The Hubrisween That Wasn’t: E

Eyes of Fire (1983)

Can this be? A movie I actually watched right now instead of back in July, when I was intending to do Hubrisween the “normal” way? (Don’t worry, we’re back to the last of the warm recollections stage next time)

Eyes of Fire was a staple on video store shelves back in the heyday of the 80s, yet I never rented it. I wasn’t very fond of American attempts at folk horror during the time, but in my more tolerant “Golden Years”, I’m going back and sometimes finding some gems. It also helps that Severin included an excellent restoration in its extraordinary “All the Haunts Be Ours” box set, making my viewing so very much easier and pleasant.

We’re in “The American Frontier” in the year 1750, where a French officer (Mike Genovese) is interrogating three English girls who were, bewilderingly, found hundreds of miles from their home. The story will told in flashbacks as the girls remember.

In a rustic little village there is a scandal when a woman, Eloise (Rebecca Stanley), tired of the months-long absences of her trapper husband, has moved in with the new preacher, Will Smythe (Dennis Lipscomb). Smythe already lives with another woman, Leah (Karlene Crockett), a sub-vocal redhead who he claims he rescued from a witch-burning episode. These small pre-Revolution villages being what they are, Smythe is soon rousted from his home and strung up in the smokehouse for blasphemy or something. He is only saved by a) Leah breaking the noose by apparent magic, and b) Smythe’s small but loyal band of followers bursting in with weapons.

Smythe’s followers lock the villagers in the smokehouse and proceed to steal provisions and the town’s ferry for a journey to “a promised land” prophesied by Smythe. Soon afterward, Eloise’s husband Marion (Guy Boyd), a true James Fenimore Cooper type, returns, carves a canoe out of a tree, and starts downstream to find his errant wife and the daughter Fanny (Sally Klein), who is narrating everything.

That ferry, meanwhile, has run afoul of Indians (and are saved, once more, by magic from Leah) and our potential group of Jonestowners have abandoned the boat and set off across land, still hoping for that promised land. About the time they are accosted by some Shawnee and and a nastier band of trappers, Marion catches up with them and helps them out of that spot, but now the whole group is stuck in the middle of Shawnee territory. Luckily, though, they are on the edge of a valley the Shawnee consider taboo, and so they head there, and find some ruined cabins that offer shelter.

Of course, there is a reason the Shawnee don’t go there, and that would be the Demon Witch who holds reign over the woods. So things get considerably worse.

Writer/director Avery Crounse is an award-winning photographer in his own right, and the images shown in Eyes of Fire certainly prove that – there are many sequences where you just find yourself thinking, “Damn, that’s pretty.” And the story, simple as it is, is fairly solid; some will complain of its slow pace, but the fact that Crounse and his cohorts made a very good period piece on next-to-no-money is a magic trick of its own. Some of the imagery is of necessity simple, but still striking: the trees bearing the human faces of the Demon Witch’s victims, and their mud-soaked bodies when she summons them to attack the cabins. There are times when things get downright psychedelic.

Present-day viewers are also likely to point out the story’s remarkable similarity to 2015’s The Witch, but as I said, it’s a simple story. Simple as the folklore it invokes.

There is an original cut of the film, Crying Blue Sky on the set’s disc, which has a half-hour that was trimmed out for (I presume) nervous suits. Time pressures keep me from checking it out at this time, but I should watch it to see if any of my unanswered questions are answered. I mean, Leah is quite obviously a witch, and the subject is never truly broached, even though much of the story’s time is spent on her realization that she and the Demon Witch are headed for a showdown, and she must somehow prepare while still trying to protect her friends – the young girls who are telling the tale to the French officer.

Chances are that my gorehound younger 80s self might have actually appreciated this movie, but I’m glad I instead experienced it these days, when I watch these movies more to determine how well the filmmakers delivered their vision to the screen. Avery Crounse did so very well on this, his first feature, that I would like very much to track down his other two movies, The Invisible Kid and Cries of Silence aka Sister Island, which is likely the highest recommendation I could offer any movie.

Five minutes later: Great, just what I needed. More movies to watch. Grumble gripe bitch complain