It wasn’t my intention to watch two films in a row about deeply disturbed individuals whose need to kill was fueled in part by aching loneliness, but that’s how it worked out with The Eyes of My Mother and The Evil Within. While the films are uniquely different in style and plot, they’re also tragically similar at heart and really like nothing else going on in the fun but generally derivative world of indie horror these days.
THE EYES OF MY MOTHER (2016)
You would never know Nicolas Pesce is a first time director. In a 76-minute black and white film, he dissects the mind of Francisca, somewhat of a female Norman Bates, better and more definitely than her male counterpart has been in half-a-dozen films and a TV series over the course of nearly 60 years.
But this is no cheap knock-off. The Eyes Of My Mother feels more like it could stem from the chilling reality of Psycho’s source material – Ed Gein. Francisca is mind-fuckingly terrifying, thanks in large part to the performance by actress Kika Magalhães. Her blank, emotionless responses to everything around her gave me flashbacks to how uncomfortable Angela’s creepy silence and stony responses to other humans made me feel in Sleepaway Camp when I was a kid.
At the same time, Francisca is a tragic victim of her circumstances (just like Norman Bates…and Angela…and Ed Gein). The film begins with her as a child, living on a very isolated farm with her parents, where they use farm animals to teach her about the more simplistic aspects of death.
When she’s faced with a horrific situation, it becomes clear Francisca suffers from a major disconnect between anatomy and humanity…which gets worse as she matures and leads to a lonely existence of her own making without her grasping why.
Her morbid, gruesome practices the likes of psychos both fiction (think Leatherface) and fact (think Dahmer) make her absolutely terrifying, but what’s tragic is that she’s luring victims in a desperate attempt to cure her loneliness.
She doesn’t even understand that what she’s doing to them is awful—and it is. It’s AWFUL.
And it gets more awful as the film progresses, and not even in a torture porn way. Very often we don’t actually see the nasty deed being done. It’s the psychological aspects of what these victims are going through that fucked me up but good.
Seriously, this is no cheap thrills scary movie. You have to brace yourself for The Eyes Of My Mother, and you’ll probably never want to revisit it. But I highly recommend being royally messed up by it once.
THE EVIL WITHIN (2017)
Once again I can say you wouldn’t know you were watching a film from a first time director. Tragically, The Evil Within would also be Andrew Getty’s only film. After years of working on production, he died before final editing was completed. I’m not sure if he would be happy with the end result, but it definitely struck a nerve with me as is.
Sort of a combination of styles and genres, it’s a bit commercial, deeply disturbing, and wickedly artsy all at once. It also has an excellent cast of horror alum, including Dina Meyer (Saw franchise, The Crooked Man, Piranha 3D, Bats), Brianna Brown (Night of the Living Dead 3D, Timber Falls, The Lost Tribe), icon Kim Darby (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, the original Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark), and Sean Patrick Flanery (Demon Hunter, The Insatiable, Kaw, The Devil’s Carnival).
Then there’s horror legend Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes fame. He has become such a fan favorite over the decades that he’s seen as a bit of a Teddy bear these days, but not in this film. He has been revitalized as a truly horrific presence not unlike that of Freddy Krueger (back in 1984), appearing in some of the most nightmarish visual sequences I’ve seen in a horror film in ages. I couldn’t get enough of him.
And in the starring role is Frederick Koehler. He recently appeared in few episodes of American Horror Story: Roanoke, but GenXers will best know him as Chip, Jane Curtain’s son on the 80s sitcom Kate & Allie. He is fantastic in this film, essentially playing a split personality. Living with a mental disability and under the care of his brother (Flanery), who is trying to build a life with his girlfriend, Koehler feels alone and isolated in their house and is plagued by nightmares (of Berryman). When Flanery gives him an antique mirror for his room, he soon befriends his own reflection. Before long, his mentally dominant mirror image begins to convince him that those around him think less of him because of his disability and need to be dealt with accordingly.
This film is such a rollercoaster of horror and emotion. It’s at first trippy as fuck and visually terrifying. Then you begin to feel for the main character because he is so sad and lonely. Then you watch in horror as he is manipulated into heading down the path to becoming a serial killer…beginning with killing neighborhood pets. I tensed up, but we don’t see anything happening on screen. But I have to confess, I did have little eyegasms as a result of Koehler’s heartbreaking performance when he first reacts to what his reflection is making him do to innocent victims. This movie gets really upsetting for a while.
And then it swings into fucked up, awesome horror territory, with some wacky shit going on as the reflection persona takes over and goes on a killing spree like some sort of warped slasher. There’s even some bizarrely hokey, 1990s direct-to-video suspense/thriller melodrama whenever the story shifts over to Flanery’s cluelessness as to how insane his mentally challenged brother is becoming, despite the awful smell coming from the basement and all the videos his brother all of a sudden has on taxidermy.
By the end of the film, Koehler is running a one-man house of horrors, grisly gore and all – without any help from Michael Berryman. How does one movie get so jam-packed with so much awesomeness?
It’s tragic that director Andrew Getty is no longer with us. There’s no telling what else he could have brought to the horror genre, and he deserved to be around to get noticed for just this film alone, which I really hope gets an audience. There’s no one doing horror like this these days—it’s original, unpredictable, scary, emotional, in a league all its own, and totally Priming its way in two days to my house on DVD.