and showcasing different tints, shades, textures and patterns in fine detail. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: N/A

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are in that gray/white tone, different based on the human and consistent from start to finish. Close ups bring incredible facial texture and detail to the surface and most medium shots handle that as well.

Noise/Artifacts: None

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Eye of the Devil comes complete with its original mono track in lossless form. Its swell track that proves effective as an aged movie of this ilk can in terms of sweeping put the room. The score proves pretty powerful and can command the necessary scenes. There also proves a nice balance and nuance between said score with the vocals and effects.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp. There’s a nice faint analog hiss under them that makes for a nice genuine experience.

Extras

Trailer (HD, 2:36)

Summary

Eye of the Devil is a pretty trippy British horror thriller that visually still works its majesties to great effect today. Warner Archive Collection presents it on Blu-ray for the first time with a beautiful 1080p transfer and a good clean audio track. Its a bummer that only a trailer is supplied here as a film historian commentary would have been nice. But, the film itself is strong enough to warrant a recommend on its own.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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