Monday, May 13, 2024

Trip to the Woods

Eyes of Fire (Avery Crounse, 1983)

Robert Eggers's The Witch (2015) is Dada Debaser's pick for the best horror film of the 2010s. Therefore, when Avery Crounse's obscure eighties folk horror, Eyes of Fire (1983) is referenced by various film buffs as an ancestral forerunner, it becomes worthy of my time. Set in the hostile American wilderness during the colonial era, Crounse's low budget effort comes across as Arthur Miller's The Crucible pollinated with David Lynch's weirdisms; in particular Twin Peaks (1990). It's equal parts a historical tale and also a surreal, trippy nightmare.

Eyes of Fire is framed around a young woman and girl at a French outpost recollecting horrific events they experienced. Kicking this off with a bungled hanging of a David Koresh style preacher, he flees with his congregation to the uncharted wilderness. Amongst this party, is Leah, one of the polygomous Reverend Will Smythe's partners, who may possess supernatural powers after the botch execution. They're all scuttled on a river boat and it's very Aquirre, Wrath of God (1972) and Apocalypse Now (1979) here as events gets much darker for them. They not only have to contend with the indigenious Shawnee tribepeople and French settlers, but also the great unknown. Also in pursuit of Smythe's congregation, is the cuckholded Marion Dalton, the husband of one of Smythe's lovers.

In terms of presentation, Eyes of Fire does its best with its obvious low budgetthere are some surprisingly eye catching sequences, like the tree of feathers scene. The cast are relatively unknown, apart from Will Hare, who played the scary grandfather in Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984).  I suppose the biggest name is the actor Rob Paulsen being the voice behind many famous creations. The fact that it looks like some made for television historical play at times, makes the film even more trippy when the weird video effects occur and the batshit surrealism takes over, like the naked spirits prancing about and the strikingly creepy woodland witch emerging from her peat domain are definitely not made for TV, however.

The similarities to The Witch are obviously there — the plot set-up and it's historical setting are the obvious examples. Is it as good as Robert Eggers's modern classic, however? Absolutely not, but it's a very good film all the same. In terms of its existence, it feels like a strange anolomy, due to being such a obscurity, even for horror film afficionados. Therefore, I'm very thankful a film that I was mostly oblvious about for so long actually exists.

Not knowing about Eyes of Fire until only a few years ago, when it was announced as part of Severin's grandiose folk horror boxset, All the Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium of Folk Horror, this was one of the titles that instantly made it onto my watchlist when seeing the trailer. That set is still far too expensive for my liking, but fortunately, the film in question is currently free to watch on Plex (which is even how I managed to see it). Definitely one to cop on Blu-Ray if it's ever released on its own and more affordable. Another reason to cop the Blu-Ray is there's a longer cut of the film with the alternate title Crying Blue Sky that might be worth checking out.

Both Eyes of Fire and Spider Labyrinth (1988) are two recent examples of eighties horror films which prove there are still some unsung gems from that era. It's a refreshing experience discovering this strange oddity that feels ahead of its time.

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