The Headless Eyes (1971) Review by RevTerry

Shit goes down. Life gets sour, and before you know it, you are doing things you would have never dreamed of during the better times. It's easy to let volatile situations get to you and fall into a downward spiral that has permanent results. The subtly is the fucked up part. It comes in almost painless waves. You start acting out of desperation, the negativity compounds, and soon you are doing weird, disturbing things that would make your grandma puke bile in shock. That could mean many different things depending on who you are, whether its questionable shit in a park for money, hard drugs and or a job in retail. It's complicated--what some would call wit's end might be daily life for others. All time lows are relative and based on things like privilege. If you are lucky, before things get too bad, you will hit a stopping point of some kind, where rational wins over, and a voice inside shouts “what the fuck am I doing?” Or you won't, and shit will get a lot worse before you ultimately die in a way no one wants to talk about. That is the defining moment. Say, for example, you are at a point in your life when robbing some lady's home seems like a good idea and during that caper, your eye was gouged out with a spoon. One would hope this would bring with it some kind of breaking point and some humbling realizations that make you turn your life around or at least think twice before your next B and E. But you never know, you might just rush further down that dark trail, strap on an eye patch and start killing random people instead, like Arthur in The Headless Eyes (1971).
Arthur Malcolm (Bo Brundin) is an unsuccessful artist who mostly relies on his increasingly annoyed girlfriend for survival. At some point, out of desperation, he takes to robbing strangers homes during the night, a vocation he is characteristically inefficient at. During one particularly mishandled operation, Arthur rouses his victim by rummaging loudly in the bedstand closest to her head. When the stranger wakes up to a black-clad man with a porn stache and a little hoody standing directly over her, she begins to scream and refuses to listen to reason (in the form of half sentences about how expensive rent is). Not having a constituency plan, Arthur responds by grappling the lady and continues chattering loudly, close to her face. At some point during the scuffle, the resourceful woman grabs a spoon off the same bed stand and dislodges the would-be burglar's eye from its socket. Arthur rears in pain and spends the next ten minutes swinging the orb by its retinal vein and screaming “my eye” in the same way over and over (and over). Fast forward far enough for Arthur to have a sweet leather eyepatch. He has effectively run off the girlfriend, is stricken with intense delusions and tears up a lot (unevenly).  His current artistic endeavors involve a freezer full of eyeballs, which Arty defrosts every so often to paint like plane models. Since he only had the one extra initially to work with (I assume), he sources his craft supplies locally by killing and de-balling eccentric locals, something he is surprisingly good at. Mad at the world and determined to finish his masterwork, Arthur prowls the streets armed with a spoon and artistic despondency while diffusing the meddling of dirty cops, depth perception, and a fashion model.
Grimy from the inside out, the story is a disjointed crawl of trashy concepts and genuine angst. It is repetitive and based on some pretty shaky psychological tropes, but it manages to create grim moments of anguish that edge towards art when not being grinding. It would be almost heavy-handed if it weren't for the ridiculous rambling and the over the top moments. There is little to no logic to the events, actions or movement of the tale, and it's short in the way of setups. Thrown on top is an attempt to explain its lack of actual plot through semi-intended mania and Avant-guard expression that sometimes overstays its welcome.  The work owes a fair share to Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood (1959), featuring its own depressed unrecognized artist who begins including his victims remains in his work, only updated with a William Lustig-like demeanor. Despite being almost devoid of any real sleaze, there is plenty of Doris Wishman's DNA in the main character and his interactions (most apparently The Amazing Transplant 1970). Similarly, a  neutered Herschell Gordon Lewis shines through during and after the attacks, although there is nowhere near the frequency as far as violence goes. Whether or not it was influential, it beat several more iconic films to the punch.  Arthur Malcolm’s love of skull scooping precedes Umberto Lenzi’s homogeneous eyeball obsessed assassin by four years (Eyeball 1975), and the film uses common elements for the shock value. It's also hard not to see it in the bloodstream of later cult favorites like Maniac (1980) and Driller Killer (1979) as it focuses solely on the killer's plight (among other things). There is a story of a person breaking apart under life's pressures somewhere in there, but it has been soaked up into a looped cut of long cornball rants and exploitation tropes.  Essentially, the movie is a cycle that involves a dude crying a bunch, murder, then eyeball removal with a spoon, repeated for an hour. Any time it threatens to become too tedious something distasteful happens, and the circle of angry psychedelic multimedia starts again.  
(The) Headless Eyes was written and directed by Kent Bateman. Bateman would only make three more films following, each randomly spaced out over twenty years, his most mainstream work being in family television. Notably, he directed four episodes of The Hogan Family (1988-91, or as it was called at the time Valerie's Family or maybe just Valerie, who knows? I don't watch that sappy shit.) which included his son among the cast, Jason Bateman (Arrested Development, Extract and a bunch of movies involving out of character situations). Legendary cinema sleaze maestro Ron Sullivan produced the film and oversaw the releasing. Sullivan (or Henri Pachard as he was known as from the 80s on) is recognized for a wide range of smut starting with a set of sexploitation films in the late 60s. The grindhouse feature was a short departure for Sullivan, a man of many (mystery stained) hats, followed by a move to making more “mainstream” porn. When he died in 2008, he had produced, directed, and or starred in over three hundred hardcore, softcore or just generally sleaze-tastic films. There isn't much for credits accompanying the film, and honestly, I have trouble determining who is who. The only person I recognize is TV regular Bo Brundin who plays Arthur, the movie's artistically inclined main character. He is a lot younger here than anything else I have seen him in, and the part is far removed from his later work. In fact, his just being in the film is weird as fuck, but supposedly, he is in Jerry Lewis’ lost/scorned WWII-clown-drama (The Day the Clown Cried 1972) too, so he was down for some shit in the 70s.
 According to Bateman (in the form of a user review posted to the films IMBD), Sullivan shot and added explicit scenes without his (Batemans) involvement in post. Sullivan most likely attached the unofficial X rating as well, since the movie was never submitted to the MPAA. Alongside films like The Ghastly Ones (1968) and Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972), the movie saw a small theatrical run through drive-in marathons and double billings starting in 1972. In 1986, Charles Band's Wizard Video released the film to home video with comically gruesome new artwork, unrelated stills from another flick and a claim that the contents were “Too Gory for the Silver Screen.” Despite being a bit of stretch, the lavish new cover gave the film a second life with VHS era gorehounds in the 80s and followed it to this day. In 1999 Charles Band’s new company Full Moon Studios would repurpose the art for David DeCoteau's goofy unrelated sci-fi flick The Killer Eye, which understandably led to some confusion. I can get down with both (as well as Killer Eye's 2011 meta-sequel, Killer Eye: Halloween Haunt), but they each have their place, and it's incredible how different two b-movies about free-range eyeballs can be.
The film comes across bluntly unfinished, even at times feeling like a rough clip-show of the same events varied only slightly and with no awareness. It's made up of mixed camera work that jumps from functional to frenzied but manages to find some significantly rewarding shots every once and awhile. There are brief motivated moments when the film's direction can reconcile with the botched editing, and the art house stuff starts to work in its own way. Unfortunately, these nuggets come sandwiched between two bizarre slices of cheese that might pass as bad YouTube remixes in modern times. Although it's not as plentiful as most of its marketing implies, the gore is excellent for the production level. Each attack is a good mix of silly effects, bad lighting, and shiver-inducing concepts. Sparing but not nearly shy about its bloodshed, skull scooping, and ocular veins, when it gets to the good stuff, it remains on screen for extended periods. Think Herschell Gordon Lewis’ "Blood Trilogy" only dim and with inexplicably repeated soundbite screams.  Probably the film’s most infamous (actual) feature, is the constant mix of lousy dubbing, echo effects, and droning synthesizers accompanying each scene. It sounds like something Skinny Puppy would put out minus the drum machine track. My favorite bits in the film, and arguably the most complete, are the intercut “man on the street” segments presented as local news coverage. The interviewed pedestrians were pretty fucking perfect, even if I kept expecting an Allen Funt-esque punch line that I never received.
The Headless Eyes (1971) is a grotesque tantrum of dirty angst and insufficiently lit splatter in slow motion. At its worst, it is bizarre, pissed off trash, at best, it's Taxi Drivers long-lost older, homeless cousin who never gets invited to holidays. It is not the peeper-harvest promised by its 80’s Wizard VHS box, but it can be some fucked up fun, with the right friends and/or buzz. Underdeveloped and broken, it seems to follow a condemned pattern faithfully until it just drops out at the end and goes black, Just like real life. Reality gets fucked up in a quick and systematic way. If you're someone who is currently in a lousy place and it's getting worse, remember, anyone worth knowing about has been through some serious shit. If they hadn't bounced back, you never would have heard of them. No matter what you do though, you should probably leave other people’s eyeballs out of it since, ultimately, it is your problem.
1h 18min | 1971
 Director: Kent Bateman
Writer: Kent Bateman 

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RevTerry

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