Monday, March 18, 2019

"This Place Seems Spooky" - The Eyes Behind the Stars (1977)

It must be admitted that the UFO genre has produced many underrated classics, including of course UFO: Target Earth (1974). The 1970s also graced the cinemagoing public with The Eyes Behind the Stars (1977), a conspiracy thriller with such twists and turns that it is unclear whether it is occurring in England or Italy, or some other location entirely.

Examples of critics failing to understand the high, high quality of The Eyes Behind the Stars include BA_Harrison, who writes, "I can vaguely recall terrible acting, numerous protracted scenes of inane dialogue between extremely dull characters, some really crap alien costumes, and the overuse of a fish eye lens to give the effect of an alien presence, but very little else." Reviewer junk-monkey calls the film "another total waste of 90 minutes of my life." And reviewer carguychris writes, "The plot is full of holes and is nearly incoherent at times." Nearly incoherent! Ridiculous! Please read on for the truth about UFOs and The Eyes Behind the Stars...

The film begins with a photographer named driving home to develop photos. He sees something unusual in one photo—more unusual, presumably, than the oddly composed blow-ups hung on his walls.

So as not to lose the audience’s interest, the filmmakers cut to a flying saucer in outer space for the title sequence. The final credit is the following:

A film
written and directed by
Member of the National Investigation Committee on Aerial Phenomena (N.I.C.A.P.) and field investigator of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (A.P.R.O.) of the United States of America

Despite the organizational affiliations based in the United States, the film is set in England.

The photographer, Peter, who looks appealingly like a cross between Dario Argento and David Hemmings, oversees an extended photo shoot with his model/girlfriend Karen in a park. He also takes the opportunity to mansplain why her gigantic radio with its six-foot antenna isn’t working: “Come on, love, you’re wasting your time. The battery is dead. That’s why it’s making all that noise.”

It turns out there is a less mundane explanation for the radio static. When they reach a glade to take more photos, all the birds fall silent and their watches stop. “Let’s go away,” Karen says. “This place seems spooky.”

Peter refuses to let some “whatsits” spoil his shoot. Unfortunately for him and Karen, however, something represented by the camera’s point of view is watching them, and emitting an electronic whining and beeping sound as well.

After the sun goes down, Peter walks through the forest, photographing the trees with his flash attachment. It is unclear where Karen has gone. Peter hears the electronic whining and beeping, and something approaches his Land Rover. For some unexplained reason, instead of driving away in the car, Peter runs to a nearby house and pounds on the door in a panic. “I’m coming, just a moment,” says the man in the house.

Peter uses his telephone but says, “But your telephone isn’t working!”

The lights suddenly go out. Then they come back on again. For even more unexplained reasons, the man goes outside and fires a shotgun, which appears to cause an air raid siren to go off and Peter’s camera to vanish in a flash of light.

Then Peter, who is now outside, sees a flying saucer on the ground with its hatch open.

Having expended their quota of suspense, the filmmakers show aliens walk Peter into their ship, the interior of which resembles a nice suburban home complete with low-pile white carpet. And a glowing slab in the middle of the living room.

Peter is scanned with blinking lights for several minutes, initiating flashbacks to photos he recently took of Karen.

Some time later, Karen enters Peter’s apartment/photography studio, only to find the mysterious photo he developed at the very beginning of the film. The photo might have something in the far background (a spaceship or aliens), though it is very difficult to make anything out. Karen calls her friend Tony, who appears immediately. We find out through Karen’s dialogue that Peter went back to the forest after their photo shoot last night. “And don’t forget the strange happenings I already told you about,” she adds.

“My God, Karen,” Tony says, somewhat awkwardly and, one might say, gullibly. “If these pictures and what you’ve told me is true, do you realize this is the biggest scoop in a lifetime!”

After Tony takes the negatives and runs, something enters the studio, frightening Karen. We see from its POV as it makes some photographic prints vanish in flashes of light. The thing appears to hypnotize Karen, who walks emotionlessly out of the studio and drives her car into the night.

The next day, Tony arrives in the woods, where Karen drove her car and the police are taking fingerprints. They don’t remark upon the massive circle of white powder on the ground that might possibly indicate the landing spot of a flying saucer.

The inspector, played by a mustachioed Martin Balsam (pre-Archie Bunker’s Place), dubbed with a British accent, tells everyone they’re not allowed to go into the woods because it’s been roped off. Mr. Balsam drives away.

We follow Mr. Balsam and his detectives, as well as Tony (who constantly wears a raincoat despite the sunny weather), as they drive from one Italian villa to the next, searching for clues, one of which is the shotgun shot by the man who let Peter into his house. Unceremoniously, instead of knocking, the policemen smash a window and climb into the house because the door is locked. They find the man and his dog, both unconscious in the house.

We follow Tony as he reiterates what has just occurred to his secretary, then finds out that the man with the dog has died, apparently from burns. He decides to consult a UFO expert named Mr. Perry who owns an antique store. Tony tells the expert that he is in fact a UFO expert. He also summarizes the plot again and asks, “Do you think that a flying saucer or an extraterrestrial space vehicle could have landed in that wood?”

The expert says it’s possible. When asked if the expert believes in UFOs (an odd question that seems incompatible with the man’s profession as a UFO expert), Mr. Perry replies, “Certainly. There’s been proof throughout the world now of their existence and we have documentary evidence which is irrefutable, I might say overwhelming.”

Meanwhile, at the UFO landing site, the military has assigned a dozen men to walk in circles around the burn area.

The UFO returns, however, and lands a few yards away in the woods, though none of the soldiers see it. The lights go out and the soldiers begin to fall dead with small burns on their skin. “There’s no mistaking what they died of,” a doctor says later. “It’s radiation. And very intense.”

Meanwhile, Tony is still meeting with Mr. Perry, and we see that their conversation is being bugged and listened to by men in a big limousine. When Tony returns to his car, the limousine (which was parked a few feet behind Tony’s Mustang) follows him.

Elsewhere, one of the aliens, represented by a fisheye lens, breaks into an Italian villa and kills the couple sleeping upstairs with radiation.

Eventually, the men from the limousine break into Tony’s house and beat him up using some kind of alien karate. They steal all his pictures and notes. “Mr. Harris,” the leader, who resembles Daniel Craig, says, “it would be better if you decided not to report this or in the future. You’ll gain nothing, so bury it. We can be quite hard on those who controversy our interests.”

The next day, we find out from Mr. Balsam and Mr. Perry that the people who attacked Tony are not Men in Black but Silencers. “The service is ultra secret. They’re concerned with UFOs. They impose silence and discredit all the facts.”

Later, Tony and Mr. Perry continue their conversation yet again at Mr. Perry’s antique shop, but they are overheard by a woman wearing a conspicuous necklace with a large gold envelope shape.

They decide to continue their conversation even further at Mr. Perry’s house at night so they are not overheard further by the woman. However, she follows Tony out of the shop, then gives her big necklace to Daniel Craig. He inserts it into some kind of case and we realize she has been bugging Tony’s conversation with her massive envelope necklace.

Elsewhere, military officers confront each other over Tony’s piece about UFOs in the newspaper. “Secrecy is violated once again!”

“I call it censorship!”

In one of the most strikingly British phrasings ever recorded, the other officer replies, “I’m not interested in what you care to call it.”

They continue arguing Britishly about whether or not to reveal what they’ve discovered. “You know that here in England for the public and for the majority of the military, every official inquiry into UFOs was terminated with the closure in America of Project Blue Book the 17th of December, 1969. And don’t you forget it!”

The officer says, “In any event, I find your interference abusive.”

“Whoever has to impose his will, is.” (...abusive, one might infer.) “But as of now, our most important task to employ any means to prevent that journalist from asking questions that would be most difficult to answer.”

Cut to Tony the journalist being efficiently abducted.

They bring Tony to a dungeon, and the leader of the men in black (who is possibly Tony’s editor, or someone else) asks for the negatives he took from Peter’s studio. When Tony says he knows nothing, the leader uses a tape player taken from the dashboard of a car to replay an earlier conversation in which he admitted to taking the negatives.

Tony leads them back to his house and gives them the negatives, but they are interrupted by an invisible alien who makes them disappear.

Soon, the abducted model Karen is found catatonic in the forest. Tony and Perry drive to the hospital where she is taken, but they find out from Mr. Balsam that she was just kidnapped, presumably by the men in black/silencers. They reason that Tony’s secretary Monica has been telling the silencers everything, so they drive to her house and Tony punches her over and over.

When she falls to the ground, he discovers that her watch has been recording conversations. Remarkably, her recording device resembles an Apple Watch—38 years before its invention.

They force Monica to take them to what appears to be the headquarters of the silencers, an abandoned hospital, where reporter Tony and antiquarian Mr. Perry shoot various armed guards dead. They abduct the catatonic Karen (her third abduction) and drive away with her. They deposit her in another hospital in the middle of the woods, where a doctor friend of Tony’s puts her in a room without admitting her. Mr. Perry says, “We won’t need more than two hours, I shouldn’t imagine, because I know this girl who’s psychic. She’s able to ask questions and receive the answers telepathically.”

“All right,” says the doctor. “You can have two hours.”

Following their foolproof plan, Tony and Perry pick up their telepathic friend and bring her back to the hospital. However, her telepathy is interrupted by some kind of psychic signal which appears to emanate from Peter, who still resembles Dario Argento but who is now lying in an uncomfortable position on a bright white slab.

Then Peter vanishes from the slab for some reason. The aliens beam a signal into the telepath’s mind. Karen dies in her bed. Tony and Perry take the psychic out into the forest. “I see something strange out there, in front of you,” she says.

Then the silencers arrive and machine-gun Tony and Perry to death.

The aliens fly away in their extremely loud flying saucer. (One must admit, however, that despite their advanced technology, Earth techniques for hiding carpet seams are even more advanced.)

Not only is The Eyes Behind the Stars a riveting exposé of the UFO phenomenon of the 1970s, it is a forward-looking film as well, predicting both the Apple Watch (though the watch in the film bursts open to reveal a tiny audiocassette, which to my understanding is not how modern Apple Watches work) and removable car stereos. The film is also educational, explaining how to pronounce the abbreviation UFO--pronounced as if spelled "you-foe" and not "you-eff-oh." (However, it must be pointed out that some people use one pronunciation while others use the other pronunciation, often in the same scene.) Finally, the film is a strong reminder that we all must keep watching the stars because aliens with poor carpet-seam-hiding skills might still be out there in the universe, waiting to land on earth, abduct photographers and place them uncomfortably on lighted slabs, and use complex technology to steal such items as cameras and photographic negatives. The thought is extremely chilling, so it's necessary for all of us to be aware of...The Eyes Behind the Stars. (Note: The aliens never show their eyes.)