Headless Eyes (1971)

Directed by Kent Bateman
Wizard Video VHS

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’ve fooled me. A week-in-the-life downer with Arthur (Bo Brundin), a one-eyed artiste and his obsession with plucking out women’s eyeballs, Headless Eyes is a thunderstorm of diluted drugs and cold sweat. There are filthy bathtubs, dirtier fingernails, strange emotional bends, and frozen eyeballs in Tupperware containers. Can I interest you in a glass of sherry?

Ugly, frantic, and 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 audience alienation 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-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 a druggie actress, the compelling photography, eccentric individuals, and sound collage experimentation assures that it never does. As for Bo Brundin’s delirious Zero Mostel meets Driller Killer performance? Let’s hope he didn’t hurt himself.

Approaching Super 8 level quality, the grainy, bright, jump-cuttin’ print was just what the doctor ordered. I watched with bells on. Please, DVD companies — just leave this one alone. It would never be the same.

It’s back! The Wizard Total Terror Test! Following the feature, five minutes of clips from Breeders, Dreamaniac, and Headless Eyes kick it out. During Dreamaniac, the narrator notes, “Only the pause button can give you a chance to recover!” I think he meant to say “fast forward”, but you never know.

Kent Bateman, you’re a good egg. Unkempt and gloomy, yet somehow radiant, the mind-bending Headless Eyes is a touchpoint for every element that makes nonconformist 70s trash-horror cinema so enduring today. As soon as “The End” rolls around, you’ll want to watch it again. Find a copy right now and do just that.