Reviews

Headless Eyes (1971)

I never met a Bateman I didn’t like.

In 1970, a remote attic was tapped for a meeting of utmost secrecy. The space was damp, musty, and crawling with spiders. A single candle burned. At a table, a group of bewildered, yet familiar faces engaged in small talk. Glasses of sherry stood at their sides. There was H.G. Lewis. Ray Dennis Steckler. Leonard Kirtman. The Baptista brothers of Os Mutantes. Jerry Cole of Jerry Cole And His Spacemen. The only common denominator  was their host — the man who had summoned these outsider legends together, in one place, and at one time, for a landmark collaboration in trash Cinéma Vérité.

His name was Kent Bateman. Father of Justine. Father of Jason. Father of “Headless Eyes”. Clearly, a true humanitarian.

Headless Eyes was not conceived in the fashion described above, but writer-director Batemen could have fooled me. A week-in-the-life downer with Arthur (Bo Brundin), a one-eyed artiste and his unfortunate obsession with plucking out women’s eyeballs, Headless Eyes is a thunderstorm of diluted acid and cold sweat. There are filthy bathtubs, dirtier fingernails, strange emotional bends, and frozen eyeballs in Tupperware containers.

Ugly, frantic, and lovingly experimental, this film is not concerned with explaining itself. Instead, it makes a 78 minute beeline for feverish, psychedelic grit. But rather than bad-tripping towards amateurish chaos ala Psyched By The 4-D Witch, Headless Eyes retains a strong sense of energy and concentration. It’s H.G. Lewis with a bit of style; late-period Steckler with an editor; Leonard Kirtman’s Carnival Of Blood in a vengeful mood; all sewn up with the most expressive psych-surf-graveyardin’ mess of a soundtrack ever to be spooled through a vintage magnetic tape machine.

With that, we reach an impasse. From the vérité-styled curbside news reports (“Are there any theories about what he’s doing with the eyes?”) to the disturbing violence, Headless Eyes is a brick wall of ominous assurance. It does very little wrong. Though the potency threatens to wane while Arthur spends time with an art student and obsesses over an addict, the compelling photography, eccentric individuals, and sound collage experimentation assures that it never does. The E.C. Comics ending doesn’t hurt, either. As for Bo Brundin’s delirious Zero Mostel meets Driller Killer performance? Let’s hope he didn’t hurt himself.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I never met a Bateman I didn’t like.

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