“Tell me, do you believe in magic?”
— Sharon Tate, giving the creepiest delivery of this line in history.
Hammer Studios turned out a few predecessor films before making The Wicker Man, which has an understanding of its premise the earlier versions do not, and a willingness to push its implications. Hammer was not alone; Filmways Productions and MGM released Eye of the Devil in 1966, an occult thriller which has more than a little in common with The Wicker Man. It’s not the best of the genre, but it gives us David Niven in an atypical role, Donald Pleasance in one of his first horror appearances, and Sharon Tate in her debut.
Title: Eye of the Devil
Cast, Crew, and Other Info:
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Writers: Robin Estridge and Dennis Murphy, from the novel by Robin Estridge.
David Niven as Philippe de Montfaucon
Deborah Kerr as Catherine de Montfaucon
Donald Pleasence as Pere Dominic
Sharon Tate as Odile de Caray
Edward Mulhare as Jean-Claude Ibert
Flora Robson as Countess Estell
Emlyn Williams as Alain de Montfaucon
Robert Duncan as Jacques de Montfaucon
Suky Appleby as Antoinette de Montfaucon
David Hemmings as Christian de Caray
John Le Mesurier as Dr. Monnet
Michael Miller as Grandec
Donald Bisset as Rennard
Pauline Letts as Marianne
Available on Amazon Video on Demand
A wealthy man returns to his ancestral property to deal with a poor harvest. Against his wishes, his wife and children follow him to the old stomping grounds, where they find villagers with sinister visages, a priest with questionable devotion, an old woman of uncertain allegiance, a witch with designs ot the children, and her brother, with a love of arrows.
She begins to realize the local method of dealing with a poor harvest will be shockingly old-school.
The interactions between Odile, her brother, and the children are disturbing, though I wish Tate and Hemmings had not been directed to move through this film in a trance.
The film features excellent cinematography. Unlike Hammer, MGM worked with substantial budgets.
Characters act in ways that serve the script, but do not consistently make sense in context. I understand why Catherine chooses to stay but, given her wealth, resources, and what she has already witnessed, why does she not send her children away?
Originality: 2/6 The film adapts a novel written, I assume, while the author watched Hammer Films and read The Golden Bough. Horror film aficionados may also note echoes of The Old Dark House.
Effects 4/6 I’ll excuse one very cheap effect, since it may be depicting a perception of events. Director Thompson serves up some interesting visual imagery.
Production: 6/6 Eye of the Devil features some impressive location shooting in France.Imagine a period Hammer film with a budget, and you’ll have something like this movie.
Emotional Response: 4/6 The film features good direction and atmospheric creepiness, but it’s not especially scary. It is, in places, suspenseful. However, we learn about the cult’s existence almost immediately, and anyone familiar with popular works on European Paganism will see the ending coming.
Overall: 4/6 This is a film for “occult horror” completists, or, I suppose, someone who absolutely needs to see David Niven chase Sharon Tate around with a whip. Honestly, the movie has some talented actors, but it just isn’t terribly memorable. Without the involvement of Sharon Tate and the similarities to The Wicker Man, it might be entirely forgotten.
In total, Eye of the Devil receives 29/42.
September 30: Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (JD) October 20: Hausu (Alex)
October 21: Eye of the Devil (JD)
October 27: A Quiet Place (JD)
October 28: Alone in the Dark (JD)
October 31: Halloween 2018 (JD)
Return of the Living Dead (JD)