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  • Rich

FrightFest Review: EIGHT EYES

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

Horror trip

Bruno Veljanovski as Saint Peter

While on vacation in Yugoslavia, an American couple attracts the attention of ‘Saint’ Peter, a mysterious half-blind local who soon latches onto them as they continue on their journey by train. The more trusting husband, Gav (Bradford Thomas), goes along for the ride while his wife Cass (Emily Sweet) keeps a closer ‘eye’ on their uninvited guest. Peter (Bruno Veljanovski) lacks barriers, practising his warped sense of humour… toying; seemingly biding his time until he reveals a much more insidious side as his manipulation becomes more apparent via his web of psychic rituals that cut the flesh and penetrate something much deeper.

If this was a film that subverted character and audience expectations, then you would perhaps have something that aligns itself with ‘21st-century horror’. This isn’t what director Austin Jennings is concerned with, delivering a film that lives in the past (reflecting a society held at bay); as much an ode to exploitation cinema as it is the medium of film. This is a dark and twisted tale that feels like a lost relic pulled from the flames — imbued with the textures of Super 8 and 16mm — and, naturally, performs a rather meta-approach, both in terms of the mode of filmmaking applied and what it begins to hint at within the narrative. Although the film opens on a ‘burnt offering’, the story — harnessed around this tryptic of characters — slowly builds in tension until the disturbing mysteries are revealed through the couple’s ‘holiday’ footage, delivering the gnarly and visceral imagery one would expect from such a film rooted in grindhouse. However, Jennings’ vital touch is in how he continues to sew his seeds through the imperfections and the artistry of celluloid — devilish scratches, blemishes and burns — all of which seem to make more sense during the film’s ritualistic climax.

Emily Sweet as Cass

Naturally, based on location and the torturous themes, there will be comparisons to Eli Roth’s Hostel… but Eight Eyes is far more restrained; inspired as much by American regional horror of the ’70s as it is by Euro Horror. The setting itself — shot entirely on location in Serbia and Macedonia — only adds to the film’s atmosphere navigating through bombed-out buildings and decayed interiors. Of course, it leans heavily into Texas Chainsaw territory, but while set amongst the ruins of the former Yugoslavia — infused with ideas and contributions from local cast and crew — Jennings, with co-writer Mathew Frink, set out to capture an authentic portrayal of the cultural environment in which it is set that only brings its folk horror to the surface.

Strange folk

Eight Eyes is the first production by a unique pairing of companies: Vinegar Syndrome Pictures (Joe Rubin, Ryan Emerson, Ralph Stevens) — a production arm of the respected boutique label — and Not the Funeral Home (Justin Martell, Matt Manjourides); best known for creating and producing the acclaimed Shudder original series The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs. With the release of the film, both these independent production companies are fully committed to continue working with cast and crew based in countries and regions with burgeoning and under-represented filmmaking cultures. Hopefully, this approach will open up a new wave of films and expose audiences to different cultures through horror, producing distinct stories with their own sense of place… and, hopefully, a message if people wish to find it.

The message that rests under the surface of Eight Eyes is one cemented in Saint Peter’s persona; one that reveals the ignorance of the West, laid bare. As a genre film it works, but — as with most exploitation vehicles — has more to say; an allegorical tale that remains transparent (to a degree)… yet Jennings laces the film with enough metaphysical influences for audiences to continue scratching at once the credits roll.

Eight Eyes has its world premiere at FrightFest on Friday 25th August. Book your tickets now.


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