“Keep your eyes on what she cannot see. The boots, the bracelet, the bodies…” While the “blind woman in peril” thriller has appeared on the silver screen several times over the decades, 1971’s See No Evil (a.k.a. Blind Terror) was the first to go so far as add the senseless violence prevalent in gritty Seventies cinema.
Sarah, played by Mia Farrow, is a young English woman who had been struck blind after a horse-riding accident, and has just returned to her country home to rejoin her aunt, uncle and younger cousin. As she learns to cope with her blindness, she reunites with her boyfriend, Steve, even going on a horseback ride into the countryside with him.
But when she returns from riding that one day, something isn’t quite right. Unbeknownst to Sarah, the home has been broken into and her family has been murdered by a cold-blooded killer.
When she awakens the next morning, and the house is eerily quiet, Sarah gradually becomes more and more uneasy until it’s shockingly clear that something horrible has happened. And then the killer comes back ….
Directed by the prolific Richard Fleischer, who made everything from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Soylent Green, See No Evil does a great job playing a game not only with Mia Farrow’s character, but with the viewer. Because we were following Sarah while she was riding her horse and picnicking with her boyfriend, we didn’t see what happened either. Only when Sarah returns home do we gradually get more information through careful shots and framing—a bracelet on the carpet which has presumably fallen off during a life and death struggle, a partial glimpse of her dead aunt in the next room, the limb of her dead cousin on the bed next to her.
One of the best instances is when she draws a bath, unaware that someone else is already in the tub. Sometimes the camera teases you with a fleeting detail and then moves on, not stopping, seemingly because Sarah, unable to see what we’re seeing, does not stop herself. The viewer also is kept in the dark regarding the killer, not so much who he is, but what he looks like. Until the very end of the film, we only identify him by his cowboy boots.
And of course, with Sarah’s blindness there’s always a kind of thrill when we the viewer can see she is about to do something wrong—not because she is a stupid character in a horror film—but solely because she blind. You will find yourself saying, “No, not THAT door!”
Another interesting aspect of See No Evil is that it is one of those films that came out in the late 60s/early 70s which expressed a serious concern about the level of sex and violence in Western society and whether it was a sign of the End Times. For example, in the opening minutes of the film, moviegoers leave a cinema where the marquee promotes a double feature of “The Convent Murders” and “Rapist Cult.” Then we follow a pair of cowboy boots past a newspaper stand selling men’s adventure magazines and newspapers with headlines reading:” Massacre of the Children” and “Machine Guns Blaze in Jail Riot.”
The boots pass a store with toy soldiers and plastics guns in the window, and then an electronics store with a TV broadcasting Burgess Meredith’s death scene in the Amicus anthology film, “Torture Garden.”
Our mysterious killer reads girly mags while hanging out in the pub and ogles the groovy gals dancing at the club. Not that the latter is so unusual, but the camera, acting as the killer’s eyes, “cuts the women up,” focusing only on certain parts of their anatomy at any one time.
Even the male characters that are not the suspected killer are a bit creepy, leering at Sarah’s younger cousin, who is clearly supposed to be a young teenager. Our killer in this film has no discernible motive other than Sarah’s uncle splashed his cowboy boots. He’s a cypher, but that’s not an oversight on the part of writer Brian Clemens–it’s an intentional message about senseless violence.
Fans of Clemen’s Thriller TV series will especially like See No Evil, which plays as one of the better episodes, but with a bigger budget, an R rating, a layer of street grime, and Mia Farrow, who is delightful as always.
7 out of 10