The Second Piece: Jag Mundhra’s Eyewitness to Murder (1989)

Matty probes another important — if kind of naff — early work by the Indian master of erotica.

With its potent mix of smut and violence, The Jigsaw Murders (1989) might have hinted at the kind of thirsty potboilers they’d subsequently fashion in terms of content, but it was producer Ashok Amritraj and director Jag Mundhra’s follow-up, EYEWITNESS TO MURDER, that introduced them to the collaborator who’d set them on course for erotic thriller and DTV infamy.

At the same time Amritraj and Mundhra were traversing Roger Corman’s ranks (Corman had acquired The Jigsaw Murders for distribution), so too was Andrew Stevens. Having made his name as an actor, by the late ‘80s, Andrew Stevens was keen to add writing, directing, and producing to his bow. During the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, Corman cast Stevens in his enjoyable Alien (1978) riff, The Terror Within (1989). And as part of Stevens’ deal came the agreement that, in the not too distant future, he’d be able to write and direct something for Corman as long as he starred in it as well — just like Ron Howard did over a decade earlier with Grand Theft Auto (1977). Corman eventually fulfilled his pledge to Stevens with The Terror Within II (1991). However, in the interim, and while on Corman’s books, Stevens was poached by Amritraj and Mundhra to topline Eyewitness to Murder, which they’d mounted in tandem with Corman’s Concorde-New Horizons. The rest, as they say, is history: Amritraj, Mundhra, and Stevens would go on to create the trendsetting crotch opera Night Eyes (1990); Night Eyes would lead Mundhra to becoming one of erotic thrillerdom’s most fascinating voices; and Amritraj and Stevens would form direct-to-video purveyors par excellence Royal Oaks and, later, Franchise/Phoenician.

Sadly, as with Night Eyes, Eyewitness to Murder is more interesting for its place within the B-movie canon than it is to actually watch. Written by Amritraj, Mundhra, and Stevens semi-regular Michel W. Potts (Hack-O-Lantern (1988), Schweitzer (1990), Illicit Behavior (1992), Tropical Heat (1993), and Night Eyes II (1991) and Three (1993)) from an idea by star/co-producer Howard Baldwin’s wife, Karen, Eyewitness to Murder tells the story of Suzanne (General Hospital’s Sherilyn Wolter): an artist whose gallery showcase is invaded by a pair of vicious, MacGuffin-hunting crims. Killing her broker and temporarily blinding Suzanne before being interrupted, the odd couple heavies — comprised of Carl Drano’s grey-haired smoothie, and Robin Drue’s scruffy, twitchy goon — then attempt to finish the job and annihilate Suzanne so she can’t identify them upon regaining her sight. Cue Stevens’ Mel Gibson/Lethal Weapon (1989)-lite detective and his majestically coiffed, Miami Vice-esque partner (Adrian Zmed).

A sub buddy-cop double act that swoop in to protect Suzanne and her nurse (Baldwin) prior to Stevens’ inevitable confrontation with the last-standing villain, their inclusion in Eyewitness to Murder is indicative of the entire film: risible. Though Stevens fizzes with an appropriate amount of intensity, every line of dialogue he spits is fist-chewingly awkward in structure and tone, and Zmed is extremely irritating. Much better are Drano and Drue and their homoerotic chalk and cheese interplay, which culminates in a quietly miffed Drano coolly and cruelly spiking the increasingly hot-headed and impulsive Drue’s smack supply to stop him ballsing up their plan again for good — a sequence trimmed by the BBFC for the film’s U.K.VHS release. 

Frustratingly flat compared to the rest of Mundhra’s work, Eyewitness to Murder lacks the kind of visual pomp that characterises the helmer even in his worst moments (it’s significantly cheaper and more mechanical-looking than anything else on his resume). Thankfully, at a lean 75 mins, the film never outstays its welcome, but the bulk of this clunker definitely rests on — urgh — ‘so bad it’s good’-type ground. The flashback to how Stevens lost his wife is hilarious rather than heartbreaking, and his and Wolter’s outrageous blindfolded love scene (y’know, so he can experience things from her newfound perspective) is about as sexy as being maced. 

Still, all teams have to start somewhere, right?

Eyewitness to Murder hit British video via RCA/Columbia in November 1990, and tardily arrived on U.S. cassette through Corman’s New Horizons on 26th May 1993.

USA ● 1989 ● Thriller ● 75mins

Andrew Stevens, Sherilyn Wolter, Karen Elise Baldwin, Adrian Zmed ● Dir. Jag Mundhra ● Wri. Michel W. Potts, from a story by Michel W. Potts, Karen Elise Baldwin

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