Cornier Transplant

“Like all deaf people, I don’t much like the blind.” ~ Luis Bunuel.

LOS OJOS DE JULIA / JULIA’S EYES is from Guillem Morales, who brought us and the producers of THE ORPHANAGE, with Guillermo del Toro as exec prod again. It’s not quite as good as THE ORPHANAGE, which wasn’t quite as good as a Del Toro, but it’s still a fun, old-fashioned shock-thriller. Morales folds together two old warhorses, the blind girl in jeopardy and the identical twins plot — the first scene change, which implies that the death of one twin is felt by the other, miles away, establishes the blend of pseudo-science and folk superstition he’s working with. The heroine’s surname is Levin, a nod to Ira Levin, whose novel A Kiss Before Dying, filmed twice, uses the sister act murder detection ploy as plot motor.

What stops this being as effective as THE ORPHANAGE is the soupy music, chipboard husband character, and a plot which doesn’t quite add up: the death of one major character is left pretty well unexplained. Morales heaps on plot twists to cover the fact that several of his key twists are easily forseeable, but the fact that, during the longish section of the film where the heroine’s eyes are bandaged, all the other characters are framed with their heads out of shot, has an eerie and oppressive tension to it quite beyond its mere functionality to keep a secret from us.

Stylistic flourishes are the film’s strong point — inevitably, some version of WAIT UNTIL DARK’s climactic blackout must be attempted, and Morales delivers, fusing that swipe with a bit of REAR WINDOW for good measure. Recombining borrowed elements is a form of originality, I suppose, and when its done with this level of skill and confidence it can be exhilarating.

In common with Bruce Robinson’s JENNIFER 8, there’s also a queasy assumption that sighted children raised among blind people are going to be somehow marked or twisted by the experience. This isn’t anything the films insist on, it merely comes as baggage with the plotting which seeks to “explain” the killer’s obsession with the blind.

Since Fiona’s written a screenplay with a degenerative eye condition as part of the plot, she was worried that Morales might have pipped her to the post with the medical details in his film, but no worries: this is strictly movie medicine, with no evidence of even basic research to bolster the conviction. A shame: even a rather minor suspenser like BLINK shows the value of digging up obscure info on your subject, and the film’s credibility is already slightly stretched by the way the plot keeps hurling the heroine into darkened corridors, cellars, power blackouts etc. Still, as an old-fashioned twister with giallo style but minus the misogyny, this is a diverting ride.

22 Responses to “Cornier Transplant”

  1. I love cornea-transplant movies – they’re always bonkers: The Eye (preferably the Pang version), Blink (with Madeleine whatever-happen-to-her? Stowe as a blind fiddler-in-peril) and John Woo’s The Killer, in which Chow Yun-Fat shoots so many gangsters you wonder why the corneas can’t be extracted from at least one of those corpses to restore the sight of ther nightclub chanteuse he accidentally blinded.

    I also like the idea of the last image a murder victim being imprinted on their corneas à la Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s story Claire Lenoir (cited, I think, in Huysman’s Against Nature). It crops up in Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet, and figures in an extraordinary scene in Wild, Wild West in which a murder victim’s severed head is turned upside down and used as a slide projector.

    My favourite parts of Julia’s Eyes were the scene in the changing room full of blind women when they sense someone’s there with them, and the giallo-esque middle section of the film where the heroine visits that hotel, with the idea of the mystery man blending into the background so successfully that he practically becomes invisible.

    Flawed film, but some really interesting stuff in it.

  2. Fiona W Says:

    I’m a bit of a fan of Blink.

  3. david wingrove Says:

    Having been underwhelmed by THE ORPHANAGE – and not having seen this new one, I must admit – I do wonder how long Gullermo del Toro can go on sticking his name on cheap horror flicks as ‘executive producer’ without doing serious damage to his own reputation?

    He’s a talented director who, arguably, has yet to make a great film but may well do so one day. Putting his name to THE ORPHANAGE, which wasn’t even enjoyable in a cheesy Jess Franco sort of way, does not strike me as a smart career move.

  4. Blink is fine except the heroine loses everything long before the end so you don’t have any hope left for a heppy outcome. The third act becomes a slow declension into depression. The same thing happens in In Dreams, only it happens IMMEDIATELY.

    Madeleine Stowe fucked up her face, so she no longer looks beautiful, just disturbing and Gelf-like. Tragic.

    Del Toro’s associates aren’t as talented as he is but I don’t think they’re lousy. He should avoid lending his name to novels he doesn’t actually write though.

    Rose, the eye-am-a-camera myth got mentioned here last week in my pieces about Ken Campbell. It’s a compelling fantasy. It’s been rumoured that attempts were made to photograph the eyes of Jack the Ripper’s last victim, and incident Fiona and I incorporated into a screenplay…

    The Pangs’ The Eye is EXTREMELY silly but does have arresting moments, notably the guy I call “tongue guy”.

  5. Fiona W Says:

    Hey, lay off The Orphanage David! I liked it, although it does suffer from plywood husband syndrome once again.

  6. PaulJBis Says:

    Nitpick: the director of “The orphanage” wasn’t Guillem Morales, but Juan Antonio Bayona. I believe that the producers and much of the rest of the creative team are the same, though.

  7. WAIT UNTIL DARK’s blackout ending was done earlier in 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET (remade as the giallo THE CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT).

  8. Paul, that’s not a nitpick, it’s a major point! I guess we fell for the “from the makers of” advertising in the same way we fell for “the new novel from Guillermo del Toro.”

    I keep meaning to see 23 Paces. A similar gimmick is used in Eyes in the Night, Fred Zinneman’s fun potboiler with Edward Arnold as the blind detective. He smashes the lightbulb overhead with his cane and says “You’re in my world now.” But of course they don’t allow the screen to go completely dark there.

  9. david wingrove Says:

    How could I forget EYES OF LAURA MARS? One of the great unsung movies of the 70s (even though Pauline Kael, of all people, admitted to liking it) and Faye Dunaway’s neurotic glamour has never been used more effectively.

  10. We re-watched The Man with the X-Ray Eyes just recently and were impressed all over again. The ending is great, but so is Milland and especially Don Rickles, and it’s a terrific script. A remake has been contemplated, and we felt you didn’t need to update the screenplay at all. The BEST way to do it would actually be to take out all the POV SFX shots and let the excellent dialogue carry it.

    John Carpenter is convinced they ruined his idea with Laura Mars. What I can’t work out is if the movie’s trying to say anything by making her a weird fetish photographer: is this a Targets-style commentary on fantasy versus real violence? It doesn’t seem wholly on top of the idea, if so.

  11. 23 PACES and CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT are both spiffing thrillers, though in neither case is the audience plunged into total darkness. (In the latter, the blind hero does manage to use LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN to his advantage, however.)

  12. 10 or 12 years ago I saw a pristine print of MWTXRE on the big screen and the color was amazing, besides the special effects shots, which were amazing too. It didn’t turn me into a print snob, but made me aware of the privilege of when you get to see a good print.

    In this version but not in any future remakes, I thought the special effects shots, beyond serving a prosaic function, serve an allegorical one because although the two eyed Ray Milland is seeing them, there’s always a single halo-like ocular ring framing the shot – the camera lens.

  13. As a good Sylva Koscina fan, I must see Crimes of the Black Cat.

    I certainly enjoy the effects in MWTXRE, it’s just that they seem more prosaic than what he’s saying — and he usually describes exactly what he’s seeing, in very powerful language, so they’re not strictly speaking necessary. I’d be very interested to see how the film played without them, with the character’s words as our only medium for understanding what’s happening.

  14. yes absolutely, a no effects version would be an interesting.

    I guess I meant to say that since the effects don’t fulfill a prosaic function they fill an allegorical one.

    would like to see xray on a double bill with peeping tom

  15. That would indeed make a mind-expanding fever dream double feature.

    After actor Peter Capaldi won a best short film Oscar (for Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life), he was set to direct an X-ray remake for Miramax. He developed it for two years, then Tim Burton announced he was doing it, and suddenly nobody knew who had the rights. Burton dropped the idea a week later, but Capaldi’s version was dead. So it may be a while before that one gets off the ground. I have no doubt it’ll happen though, and it’ll be stuffed with CGI skeletons.

  16. >>stuffed with CGI skeletons.<<

    Yup… plus 3D

    thanks for the XR2 info

  17. Perhaps someone can explain to me why, in Wait Until Dark, Arkin bothers with all those daffy disguises when Hepburn is blind?

  18. Odd, isn’t it? I’ve been meaning to watch that again, maybe there’s a hidden answer…

  19. I actually liked Julia’s Eyes more then The Orphanage, but I base that mostly on the fact that I hated the very end of The Orphanage. And by “the very end” I mean those last few seconds when it gets really mystical and sentimental. That left me with a bad taste, even though I really, really liked the rest of the film. No bad tastes from Julia’s Eyes, which was a solid, old-fashioned horror/thriller that did exactly what it set out to do. I saw it at midnight at a festival after five other screenings – I was exhausted, and it had me wide awake and on the edge of my seat the whole time. Can’t argue with that.

  20. I didn’t mind the sentimentality in The Orphanage — it’d be a very cruel, unpleasant story otherwise, once you get to the revelation of the child’s fate! I needed something sweeter after that. I think there’s something similar going on with the romantic ending of Julia’s Eyes, but to me it was less successful since the marital relationship was the film’s least effective element.

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