Eye of the Devil
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Does it really seem surprising that a film entitled Eye of the Devil (1967) would experience a cursed production schedule? Initially, Kim Novak was cast in the lead but had to withdraw from the film with a back injury after eighty per cent of it had been shot. Julie Andrews was then considered as a replacement until the producers, Martin Ransohoff and John Calley, decided on Deborah Kerr. With Kerr firmly in place, the film crew returned to the castle of Brives les Gaillards in France in the dead of winter to re-shoot the scenes previously filmed there with Novak. Along the way there were more script changes required, resulting in Terry Southern dropping out of the project and being replaced by screenwriters Robin Estridge and Dennis Murphy. The film also went through three directors - Sidney J. Furie, Arthur Hiller, and Michael Anderson - before J. Lee Thompson was brought in to complete the project. After all the hard work and expense, the working title of 13 was changed to Eye of the Devil. The film was then unceremoniously dumped in block bookings without any fanfare. Two years after its release, co-star Sharon Tate would be murdered at her home along with four other people by members of the Manson family.
Despite all the bad luck that plagued Eye of the Devil, it still stands as a remarkably stylish and unusual entry in the field of occult horror films. Most critics didn't appreciate it at the time of its release because they felt that such distinguished actors as Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Flora Robson, and Emlyn Williams were too good to be wasted in this type of genre film. Seen today, the excellent casting is one of the film's strongest assets along with Erwin Hillier's arty cinematography.
The unusual plot, which could be considered a precursor to The Wicker Man, another occult thriller that achieved cult status in the seventies, stars David Niven as a wealthy vineyard owner who begins acting strangely after his grape crop fails for the third year in a row. His wife, played by Deborah Kerr, notices that there are plenty of other things amiss on the estate as well. For instance, there's a sinister young man (David Hemmings) who hunts doves and his creepy sister Odile (Sharon Tate) who could be a witch. And of course, it's hard to ignore that weird group of hooded men filing through the woods - which leads Ms. Kerr to the conclusion that her husband is destined for some horrible fate. You know, she's right!
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Producer: Martin Ransohoff, John Calley
Screenplay: Robin Estridge, Dennis Murphy (based on the novel Day of the Arrow by Philip Loraine)
Cinematography: Erwin Hillier
Music: Gary McFarland
Cast: David Niven (Philippe de Montfaucon), Deborah Kerr (Catherine de Montfaucon), Donald Pleasance (Pere Dominic), Flora Robson (Countess Estell), Emlyn Williams (Alain de Montfaucon), Sharon Tate (Odile), David Hemmings (Christian de Caray), John Le Mesurier (Dr. Monnet), Edward Mulhare (Jean-Claude Ibert).
by Jeff Stafford