Disco Giallo: ‘Eyes of Laura Mars’ (1978)

A psychic psycho thriller tinged with equal amounts of giallo and disco through a Helmut Newton styled gaze…

Faye Dunaway, Anna Anderson, and Donna Palmer in Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) © 1978 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Eyes of Laura Mars is a film that is just as interesting for the talent behind it as it is for the story it tells. Directed by Irvin Kershner immediately before being handpicked by George Lucas to direct The Empire Strikes Back and written originally by none other than John Carpenter a year before Halloween stalked across cinema screens to massive audiences. Two quite different talents, one more distinctive than the other, managed to bring to the screen this psychic psycho thriller tinged with equal amounts of giallo and disco through a Helmut Newton styled gaze.

Carpenter expressed a certain amount of frustration with the rewrites his script went through when producer Jon Peters purchased the screenplay with the idea of turning it into a starring vehicle for his then girlfriend Barbra Streisand, who took a step back but supplied the theme tune Prisoner. Faye Dunaway was then drafted in to step into the titular characters knee high boots, developing a psychic link with a murderer who seems to have a keen fascination with her photography and its themes of glamour and violence.

Faye Dunaway in Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) © 1978 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

At the time of its release the film only really gained a pretty tepid critical response in the U.S. but European audiences were kinder, seemingly for their appreciation of Carpenter’s talents which they connected with immediately when his previous directorial outings Dark Star and Assault On Precinct 13 were released. Over time the film has gained a cult following as much for its fashion and disco elements than anything else. The story has giallo elements running all the way through it which would be hard to disguise no matter how many rewrites it went through but Kershner’s direction grounds it completely in a rather pedestrian style.

One can assume that Carpenter wanted to deliver an American giallo influenced by the likes of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, who at that time was making international waves with his own Animal trilogy and Profondo Rosso, while Kershner wanted to frame the story as a critique of violent imagery in the media, particularly in the fashion and advertising industries, which he had concerns about.

Faye Dunaway and Toshi Matsuo in Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) © 1978 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Who knows what we could have ended up with if Carpenter took the directing duties? We may have had a dizzyingly violent, sexy and lurid thriller, but that could have been compromised by Jon Peter’s heavy handed producing style and in turn we would have missed out on Halloween, which changed the game for onscreen murder forever.

However, while Kershner may not be as exciting a genre prospect as Carpenter he still manages to bring to the screen a more memorable film than most supernaturally tinged Hollywood thrillers. Dunaway impresses and convinces as Laura and her photo shoots are pretty much the highlight of the film; glamorously staged to a pulsing disco soundtrack they are tawdry and violent tableaus, more so than the murder scenes they inspire.

Tommy Lee Jones and Faye Dunaway in Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) © 1978 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The supporting cast is an embarrassment of riches; Tommy Lee Jones deadpans his way through the film as the investigating policeman and love interest and a wild eyed and crazy haired Brad Dourif is evenly matched by the much missed Raúl Julia in the suspect stakes. René Auberjonois is great fun as Laura’s flamboyant agent and confidant, while some may see him as overtly camp in these times it is admirable how the film never treats him as a joke and lets him stand up for Laura and himself particularly in the eyes of the law in a number of scenes.

Tommy Lee Jones, Darlanne Fluegel, and Lisa Taylor in Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) © Columbia Pictures Corporation

Indicator have released the film in a fine package. The remastering of the film shows late seventies New York in all its blasted out wintry glory at the height of its social crisis and the extras included here are plentiful and informative, including a director’s commentary by Kershner and an entertainingly informative video essay by Kat Ellinger which delves into the film’s giallo roots and influences.

Eyes of Laura Mars may be a film that compromises itself but for all its flaws it remains a fascinating footnote in both the careers of its screenwriter and director both of whom would go on to craft extraordinary efforts in genre filmmaking immediately after this.


‘Eyes of Laura Mars’ (Limited Edition Blu-Ray) is still in stock in limited quantities from Indicator/Powerhouse Films, cat. No. PHILTD034. BBFC cert: 15. RRP £5.99.

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