Movie Reviews: Film Reviews: “Eyes of Fire” and “Devil Story” (Fantastic Fest)

October 6, 2021

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at [email protected] He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

Eyes of Fire

American folk horror feature Eyes of Fire (1983) is an underseen gem that has been unavailable on home video for decades. The ambitious film should find a well-deserved wider audience with its beautiful new 4K restoration from Severin Films, which was overseen by writer/director Avery Crounse. In the colonial 1700s before America was established, Reverend Will Smythe (Dennis Lipscomb) is known for burning witches and living with multiple women including married woman Eloise (Rebecca Stanley) and the mysterious Leah (Karlene Crockett). When he escapes a hanging attempt by his fellow colonists, the trio steals the colony’s only raft and sets sail with Eloise’s two daughters and a few other people. Eloise’s woodsman husband Marion Dalton (Guy Boyd) tracks down the group, who find a group of abandoned cabins in a wooded area where the local Shawnee people refuse to go. The band of settlers soon find out why — an evil lurks in the forest, and it begins to claim the members one by one. Eyes of Fire is a terrific supernatural film full of startling surprises and creepy imagery. Crounse’s budget may have been low, but his sights were set high and he delivered a gripping slice of truly spooky cinema. The special effects are impressive and often chilling. The dialogue is believable and the characterizations intriguing, especially self-proclaimed “Queen of the Forest” Leah. Crockett is superb in that role, playing the character as a cross between a psychologically scarred person and someone with mystical abilities. The rest of the main cast members all give solid turns, as well. Aficionados of historical horror and supernatural cinema should be well pleased with Crounse’s suspenseful, well-directed Eyes of Fire.

https://youtu.be/PdrydzzSeMg

Devil Story

Connoisseurs of the weird, wild, and what-is-happening, take note: French horror movie Devil Story (Il etait une fois le diable; 1986) — presented at Fantastic Fest newly restored by Vinegar Syndrome in great-looking 4K from its 35mm original camera negative — alternates mind-bending absurdity with scenes that are an endurance test at times. Repetition is the name of the game here, with everything from scenes of a man who must be the world’s poorest marksman continually missing shots at a horse (supposedly only a few yards away but never in the same frame) that is constantly accompanied by the same whinnying sound bite to a life-and-death struggle between two women involving a stubborn coffin lid. If writer/director Bernard Launois had a plan to present an understandable narrative, he kept it to himself, as the film opens with some sort of mutant wearing a Nazi uniform stabbing and shootingpasserby, then cuts to a couple with car problems (naturally) who seek lodging at a cool-looking castle with hosts who regale them with tales of a shipwreck (the special effects for that nautical disaster are something to behold) before introducing a devil horse, a mummy(!) and the mummy’s vampire-like bride(!). Devil Story boasts some of the longest celluloid death scenes in memory, presumably to show off the practical gore effects, for which much of the meager budget must have been slated. You’ll count the seconds as blue goo oozes from the mummy’s mouth for no reason, and you’ll get a kick out of the blood pump effects with actors trying their best not to move or breathe. And all of this with minimal dialogue! You know by now whether or not this movie is for you, but I’ll wrap up by saying Devil Story is for those purists who seek out the most obscure no-budget scare fare as possible.

Eyes of Fire and Devil Story screen as part of Fantastic Fest, which ran in Austin, Texas from September 23–30, 2021, with an [email protected] virtual version running from September 30–October 11. For more information, visit https://fantasticfest.com/.

 

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