The American Frontier in the year 1750, home to the pilgrims who fled persecution in Europe but had taken their own strict rules and observances with them to the colonies, pious people who were outraged by the actions of the preacher Will Smythe, lustful polygamist and adulterer; dragged from his house to be hanged in the barn, he escaped when the rope burst into flames and snapped, and along with his followers he fled down the river to “the promised land.”
Hunter and trapper Marion Dalton returning to the outraged settlement, he learns his wife Eloise is one of the women who took up with Smythe and sets out after them to retrieve her, finding them besieged by the Shawnee tribe whose territory they have entered, but the mute orphan Leah leads the survivors to a valley where they will be safe from the superstitious natives who believe that the blood of all that they have killed has pooled there, souls gathering themselves into a demonic entity.
An independently produced curio shot almost entirely on location in the wilderness of the winding Lake of the Ozarks in rural Missouri, writer and director Avery Crounse’s original vision for the film he called Cry Blue Sky was regarded as commercially unviable by distributors so it was cut at the cost of narrative coherence and a framing story added before release in the summer of 1985 as Eyes of Fire, the end result mesmerising but also mystifying.
The cast led by Dennis Lipscomb as Smythe, Guy Boyd as Dalton, Rebecca Stanley as Eloise and Pinky and the Brain’s Rob Paulsen as Jewell Buchanan, the central character should be Karlene Crockett as the frustratingly oblique Leah, but her background and connection with the powers of the land are never fully explored or explained, her mother burned as a witch and she with dominion over the elements but unable to express the flashes of premonition she experiences.
The lush, vivid greens a contrast to the darkness which lies at the heart of the film, the members of Smythe’s followers picked off while the children’s souls are consumed by trees even as the ghosts of the previous settlers in the valley haunt them at night, the images, pacing and performances of Eyes of Fire feel closer kin to a creation of the early seventies than the decade in which it was released, with photographic techniques serving instead of more elaborate visual tricks, simple but effective.
The overly pronounced blackout act breaks unfortunately giving the feel of a television movie rather than a cinematic feature, Little House on the Prairie held hostage to the cult of The Dunwich Horror, Grizzly Adams facing off against a creature of the forest composed of things that decay and crawl, although the film holds interest even as Smythe attempts to protect his flock from evil with prayer while Dalton uses steel, ultimately the elements do not weave into a satisfying whole, any intended deeper meaning unfortunately lost on the cutting room floor.
Eyes of Fire is available on Shudder now