Most thrillers go from point A to point B in chronological order. A few, like Irreversible or Memento, work their way backwards. Still others will skip around in a Tarantino-esque kind of way. White of the Eye falls into this last category.
White of the Eye is about a string of murders in and around Tucson, Arizona, in which all of the victims are wealthy women. The prime suspect for the crimes is a hi-end stereo installer with an expert ear for sound named Paul White (David Keith from An Officer and a Gentleman and Firestarter), mainly because he has had access to many of the women’s homes through his installations. Detective Charles Mendoza (Art Evans from Fright Night and Tales from the Hood) questions both Paul and his wife, Joan (Raging Bull’s Cathy Moriarty), but ultimately comes up empty.
However, the detective has cast just enough doubt in Joan’s mind for her to go snooping on her own. She runs into her old boyfriend, a loser named Mike Desantos (Miracle Mile’s Alan Rosenberg) from whom Paul essentially stole her, and hears stories of Paul’s past that are, to say the least, troubling. But, just because Paul has done some questionably violent things in his past doesn’t make him a murderer in the present, does it?
Made in 1987, White of the Eye was directed by Donald Cammell (Demon Seed, Performance), who also wrote the screenplay with his wife, China Kong (Wild Side), adapting it from a novel by Margaret Tracy (which was a pseudonym for Laurence and Andrew Klavan). The skeleton of the plot is a detective movie, with the audience playing the part of the detective, putting the pieces together as they’re provided and slowly solving the crime, as well as following all of the red herrings and false leads. But the flesh of the film is both a slasher movie and a psychological thriller, skipping around between the serial murders themselves and Paul’s slow descent into madness over them.
Instead of taking the Pulp Fiction approach and showing the events out of chronological order or pulling a The Hateful Eight and restarting halfway through from a different point of view, White of the Eye intersperses strategic flashbacks á la Reservoir Dogs to tell its story, giving the viewer essential backstory about the weird little love triangle relationship between Paul, Joan, and Mike while the mystery is in full swing. Random circle fades and freeze frames signal the change from present to past and back again, and the new knowledge changes what the audience is seeing and shifts the characters in their antagonist-protagonist hierarchy, creating a warped sense of reality not unlike that found in other mind-trip movies like Jacob’s Ladder. Once the audience gets used to it, the non-linear timeline is a great way for the mystery in White of the Eye to slowly reveal itself.
When White of the Eye shows the murders, it ventures into slasher territory, and the movie gets a tone that is best described as “American Giallo.” The killer, whose face is always obscured or cut off just out of frame, wears the uniform black leather gloves and uses the requisite shiny polished knives. But the murderer also gets creative, never just stabbing and slashing but really relishing in the kills – at one point, a woman is drowned in a bathtub and the killer holds a mirror up to her so that she can see her own last moments in a cool homage to Peeping Tom. The color palette in the film even resembles that of an Italian giallo, with bright primaries cutting through bland neutrals during the more psychotic scenes. The camerawork of cinematographer/Steadicam operator Larry McConkey (World War Z, Lucy) helps with the look, too, with all of the intense close-ups, provocative angles, and fluid motion of an Argento or a Bava film. If it weren’t for the distinctly American accents and the unmistakable Arizona desert locations, White of the Eye could be mistaken for a classic giallo flick.
The score for White of the Eye was composed by Mason + Fenn, which is, as the name suggests, a musical collaboration between Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason and 10cc guitarist Rick Fenn. The soundtrack contains plenty of bluesy guitar picking and heavy synthesizer pounding, and it manages to have a southwestern style without sounding old-fashioned. It’s not a typical orchestral cinematic score, nor is it the usual eighties electronic score. It falls somewhere in the middle, less ambitious than a huge production, but sounding like more than just a single musician in a MIDI studio. Mason + Fenn’s score for White of the Eye is as unique as the movie.
Whether you like your movies straightforward or jumping around, a good whodunit is a good whodunit. And White of the Eye is as good – and bloody - as they come.