Sunday, April 03, 2016

BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL (1974)

I got my start writing movie reviews years ago for the now defunct website Eccentric Cinema. I lament every day that EC is no longer around because it was a good place to find long form critiques of genre films that, regardless of the writer, always seemed to have more thought involved than the average site. Rarely was an Eccentric Cinema review simply just a review of the movie and its video presentation. There were usually some deeper ideas that got brought to the surface and often times explored in some depth. I miss having EC as an outlet and a place to gain an alternative perspective. Since it's demise I have been cleaning up and posting some of my old reviews for the site here on the blog and that is how we come to this. I wrote this review just after the BCI release of BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL on DVD. I had previously seen the film under its American title HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN but this disc was a revelation. I've toyed with updating this piece but I realized that instead it might be a better idea to post it as it was originally written. You see - this was done years before I developed the NaschyCast podcast to explore the cinema of Paul Naschy and this represents my thoughts on him and his work before I made an attempt to really study the subject. Maybe fans of the show can get a kick out of how far I've come - or not! So, here is my decade old review. Enjoy!

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Gilles (Paul Naschy) is hitchhiking his way across northern France looking for a job. Each stop in a small town or village results in sullen stares from the out-of-work locals, a gentle indicator that he should move on. Trudging down a dark road one evening he's picked up by Claude (Diana Lorys). She's a pretty woman with a horribly scarred right arm on which she wears a prosthetic hand. Gilles apologizes for staring and his questions about how the wounds were inflicted are bluntly turned aside. But when Gilles asks about work, Claude offers him the position of gardener/caretaker of the ramshackle estate she shares with her two sisters. The last employee was let go under bad circumstances and the unemployed fellow gladly accepts.


On the way to the house the car strikes a bird, injuring it. When Claude mercifully kills the broken creature Gilles has a sudden flashback in which he seems to be strangling a woman. Upon arriving at the estate he meets Nicole (Eva Leon), the redheaded and very flirtatious sister. The third of the siblings is wheelchair bound Ivette (Maria Perschy). Claude introduces him and explains that Ivette was injured in an accident several years before, but declines to give any details. Gilles gets the impression that the two sisters' different injuries may be related.


The next morning Nicole follows the new hired hand around, watching him work and making her lustful intentions obvious. In the afternoon Ivette's new nurse arrives and, much to the surprise of her doctor, it's not the woman he recommended. Ivette is immediately suspicious of Nurse Michelle (Ines Morales), a gorgeous blonde, but the family doctor trusts her and does his best to set his patient's mind at ease. This becomes more difficult the next day, when it's discovered that the police have found the murdered body of the originally expected nurse beside the road on the way to the estate. Hmm. Could Michelle be hiding something sinister? She certainly acts odd, especially after a tense phone call from an unknown person. Hmm. And on the sinister side of things, Gilles is plagued by nightmares repeating the scenario of him strangling a laughing woman... And the nurse was strangled to death. Hmmmm. Happily for him, Nicole sneaks into his room on his second evening and administers her own brand of welcome. But is that a carefully controlled desire to grip her neck the man fights down as he makes love? Hmm... 


Doing yard work the following day, Gilles is attacked by a knife-wielding maniac. He's able to fight off and even stab the man as he escapes, but he receives a cut across his stomach. Michelle bandages him up and he rests the remainder of the day in bed. Claude visits him to explain that the man with the knife was Jean, the previous caretaker, who was fired for sleeping with nymphomaniac Nicole. It's clear Claude feels guilty about what happened and before the evening is over she's prescribed some sexual healing of her own. That's two of the sisters in the house... Will Gilles go for all three.


Later that night, in the nearby village, a young girl is attacked and killed while walking home through a cemetery. The victim's eyes (looking like soft boiled eggs) are gouged out and taken by the murderer. This second murder in a few days leads the police to fear they may have a serial killer on their hands. And after a third corpse appears the next morning — missing its eyes — the cops are in a frenzy to find the criminal. The single common denominator is that each girl killed had blonde hair and blue eyes. Hmm. Doesn't the woman in Gilles flashbacks/nightmares have blonde hair? Hmm.

The police suspect Jean, the missing knife-wielding ex-caretaker, but Claude does some snooping in Gilles' room and finds old newspaper clippings. These identify Gilles by another name and relate his past conviction for raping and killing his fiancée years before. Confronting Gilles with this information, he breaks down and tells her the details of his past, gaining her sympathy but leaving a real possibility in the viewer that he's our black-gloved killer. (Little hint for all ex-convicts trying to leave their past behind — don't carry around newspaper clippings that detail your criminal deeds.)


Throwing more confusion into the mix is the discovery of Jean in a field, dead from the stab wound inflicted by Gilles days earlier. Hmm. Who is murdering all these pretty young girls?


This is a great little thriller that easily fits into the giallo genre. Although some purist would argue that only the Italians made true gialli, I find that a silly and pointlessly limiting way of looking at European thrillers. This may be a Spanish-made film set in France but it's clearly a giallo and an inventive one at that. Indeed, I find Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll to be a strong example of its type with only one serious flaw — its often off-putting music. But even this flaw isn't a total disaster. The movie boasts two reoccurring tunes that underscore the story, one a bouncy piece that we first hear under the credits. While a very catchy song that I'd love to have on a soundtrack CD, its repeated use in some scenes that it REALLY doesn't fit works against the tension the film builds. More than once it plays under a dramatic sequence that it complete deflates with its cheerful sound. But the other song used is an amazing, sinister version of the old childhood sing-a-long "Frère Jacque" which is used during the stalking/attack scenes as the unseen killer picks off the blue-eyed victims. Sparse and haunting, the song becomes more off kilter and out of tune with each murder, giving a nice hint of the deteriorating mental state of the black-gloved strangler.


One of the great joys of any Paul Naschy (real name: Jacinto Molina) horror film is the feeling of affection for the genre that always shines through. Even in his lesser efforts it's obvious that he loves making monster movies and is honestly trying to make the best one he possibly can. Of course, this sometimes causes them to be so over-earnest in their seriousness that even a diehard fan can wish that characters would stop whining and just do something. Pathos and a surfeit of sentimentality often crept into the screenplays penned by Naschy. But luckily this was before horror film lengths expanded past the two hour mark so that final act rampage was never too far away. Also, his desire to inject some romanticism into nearly every story could come off as forced and silly by turns. These dives into doe-eyed lovemaking, complete with swelling musical accompaniment, were not helped by the fact that in nearly every case it was Naschy himself who was rolling around in the sack with the beautiful actresses. Not that Paul wasn't a fine example of studly machismo. But when the scriptwriter/actor ends up bedding almost every gorgeous woman in the film EVERY TIME it becomes a growing source of amusement. "Hey, Jacinto... How many naked actresses do you get to paw in this movie?" I suspect that a compilation of just the lovemaking scenes form his movies strung together one after another would make a pretty amusing (and lengthy) party tape. The looks of barely restrained lust are only rivaled in their entertainment value by his intense contortions of pain and rage during one of his dozens of screen werewolf transformations. For sheer emotional overkill, Naschy was your man! 

Luckily, Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll manages to avoid the over sentimentality of most Naschy stories. I thought we were really in for it when Ivette shows up in the wheelchair, but she is never played for cheap emotion. The character is central to the underlying tensions between the sisters but is kept mostly in the background, with only her paranoia about her new nurse giving a view into her inner world.

Of course, the main reason the film is so engrossing is its central mystery —who is killing the young women around the village? It's a great puzzle, and even if the final reveal shows that there was no way at all for a viewer to figure things out it's still a fun tale. The film goes out of its way to provide clues pointing to several characters, setting up plenty of red herrings. And even if we know it simply can't be Gilles (because he's the most obvious choice), his barely suppressed desire to strangle women does cause a few doubts.


1 comment:

Nick Rentz said...

I read EC reviews everyday on my lunch break. Brian Lindsey and you were my favorite writers to read. I sought out and avoided certain movies thanks to those reviews. Paul Naschy's love of the genre is what captivated me from the start.