Judge Gordon Sullivan was too prepared for what he was about to see.
Absolutely nothing will prepare you for what you're about to see
The giallo started out life as a crime and mystery genre, known for its lurid depictions of graphic and extended murder. When the time came for them to make their way from cheap paperbacks into films, they were known for their black-gloved killers and flowery titles, like Blood and Black Lace, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, and my personal favorite, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. However, despite starting life as a mystery genre, there is significant overlap with the horror genre as well. Many masters of giallo (Argento, Bava, Fulci) are also noted directors of horror, and it still surprises me that the giallo has had little influence on low-budget American horror (the way, say, Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve inspired so many slashers). However, with Eyes of the Chameleon, writer/star Ann Teal and director Ron Atkins have brought that giallo flavor to the indie realm, providing psychotic thrills and blood-soaked chills for willing fans.
Sara (Ann Teal) is a normal young woman. Normal, that is, until she has an occult encounter. This occult encounter tips her scales in favor of psychosis, and as Sara seems to fall deeper and deeper into insanity, her friends start to die in more and more mysterious ways. Are their deaths and her psychosis linked?
Aside from a lengthy title, giallo stand apart from other films based on visual style, and Eyes of the Chameleon lives up to its inspiration. Obviously shot on cheap equipment for an ultra low budget, Chameleon isn't afraid to turn these apparent negatives into visual positives. Lots of dark scenes, brightly oversaturated lights, and metaphoric imagery abound throughout the picture. It might border too much on the ADD influenced for some people's taste, but it's hard to be bored by a film that constantly bombards the viewer with new and pretty pictures.
Giallo films are also known for their blood-soaked murders, often shown from the killer's POV, complete with black-gloved hands. Eyes of the Chameleon gets this part right, slathering the screen in red stuff in a number of scenes. It's not the most realistic gore to come out in a film, but fits firmly in the tradition of Karo-and-food-coloring gore that fans of low-budget filmmaking have come to love.
Finally, Eyes of the Chameleon borrows the often-twisted sexuality of its Italian forebears. There's a bit of nudity here and there, a masked orgy, and some provocative outfits. It's barely into soft-core territory, but the same weirdness that informs the film's visuals bleeds over into the film's use of sex as well.
As an homage to giallo films and low-budget thrillers Eyes of the Chameleon is okay. However, it doesn't quite offer enough of interest to stand on its own. If a film is going to go the occult-spooky direction, having a character lose her mind while people around her die, there needs to be a pretty solid payoff at the end. What Eyes of the Chameloen didn't seem to learn from the giallo is that the foundation of any good mystery film is, in fact, the mystery. Sure, you can layer all kinds of sex, gore, and occult strangeness on top of that tasty little morsel, but if the audience doesn't care about the mystery, then the film is dead on arrival. That's the core problem with Eyes of the Chameloen, the one that no amount of flashy visuals, gratuitous blood, and kinky sex can overcome. Even the film's low-budget look and feel would be fine if the story they supported felt a little more complete, a little less "been there, done that."
As for the DVD, it's about as mixed a bag as the film itself. Obviously shot on a low budget, Eyes of the Chameleon was never going to be a reference quality disc. It's got a digital, somewhat murky look to it, much of which is probably intentional. It's colors, though, pop wonderfully, especially during nighttime scenes. However, the lack of anamorphic enhancement in the transfer is a serious drawback. I have a feeling some of the aliasing that's visible would have been alleviated with a bit more care. It's not a bad transfer, just a frustrating one. The stereo soundtrack is a bit better. It's still obviously recorded on the cheap, but dialogue is clear and balance between dialogue and music is good. For extras we get two minutes of deleted scenes where a ringer for William S. Burroughs torments a young boy. Also, the film's trailer is included. Troma throws on their usual "tromatic" extras, including a handful of trailer and PSAs.
Eyes of the Chameleon is a hit-or-miss indie thriller/horror hybrid. It's replete with interesting visuals, gore, and nudity, but in its pursuit of visual interest misses out on a compelling story. It's worth a rental for those looking to see what Troma is licensing these days, but for most viewers this film should be ignored.
Guilty of failing to deliver on the promise of its title.
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