Eye of the Devil (1966) fits into that odd and wonderful era of 1960s British genre films that gave us Village of the Damned, Day of the Triffids, and Night of the Eagle (aka Burn, Witch, Burn.) For me, this means it's made with a perspective or sensibility that’s just slightly unfamiliar when compared to similar fare from the United States. It’s hard to describe, but you can tell that something is different when watching it.
More than just the style of Eye of the Devil reminds me of Night of the Eagle. The gender roles may be reversed, but the story revolves around a married couple, one person in danger, the other responsible, and the murky mystery unfolds for an hour and half into a not-entirely satisfactory conclusion.
Here, Philippe de Montfaucon (David Niven) returns to his homeland when the family winery is failing. Against his insistence that the family stay behind, his wife, Catherine (Deborah Kerr), loads the children into the car and follows him. She finds a village set in its ways for reasons that Philippe repeatedly tells her she wouldn’t understand. She doesn’t have enough sense to leave well enough alone, and the more she pries, the more precarious her situation becomes.
While I could never quite accept the casting of Niven, and the casting of Kerr evoked The Innocents, I loved the supporting characters. Donald Pleasence plays Pere Dominic, the priest who greets their arrival and is always underfoot. David Hemmings plays Christian de Caray, the odd young man who carries his bow and arrow wherever he goes. Sharon Tate plays his sister, Odile, who presents the most physical danger to Catherine.
While it’s a trope in these films that our heroes never leave when faced with imminent threat, it’s extra hard to swallow here that Catherine doesn’t turn around and go home when Christian nearly shoots her with an arrow and Odile almost hypnotizes her into stepping off the roof. It’s also a trope that she’d try to leave, but be prevented from it. In the case of Eye of the Devil, though, I would have preferred that one.
It's stylishly directed by J. Lee Thompson, who previously made The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Cape Fear (1962) and would subsequently make Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975), but this is the least of all those. I watched it from a TCM recording and the most interesting thing to me was the little MGM puff piece at the end about this being Tate’s first theatrical role.
Written by Robin Estridge and Dennis Murphy
From the novel Day of the Arrow by Robin Estridge
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Starring Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Donald Pleasence, Edward Mulhare, Flora Robson, Sharon Tate, David Hemmings
RT 92 min.
Released Sept. 6, 1967
Home Video Blu-ray (Warner Archive)
Rating 7 knife-wielding psychos (out of 10)