White of the Eye Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Donald Cammell
Written by China Cammell and Donald Cammell
1987, 111 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on November 17th, 2015
David Keith as Paul White
Cathy Moriarty as Joan White
Alan Rosenberg as Mike Desantos
Art Evans as Det. Charles Mendoza
Michael Greene as Phil Ross
Alberta Watson as Ann Mason
Marc Hayashi as Stu
Danielle Smith as Danielle White
Mimi Lieber as Liza
Paul White is a successful audio technician living in the small mining town of Globe, Arizona. He and his wife Joan have been happily married for ten years and have one daughter, Danielle. A string of grisly murders in neighboring Tucson have police baffled and Paul is contacted as a potential witness, as he was recently installing equipment at the house next door to the latest crime scene. Detective Mendoza reveals he believes everyone is a suspect, including our protagonist, who is suddenly less inclined to help. As the investigation digs deeper into Paul’s life, dark secrets including infidelity are uncovered. Joan is understandably furious with this discovery and begins to reflect on their decade-long relationship. In a series of flashbacks, we meet her previous boyfriend Mike Desantos, and learn how that turned sour once Paul entered the picture. Mike disappeared not long after the two men went on a hunting trip and has not been seen since...until now. Her ex is happy to see her, but something is different about him, the years have not been kind to him. One of these men in this bizarre love triangle is likely responsible for the ongoing series of ritualistic killings of beautiful women. Whether it is new love or old, Joan will be forced to make some difficult choices if she and her daughter are to stay alive.
White of the Eye is a beautifully shot psycho-sexual thriller that at times is as disturbing as it is gorgeous. Director Donald Cammell (Demon Seed) creates a stylistic nightmare reminiscent of the European giallo thrillers of the 1970s, but mixed with a 1980s MTV flair. Two cinematographers, Alan Jones and Larry McConkey, worked on the picture simultaneously as lighting director and camera operator, respectively, and the end result is nothing short of stunning. Aerial photography of wide, sweeping vistas is balanced by intimate, at times claustrophobic, sequences in crawlspaces and mineshafts. The interior of the victims’ houses are filled with vibrant colors that carry the appearance of having been designed by a tortured artist. The exterior landscapes highlight the vast emptiness of the desert in direct contrast with the industrial environment of the mining town, making for an unexpected dynamic that is both isolating and yet somehow peaceful.
The screenplay, co-written by Cammell and his wife China, eschews the traditional timeline in favor of a deliberately non-linear framework. Legendary editor Terry Rawlings (Alien) successfully navigates the overlapping structure of the tale, revealing just enough about each character before the final discovery. He also creates several nice moments of suspense in the minutes building to violence and the dramatic game of cat-and-mouse during the finale. The murder set-pieces are presented with an operatic intensity and are surprisingly upsetting, particularly one involving the use of a mirror in the sequence staged in a bathroom. Cammell employed a variety of cameras to give the picture a unique look and incorporated a tricky bleaching process for the flashbacks in order to make each stand out from the contemporary plotline. Musicians Rick Fenn (10cc) and Nick Mason (Pink Floyd) supply the amazing score and their efforts are given a central role, as the sound design is crucial to maintaining the unsettling tone of the picture.
David Keith (Firestarter) is at his best as Paul White, and watching him here makes me wish the actor had gotten more roles of this caliber. He effortlessly walks the line of well-meaning husband and as a man with secrets that may or may not include murder. Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull) is not surprisingly the powerhouse of this film and really is amazing as Joan, the long-suffering wife. The character is well-written and Moriarty owns every minute of it, particularly the scenes lashing out against her husband’s infidelity. Mike, the unbalanced former flame, completes the love triangle, and Alan Rosenberg (The Last Temptation of Christ) brings both an intensity and strong sense of comic timing to the part, leaving audiences uncertain of his motivations. Character actor Art Evans (Die Hard 2) is given several moments to shine as Det. Charles Mendoza, a man who chides his fellow officers for lacking culture while he points out the artistic display of the crime scene, and minutes later washes his hands in a toilet.
Donald Cammell’s filmmaking career began promisingly enough with his work as co-director on Nicholas Roeg’s Performance. He would only go on to make a handful of films, with many years between productions. Cammell notoriously struggled with his own inner demons until he ultimately took his own life in 1996. He surrounded himself with chaos and welcomed conflict; one example is the aforementioned hiring of two cinematographers for the same film. Cammel’s reputation for being difficult preceded him and the camera men worked out an arrangement so they would both keep the job. Actor David Keith refused comment when asked about the director stating only that he did not wish to speak ill of the dead. White of the Eye is an unflinching look at the underside of the American family unit, not unlike Blue Velvet (1986) or The Stepfather (1987). One can easily complain that this movie is all style over substance, but the unconventional spin on the material keeps the familiarity of the content at bay. Genre fans with discriminating tastes will definitely want to check this one out as it presents something horrific through the eye of an artist and transforms it into a thing of beauty.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, White of the Eye looks terrific. Longtime fans will be happy to know that this disc featuress the same 2k remaster used for Arrow Films’ release last year. This new transfer handles both the traditional color palette and the deliberately muted sequences wonderfully.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio does a fine job, but audiences will be happy to hear the all-new DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that Scream Factory has included for this edition. The expanded soundtrack is a welcome treat that fills the room with operatic music cues and intense sound effects, without stepping on dialogue levels.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Sam Umland, biographer of the late Cammell, provides an interesting and entertaining audio commentary track filled with information about not only this production but also about the director and other aspects of his career.
Cinematographer Larry McConkey shares his memories of this bizarre shoot in the featurette Into the White (11 minutes). He is generous in his praise and professional in his criticisms and shares some nice insight into operating a Stedicam rig.
Art Evans is more than happy to reminisce about his time on this picture in the segment Eye of the Detective (16 minutes). He talks primarily about working with Cammell and the frequently unorthodox approach to the material.
Into the Vortex (18 minutes) offers Alan Rosenberg some time to discuss the oddities of working with Cammell and wife. He has plenty of wonderful things to say about his co-stars, especially Moriarty.
A pair of deleted scenes (6 minutes) featuring Joan at work and about town are presented without audio, but biographer Umland offers contextual commentary.
An alternate credits sequence is self-explanatory, and completists will be happy with its inclusion here.
Another interesting supplement comes in the form of the flashback sequences (12 minutes) shown as they appeared before the bleaching process.