Story: Mayor Howard Baines (Martin Landau) has big plans for his small hometown, which is currently on a downward slide. He intends to revitalize the flagging neighborhoods and businesses, but not out of a sense of civic duty. Instead, Baines wants to continue to drive down quality of life and property values, then pounce once the prices are at rock bottom. At that point, he can swoop in and purchase it all for next to nothing and using his office as mayor, he can then work to return the town to an upswing and profit as the owner of most of the properties. He even has thugs to carry out his twisted plan and push the locals around, at least until a stranger (David Heavener) appears. The stranger takes a stand when he sees how Baines and his henchmen are treating the town, but can one new face rally an entire town to take back what’s theirs?
Entertainment Value: Eye of the Stranger is a wild one, which makes sense when you realize this another outlandish David Heavener project. The narrative is fine, if well worn and allows for the wackiness and awkwardness that follows. I’ve seen countless movies where a corrupt politician tries to control a small town, but having Martin Landau as a ridiculous menace in a cheap suit adds a lot of fun, not to mention all the other offbeat elements here. Heavener includes his usual signature touches, with vivid, but often hilarious sex scenes, cheap action set pieces that again, are often hilarious, and an overly serious tone that makes all the silliness even more inexplicable and yes, often hilarious. The serious tone is one reason I had so much fun with Eye of the Stranger, as it just amplifies the campiness, from comical street fights to the ham handed performances to Heavener, who as always, writes and directs himself as if he is not only the hero of the movie, but the best actor to ever grace the screen. Some might dislike vanity projects like this, but I think they can be super fun and outrageous. The movie also has some sleaze, shirtless hammering, a shovel beatdown, and a harmonica duel, so there’s not much else to do but recommend this wild ride to fans of memorable, ridiculous b movies.
The performances here are simply unbelievable, some are wooden, some are wildly over the top, and others are awkward. So if you’re after traditional, dramatic thespian skills, Eye of the Stranger is not going to tickle that itch. But if you’re like me and take immense pleasure in seeing off the wall cinema, I think you’ll find a lot to like here. David Heavener is consistent as always, overly serious and making movies just so he can be the hero, which leads us through an incredible resume of ridiculous movies like Eye of the Stranger. I would watch any picture with Heavener involved, but especially any that he directs, as he just delivers on these b movies, even if the end result might not have been the action/drama classics he envisioned. As much as I love Heavener’s antics, it is Martin Landau that sometimes steals the show here, in a terrible, but wonderful performance. You can tell he doesn’t want be in this movie and he just phones it in so hard, it becomes a masterpiece of b movie acting. I can’t even express how much joy his disinterested performance here gives me and I have to think my fellow b movie enthusiasts will enjoy his turn also. The cast also includes Don Swayze, Joe Estevez, Sally Kirkland, and Stella Stevens, so this is quite a b movie ensemble.