Night Eyes (1990): A Shaky Start

Remember: just because something is the first doesn’t mean it’s the best. Matty sighs and takes a look at Jag Mundhra’s trendsetting dud.

Plodding and clumsy, NIGHT EYES is more interesting for its historical value than it is to actually experience. Essentially ground zero for the straight-to-video erotic thriller, Night Eyes was the first crotch opera helmed by one of the subgenre’s most fascinating voices — the late, great Jag Mundhra — and was co-written and co-produced by mid-tier acting hunk turned B-movie renaissance man Andrew Stevens, who also took the lead. The film did gangbusters on tape and cable: it pulled in a mammoth $30million against a modest $750,000 investment, instigating a fleet of imitators and cementing audience demand for steamy, noir-ish tales of everymen under the spell of beautiful but duplicitous women.

Alas, as a film, Night Eyes just ain’t that good. 

Reportedly inspired by Stevens’ affair with one of Rod Stewart’s ex-wives (“One night, as Andrew was quietly slipping out [of Stewart’s house], a security guard came up to him and said, “Goodnight, Mr. Stevens.” He then realised that the entire house was bugged,” explained Mundhra in a 1997 interview with rediff.com), Stevens stars as Will Griffith: a private security specialist hired to keep watch on Tanya Roberts’ slinky Nikki Walker by her estranged rock star husband (Warwick Sims). Supposedly there for her protection, Griffith’s post is, of course, a front; Nikki and her sleazebag hubby are divorcing and he wants some video recorded dirt on her to thwart her claims against him. It’s the perfect plan — until Griffith and Nikki begin falling for each other. But is the put upon housewife really as she seems?

The voyeuristic premise is irresistible and it’s all gorgeously lit and shot by cinematographer James Mathers, but Night Eyes sinks due to Stevens and Tom Citrano’s dreary script, which is plagued with speech bubble dialogue and hackneyed character development. Mundhra tries, and he ladles on the floaty, billowy histrionics with abandon. However, ornate framing, dream-laced ambience, and swinging the camera around a plush Malibu homestead can only paper over so many cracks, and the narrative’s lack of forward momentum is impossible to ignore. For swathes of Night Eyes’ duration, the general impression is that the usually pretty reliable Mundhra is floundering for something to do.

It’s the unanimously dreadful performances, though, that really damn the film, particularly the ineffectual mugging of Stevens and Roberts. They look the part in their nicely choreographed sexcapades, but their complete lack of chemistry is a killing blow. There’s no emotion, stakes, or — crucially — conviction. 

Thankfully, the three sequels are vastly superior.

USA ● 1990 ● Erotic Thriller ● 94mins

Andrew Stevens, Tanya Roberts, Cooper Huckabee, Warwick Sims ● Dir. Jag MundhraWri. Tom Citrano, Andrew Stevens

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