Friday, June 15, 2018

The Eye of Satan (1988)

The fifth, I think, feature film produced by Cliff Twemlow and his Manchester-based ultra low budget movie outfit is a fascinating gangster/horror crossover, mixing shoot outs and fist fights with Satanism and the occult.  Although The Eye of Satan, like many direct-to-video releases of its era, looks more than a little rough around the edges, it is a far more polished production than Twemlow's first, GBH (1983) and stands as a testament to how far he and his associates had progressed in such a short period of time.  As ever, Cliff takes the lead but, instead of the kind of heroic hardmen he usually portrayed, this time around he's Kane, a Satanic mercenary and hitman, in search of a stolen occult artefact.  Not only does he wield a number of huge guns during the course of the movie, he also kills several people with his bare hands and invokes a fair bit of paranormal phenomena, including making his eyes glow green.  Oh, and he has a pet black panther.  Now, in theory, Kane should be the villain of the piece, a ruthless killer and servant of Satan devoted to the triumph of evil.  But it is to Twemlow's credit that he emerges as the closest thing to a hero in the film.  It isn't that he's in any way likeable, but, unlike most of the other characters in the movie, he at least has a moral code he adheres to - an evil moral code, but nonetheless a recognisable set of principles which guide his actions.  (He doesn't like people who are cruel to animals, for instance, nastily offing a couple of duck hunters).  Thanks to Twemlow's considerable screen presence and charisma, Kane dominates the film, exuding an aura of menace, even when he isn't actually doing anything.

With the exception of Kane and the two cops trying to make sense of the bizarre and bloody goings on, virtually all of the other main characters in The Eye of Satan are either morally compromised, utterly venal, untrustworthy, duplicitous or just downright nasty self serving bastards.  Everybody is seemingly double crossing everybody else, supposed partners in crime scheme against each other, even religious hatreds are thrown into the mix as Jewish middle man Bronstein clashes with Arab terrorist Camille.  All of which complicates the plot endlessly.  Indeed, toward the end of the film so much is going on that it becomes somewhat confusing, with some of the bad guys heading over to Kane's place to try and ambush him there while he's still finishing off their henchmen at Camille's country house.  Somewhere in the middle of all this, Kane finds time to deal with a priest and an occult investigator brought in by the cops, before going back to his pad to deal with Camille and Co.  Oh yes, before that he has to deal with another ambush by another group of villains he crossed at the beginning of the film, (they owed him money so he shot up the coffin at the funeral of one of their family).  Of course, in the midst of all this, Kane's real mission is to recover the titular 'Eye of Satan', a jewel stolen from a Satanic altar in Africa, which turns out to be in Bronstein's possession.  I hope that's all clear!  But all these confusing plot developments ensure that there is never a dull moment in The Eye of Satan.  Running at well under ninety minutes, it moves at a breakneck pace, packing in an astounding amount of action and incident.

Keeping things moving was director David Kent-Watson, a Twemlow regular who had already directed GBH and Target: Eve Island for the Mancunian.  His direction brings an air professionalism to the film, conjuring up a tense atmosphere which permeates the movie with with a plapable sense of unease and menace. Bearing in mind the miniscule budget he was working with, Kent-Watson also achieves some memorable and highly effective sequences.  These include the startling opening, with Kane gatecrashing a funeral, beating up a priest and shooting up a coffin, a subsequent sequence of a character being stalked along a mist wreathed river by the panther (or is it the panther?) and the climactic shot of Kane transforming into the panther as he attacks Bronstein.  The dissolve effect used for this latter shot is actually pretty well done and is typical of the surprisingly good effects work achieved by Twemlow and his team on their tiny budget.   Especially notable is the glowing green eye effect for Kane, apparently achieved using a set of contact lenses made by Twemlow's brother (he was an opthamologist).  As ever with Twemlow productions, the supporting cast are more than adequate, turning in creditable performances.  Regulars John St Ryan (playing Camille) and Maxton G Beesly and Brett Paul (as the cops) are especially good.  Ryan is all smooth menace as the philosophical terrorist, while Beesly and Paul bring a warmth and compassion to the rumpled, overworked and frequently bemused police detectives trying to piece everything together.

As ever, I'm not trying to claim that The Eye of Satan is some kind of lost horror classic, but it is a hugely entertaining B-Movie.  The very fact that, bearing in mind the meagre resources they had to hand, it is a miracle that Twemlow and his crew ever got The Eye of Satan made, let alone that the final product actually looks like a professionally made film.  But that's what I love about Cliff Twemlow (and other UK low budget film makers of similar ilk) - they loved the idea of making films so much that they simply wouldn't let anything stop them from making their own.  Moreover, they were determined to make British exploitation films (which had once been the bedrock of the British Film Industry) at a time when such films were being derided and written out of UK cinema history.  It took balls to make and market such films at a time when the industry itself was obsessed with producing worthy but dull 'heritage' pictures which supposedly embodied the 'spirit of Britishness'.  In terms of quality, The Eye of Satan is easily as good as many of those direct-to-DVD low budgeters which turn up on the Horror Channel.  You know the ones I mean: they are usually set in a single location with a minimalist cast, directed by just graduated film students with pretensions of art.  They spend an hour and a half implying all sorts of horrors, but nothing ever really happens.  Well, believe me, in The Eye of Satan, things certainly happen.  In fact, it could easily have been an especially good episode of the old Hammer House of Horror TV series.  (I know that this series has its admirers, but I always found most of its episodes frustratingly underdeveloped, with obvious 'twists' and little in the way of action or real horror).  Look, at the end of the day I know that at times it doesn't entirely make sense (something not helped by the poor sound quality on the version I saw), but The Eye of Satan is actually a lot of fun.  It's certainly worth eighty or so minutes of anyone's time.



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