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John’s Horror Corner: Eyes of Fire (1983), 18th century frontier dark fantasy-horror about an exiled minister, a good witch and a muck-faced tree witch.

January 6, 2023

MY CALL: While I must admit, I felt that I had to see an American frontier period horror-dark fantasy movie, I now just as equally wish I had never heard of this awful cinematic miscreation. Hard Pass. But take into consideration that Amazon reviewers seem to have LOVED this film even if I clearly didn’t. MORE MOVIES LIKE Eyes of Fire: I thought I was getting something dark fantasy more like The Bride (1985), which you should probably go watch instead. But if it’s frontier horror you seek, then consider Bone Tomahawk (2015), Ravenous (1999), Deadbirds (2004), The Witch (2016) or Grimm Prairie Tales (1990).

A 1750 minister accused of polygamy for taking in a widow, Will (Dennis Lipscomb;The First Power) and his followers are excommunicated from their settlement. The story linking these characters is needlessly complicated, even if not unrealistic. And while it may represent the way things were at the time, the writing stumbles through it while trying to jam star-shaped characters through square-shaped plot holes. Together they brave the American frontier, hiking across the dangerous Shawnee Native American territory. Yup. It’s as riveting as it sounds.

As this exiled group of settlers try to start a life in the forest, they are haunted by forest spirits. A mute and apparently good witch, Leah (Karlene Crockett) has visions of these spiritual threats, whereas sometimes these spirits harass everyone in real life. For much of the movie, nothing ever really amounts to anything substantial—or the movie just squanders harbingered perils with weak storytelling. References to a “devil tree” never produce greater threats than weird human faces forming in tree bark. And visions of naked, mud-covered Native spirits are never restless enough to considerably bother the living. Of course, all these rather unthreatening “threats” become more threatening later in the movie, long past the point that I stopped caring.

Some sightings of what I’ll call a grimy, mud-orc amount to very little of interest. I mean, it kills someone. But in the most boring way possible—slowly pulling them into a mud puddle. Just a big nothing really. Turns out the mud orc is actually a tree witch that desires children. But if it’s a tree witch you want, you should turn to The Guardian (1990) instead.

This movie is… awful. It’s boring, unengaging, and just plain not good. I guess it should come as no surprise that I had never heard of it (until this week). Yet still, in watching this I see loads of creative ambition that just lacked the budget, writing and filmmaking prowess to come to fruition.

Meanwhile, a wealth of five-star reviews on Amazon have me feeling like I’ve been cursed. For me, one star… no more. But why so many good ratings? I guess maybe these other viewers didn’t approach this under the impression it was a horror movie…? Maybe they just liked what the film was trying to do—which, admittedly, is an interesting genre-splicing of historical drama, dark fantasy and horror (in that order, I’d say).

Most of the “horror” which befalls our characters is simply a product of living in the harsh frontier lands or an occasional hostile Native American encounter. Only in the last act do we encounter some grimy gory faces. But they feel so out of place in the movie as a whole… so like everything else going on here, I just don’t care.

Writer and director Avery Crounse (Sister Island, The Invisible Kid) only ever did three movies, the other two at least as obscure as this one in the annals of film history. Probably for the best. While I must admit, I felt that I had to see an American frontier period horror movie, I now just as equally wish I had never heard of this awful cinematic miscreation.

Hard Pass.

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