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Film / Eyes of a Stranger

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A slasher/thriller movie from the year 1981, directed by Ken Weiderhorn.

Various women are being attacked by a serial rapist and killer in Miami. News anchor Jane Harris (The Love Boat's Lauren Tewes) starts to suspect that a man living across from her and her sister Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in her feature film debut) is the culprit, and starts snooping around. Jane is right in her suspicions, but will she be able to stop him, especially after he starts realizing that she's after him?

This film has examples of:

  • Antagonist Title: The serial killer is the titular stranger.
  • Auto Erotica: Driving at a beach, Stanley's car gets stuck in the sand, and his attempts to get out disturb a couple making love in their car nearby.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: In the film's climax the first sign we have that something is wrong in Tracy's apartment is a dramatic Reveal Shot of her dog, strangled by the Serial Killer already inside with her. Being blind and deaf, Tracy remains unaware and continues her normal routine.
  • Big Bad: Stanley Herbert, the serial rapist/killer.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lots of women have been raped and killed, and Tracy has been assaulted, but fighting her attacker restored her sight and hearing.
  • Boom Head Shot: Stanley is killed off for good when Jane shoots him in the head, splattering his brains about and sending him crashing through a glass wall.
  • Bullying a Dragon; Jane makes harassing phone calls to someone she believes to be a serial killer, telling him she knows his identity, prompting him to come after her (and get his hands on her little sister).
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The beginning of the film introduces the idea that Tracy can make coffee by herself (to the amazement of Jane's boyfriend, given Tracy's blindness) to show she is not totally helpless. Alone in the apartment or so she thinks just before the final action Tracy makes herself a pot of coffee even though it is after dark. This comes in handy when the titular Serial Killer attacks Tracy and she throws the coffee on him.
    • Tracy has a dog which exists in the story only so it can be strangled by the killer at the start of the climax, as a reveal that the killer is already inside the apartment with her.
    • A literal Chekhov's gun: we see Jane get her hands on a gun, a measure of how far off the deep end the serial killer case is taking her, but she doesn't take it with her when she goes out to investigate the killer. Luckily enough, because that means the gun is available in the apartment for Tracy to use once she conveniently regains her sight, and for Jane to use to finish the killer off.
  • Covers Always Lie: Stanley never stuffs any of his victims into a phone booth, as illustrated in the film's poster.
  • Damsel in Distress: blind, deaf-mute teen girl Tracy is taken captive in her own apartment by the titular Serial Killer, leaving it up to her sister to rush back to the apartment in time to save her.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: Stanley ambushes one of his victims by hiding in the backseat of her car, after calling her in her office and via the elevator phone as she descends to her parking garage.
  • Fat Bastard: Stanley is an overweight killer.
  • Harassing Phone Call: Stanley likes to make harassing calls to his would-be victims, which include heavy breathing, promises of intercourse and music box tunes.
  • Groin Attack: when Stanley has Tracy pinned down on the bed, sexually assaulting her, she kicks him in the groin and gains enough time to grab her sister's gun.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: When a man comes up to Stanley's car to offer him help to get his car unstuck, Stanley stabs him on the throat with a switchblade.
  • Improvised Weapon: When Stanley has his hands all over her, Tracy grabs a pot full of fresh coffee and throws its contents on his face.
  • Invisible Parents: Jane and Tracy's parents never appear in the film even though there's no evidence they do not exist or have abandoned the family because their presence in the film would take away from Jane's role as Parental Substitute to Tracy.
  • It's Personal: Jane is obsessed with the latest Serial Killer case, to the point of going into unscripted rants on the subject on air every time a woman is raped and killed, because when she was a child she neglected to properly watch her little sister, Tracy, resulting in Tracy being kidnapped, raped, and left blind and deaf-mute. Sadly Jane's obsession with the serial killer leads him to discover her - and Tracy, who he attacks in the climax.
  • Kick the Dog: Killing Tracy's dog ironically does not qualify, since it's necessary for Stanley to accomplish his plan, but messing with her by moving objects around is purely For the Evulz.
  • The Load: Tracy's only role in the film is to be a burden on her big sister, Jane, and to be sexually assaulted when Jane fails at protecting her. Her only characterization is that she likes coffee. Rendered blind, deaf and dumb by her first sexual assault in childhood, Tracy is left in the care of her sister who feels she must put her life plans on hold as a result. Fortunately, this trope is finally subverted at the end, as Tracy is able to fend off her final rapist with a thrown pot of coffee long enough for Jane to save her.
  • My Greatest Failure: Jane blames herself for her sister Tracy's psychological blindness. When both of them were kids, she told Tracy to stay outside after getting home from school, and she was kidnapped by a stranger.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Jane makes harassing phone calls of her own to Stanley to unnerve him, but since she's a well-known news anchor, he quickly learns her identity by recognizing her voice and starts targeting her sister.
  • Not Quite Dead: Tracy manages to shoot Stanley with a revolver, but he soon attacks her again.
  • Off with His Head!: Stanley kills one of his victims' boyfriend by chopping his head off with a meat cleaver. Afterwards, he places the head into a fish tank.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: Some of Stanley's calls to his would-be victims have him playing a music box tune to them. The tune comes from his cuckoo clock.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Stanley is so perturbed by Jane's harassing phone calls that he goes out and carries out an impulse kill on an exotic dancer without his usual building-up period of stalking and harassing phone calls.
  • Parental Substitute: Jane looks after Tracy as a child, and becomes her caretaker once grows up - poorly. Her failures allow her little sister to be sexually assaulted in the prologue and in the film's climax.
  • Police Are Useless: The first victim we see killed, Debbie, receives calls threatening to rape and kill her (by name), giving details that indicate she's being watched. She calls the police to report them, only to be told six other women have had similar calls that night, too many for the cops to bother doing anything about. The dispatcher on the line complains the tv news reporter (the protagonist, as it so happens) is not doing the cops any favors by telling women to call in reports of threatening behavior, and the most that can be done is a cop coming by the next morning to take a report. Debbie hangs up and she and her boyfriend are killed immediately afterwards.
  • Reveal Shot: the film uses two in quick succession at the beginning of the climax to reveal the danger Tracy is in: the first, revealing Tracy's dead dog, shows the killer has been inside her apartment; the next reveals the killer himself, right next to the oblivious Tracy (who, being deaf and blind, cannot sense him).
  • Revenge by Proxy: After learning that Jane is the person who harassed him with anonymous phone calls accusing him of being a Serial Killer, and seeing that her teenage sister Tracy lives with her, Stanley waits for Jane to go out at night from her apartment alone - and then passes up following Jane to carry out his vengeance on Tracy.
  • Sex Signals Death: the young couple disturbed by Stanley while having sex in their car naturally are killed off.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Tracy discovers this about herself at the end of the film. Having suffered hysterical blindness after being attacked as a child, Tracy has never seen her grown-up body. In the climax successfully defending herself from a second attack causes her sight to return, and she is bemused by her new appearance, examining her breasts in the bathroom mirror.
  • Shower Scene: One victim is shown getting undressed and going to the shower before she's surprised and killed by Stanley.
  • Stocking Mask: Stanley wears a stocking over his head when he's conducting his murderous business.
  • Temporary Blindness: Tracy loses her sight after being attacked as a child, and gets it back after fending off an attack at the end of the film.
  • The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House: Stanley, in the habit of placing harassing calls to his victims before killing them, calls one victim from the phone in her elevator (thus, presumably, he must be in the same building to make the call and, indeed, he attacks her in the parking garage).
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • In the flashback, young Tracy notices a car following her school bus, so after Jane tells her to wait outside (Jane has invited over a school friend) when Tracy sees the car driving up her street she walks over to it unbidden and, when the car door opens, actually moves in closer so the ominous stranger can yank her inside and drive her away to be attacked.
    • Jane harasses the serial killer, accomplishing nothing except prompting him to come after her, eventually leaving her sister Tracy as collateral damage.
    • After she manages to temporarily fend off Stanley with a pot of coffee Tracy hides in the closet instead of leaving the apartment, enabling him to quickly recapture and assault her.