In classic Bela Lugosi fashion from his Monogram Pictures era, Richard Basehart, much like Bela has a personal stake at hand playing a deranged eye specialist looking to restore his daughter’s sight after a tragic car accident. Without the assistance of little Angelo Rossitto (look it up), Basehart will need multiple live donors to succeed in restoring his only child’s sight played by Trish Stewart. This Michael Pataki film proved to be her one and only theatrically released credit amongst some television show appearances on popular fare like Chips and The Love Boat.
Basehart is involved in research of the eye and restoring sight to the less fortunate. Sure enough through a driving mishap, his lovely daughter does a face plant on the windshield of their car leaving her blind. When an offhanded remark from Basehart’s lover/assistant and ex-Noir favorite, Gloria Grahame suggests he should concentrate on a whole new eye as opposed to bringing sight back to her damaged ones, a light bulb suddenly goes off in our leading man’s head. Sadly, eyes of cadavers won’t due so it looks like Basehart is going to have to prey upon the not so willing donors he drugs and operates on.
First up is a fellow medical man and fiancé to his daughter played by genre stalwart Lance Henriksen in one of his earliest roles. Lance will find himself under heavy make up with empty sockets where his eyes once were and miraculously Trish’s eyesight is restored. Basehart is a success and Lance left a prisoner in the basement of the good doctor’s large home behind an electrified caged cell.
Lance goes into the books as a missing person and when the young woman’s body rejects the transplant, Basehart is going to have to once again lure an unsuspecting victim to his make shift operating room down in the basement where he can easily move the donor to the holding cell with Lance. A hitchhiker, a nurse, a couple of thugs are added to the cell while the scar tissue around his daughter’s eyes is getting rather nasty looking. Should he ever cure her for good she may not like what she sees staring back from her vanity mirror.
There is one rather uncomfortable scene here that has Basehart preying upon children at a local park where he lures an innocent to an almost certain death before thankfully something happens that allows the child to escape his demented clutches. With the missing persons list expanding and one of the unfortunate donors escaping into the streets only to blindly run into oncoming traffic, perhaps Inspector Vic Tayback might be able to solve the disappearances and bring our Bela Lugosi wannabe to justice.
Or maybe not. Perhaps poetic justice might be better served…….
As unsettling as this one is, there is some good f/x on the facial features of those who lose their eyes to Basehart’s scalpel. Multi Oscar winner Stan Winston is the credited special effects wizard on this production that came early on his career that would help lead to work on films like Alien and Jurassic Park. Actor Basehart was long past his theatrical films by this point and aside from the odd title was mainly guesting on television on shows such as Little House on the Prairie and Vega$. Both Vic Tayback and Gloria Grahame had seen previous duty together in the low budget horror sector in the deliciously twisted Blood and Lace that I would like to recommend for the Halloween season.
So along with that Lugosi/Monogram feel you may see within the confines of the plot a touch of Rathbone’s The Black Sleep and a dose of Laughton’s Island of Lost Souls here as well. I do prefer the those black and white chillers but this one has that seventies feel that we love to look back at that always leaves you wanting a bath once the closing credits run their course.
Available on DVD from the folks at Full Moon and might I suggest that wearing eye protection upon viewing this one should be considered a good idea.