DAMN YOUR EYES – Short Film Review
For most of the general viewing audience, the phrase “Spaghetti Western” conjures on of two reactions: one of nostalgia for a relatively lost genre of filmmaking, prevalent in the 1960’s and 70’s; or one of befuddled curiosity with a side of amused disbelief spurred by the name alone. Younger generations may not even be aware of the sheer joy of the unique classics, both domestic and foreign, that the more seasoned movie lovers experienced from the likes of Sergio Leone and a young Clint Eastwood, just to name a couple.
A few attempts have been made by filmmakers over the past decade or so to reintroduce new fans to the genre, mostly being foreign filmmakers, such as Takashi Miike’s SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO, or Jee-woon Kim’s THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE WEIRD. Regrettably, the spaghetti western has somehow slipped the minds on American filmmakers… until now.
Writer and director David Guglielmo has taken the initiative to change that with his short film DAMN YOUR EYES, completed in 2009. The film stars Jakob Von Eichel (Short Film YOUR BEST VIOLENCE; LAW & ORDER TV Series) as Sam, a mysterious stranger that shows up in town, looking for a man who goes by the name “Scott,” played by Angelo Angrisani. During his visit to the town saloon, men fall victim to his quick draw, but only when provoked, leading him to befriend an abused prostitute named Louisa (played by Marisa Costa) whose honor Sam chose selflessly to protect. In return for his protection, Louisa tends Sam’s wounds and discovers his deadly and legendary identity.
DAMN YOUR EYES is as much a 20-minute sneak peak into the filmmaker’s vision as it is a short film on its own merit. Guglielmo is already in the early stages of expanding the short into a feature-length film, and that’s a good thing indeed. While the film does convey Guglielmo’s unique style, it most certainly also draws influence from and pays homage to multiple films, both of the spaghetti western genre and of grind house and exploitation film in general.
I don’t want to give anything away, but in one crucial scene Louisa refers to Sam by his name of legend. This is clearly a wink to perhaps the most recognizable of the spaghetti western films. From those same films, come an actor and filmmaker who we all know as Clint Eastwood. Von Eichel has unmistakably patterned his performance respectfully from the early gun slinging Eastwood, right down to his voice and mannerisms. The visual quality and performances are on par with what the spaghetti western genre is known for, which means this is a compliment. Even the music, used primarily as an audio segue between scenes, is a throwback to the undisputed kind of the spaghetti western score, Ennio Morricone, but is not overused.
While it makes logical sense to draw from the spaghetti westerns of the past when making such a film, DAMN YOUR EYES also draws from more modern cinema, most notably Quentin Tarantino’s KILL BILL. This relationship is most evident in the way Sam is involved with the man called “Scott” and also in the cinematography and editing styles chosen for the flashback scenes, depicting Sam’s motivation for seeking vengeance.
While this is a film that presumably takes place sometime in the late 1800’s, DAMN YOUR EYES does not hold true to the proper language and vocabulary of the period. That’s just fine. The difference between a traditional western and the spaghetti western is that the latter is less concerned with historical accuracy than it is with sensationalized violence and stylized storytelling. Likewise, the violence in DAMN YOUR EYES often takes on a more graphically over-the-top essence of the grind house films of the 70’s, complete with spurting and gushing blood effects that are less realistic than they are exaggerated and pleasantly humorous. These, combined with the more modern “adult” language, just make the film more fun and I am absolutely fine with that.
DAMN YOUR EYES is a bit of a tease, meaning the film ends at a key turning point in Sam’s story, leaving the viewer ferociously hungry for more. This is a brilliant strategic move on the part of the filmmaker in setting the audience up for demanding a feature film, a promise that I am eager to see followed through.