Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mill Creek Invasion: EYES BEHIND THE STARS (Occhi dalle stelle, 1978)

Roy Garrett, the credited writer and director of Eyes Behind the Stars, was a member of the National Investigation Committee on Aerial Phenomena and a field investigator for the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization. All of that seems to be true except for the man's name. "Garrett" was the sometime screen name of Mario Gariozzi, who is cited as an investigative researcher in some UFO literature online. In his hands, Occhi dalle stelle becomes a cross between Sunn Classic Pictures's Hangar 18 and Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up. The Antonioni part is the film's MacGuffin. A fashion photographer inadvertently catches evidence of a UFO landing during a lengthy photoshoot in the woods. The aliens take no chances with him, kidnapping and probing him in ways best left to the imagination. Just laying on a slab is enough to fill the picture snapper with bug-eyed terror. The aliens themselves are not left to the imagination -- unless you want to see them out of uniform.

Maybe the aliens are meant to look menacing, but I just want to pet them.
They also try to zap all film evidence of their presence, without realizing that several crucial frames have been given to ex-cop turned reporter Tony Harris (Robert Hoffman) who becomes our dogged protagonist in an increasingly paranoid scenario. He has to worry not just about aliens but agents of the British government (like many Italian genre films, this one is set in the U.K.) dedicated to silencing all inquiries about UFOs in order to prevent global panic. These silencers are always a few steps and a few punches ahead of him, leading him to suspect that one of his supposed allies is actually part of the conspiracy? Could it be the girl with the suspicious cast on her arm (Nathalie Delon)? Could it be the all-too-convincing UFO conspiracy buff who doubles as an antiques dealer? There are simply too many details that can't be explained normally. Why doesn't Martin Balsam, playing a policeman, speak in his own voice? Was the 1966 Best Supporting Actor Oscar Winner incapable of speaking in a British accent? And where do our heroes find a telepath all of a sudden to probe the mind of an abductee? I guess if UFOs are real, then all things are possible.
Our hero (above center) has his troubles fighting men, but takes no chances with women.
Despite the superficial sci-fi trappings, Occhi dalle stelle is more conspiracy thriller, at least in intention, than futuristic fantasy. There are fewer scenes of saucers in flight, or even of fuzzy-costumed aliens probing victims, than there are of Robert Hoffman fighting conspirators and their goons with fists and guns. Some of the stagings and set design suggest a Vittorio Storaro influence on cinematographer Erico Menczer, but the usual limitations of a Mill Creek disc make a fair appraisal impossible. Most of the alien activity consists of POV camera crawls, flashing lights and vanishing objects. It's a grim affair in more ways than one, capped with a typical Seventies finish that here, given the auteur's own interest in the subject, sounds almost like a cri de coeur against the cover-up that simply must exist. By Mill Creek standards, Eyes Behind the Stars has some camp value thanks to the goofy photo-shoot scene, the funky looking aliens, and the random telepath, but there's also a mean-spiritedness to it, possibly reflecting the director's frustrations as a UFO researcher, that has its darkest expression when the hero takes out his frustrations on a female character. That puts a little edge on the goofiness that viewers might find gratifying, but for its current target audience of Mill Creek fans the film probably could have used more goofiness.


Kev D. said...

Aliens or deep-sea explorers... it's always tough to tell the difference.

Samuel Wilson said...

Kev, all I can say is that I wouldn't want to go diving in that get-up. It'd probably take forever to dry and would probably shrink.