Voyeur Villa

Sometimes a film poster doesn’t offer enough information to let you know what kind of movie to expect. Take, for example, Eyes Behind the Wall (Italian title: L’occhio dietro la parete, 1977). The Italian poster suggests it might be an erotic drama with its image of an older man touching the exposed thigh of a younger woman. The background paraphernalia and laboratory setting could also indicate a sci-fi or horror premise. The American poster for the film displays a demented face, an oversize bloody knife and a topless female victim in the style of a trashy giallo. The simple truth is that Eyes Behind the Wall is hard to classify and doesn’t easily fit into any specific genre although you could file it under Eurotrash. While the film is problematic in many regards, it still manages to be consistently intriguing and unpredictable.

Eyes Behind the Wall has a set-up that makes you think you are watching a movie about a serial killer and then switches gears completely and heads in another direction. Two strangers, a woman and a man, are sharing a train compartment. The woman barely notices her fellow traveler but he is watching her closely behind tinted glasses. The act of crossing her legs repeatedly seems to trigger something in the man and he attacks and tries to strangle her. Suddenly he is interrupted by the sound of the train conductor at the next compartment. The scene then switches to an elegantly dressed woman playing a piano in a posh setting and the credits begin.

Arturo (John Phillip Law) panics after attacking a woman on a train and fears being discovered by the conductor in the corridor in this scene from Eyes Behind the Wall, a 1977 Italian film.

For the duration of Eyes Behind the Wall there are no murders or even any reference to the opening attack on the train. Instead the film focuses on a couple, a crippled older man Ivano (Fernando Rey) and Olga (Olga Bisera), a younger woman, who have recently rented an apartment on their estate to Arturo (John Phillip Law), the man on the train. They have a servant Ottavio (Jose Quaglio), who attends to their needs, and appear to live the life of the idle rich. It is not enough, of course, and Ivano becomes obsessed with the new tenant. He has even installed a secret surveillance system in the rented apartment so he can watch and record all of Arturo’s private moments. The only problem is that Arturo rarely ventures into the outside world. He spends most of his time reading, listening to records or just staring at the ceiling.

Ivano (Fernando Rey) and Olga (Olga Besira) play a wealthy couple who spy on their new tenant in a guest house on their estate in Eyes Behind the Wall (1977).

Under the pretext of writing a book about human behavior, Ivano suggests making Arturo the subject of his research: “I think that his isolation and loneliness have deeply rooted motivations. Olga, why don’t you help me figure out what they are?” Initially reluctant, Olga soon becomes as obsessed with Arturo as Ivano and their spying activities appear to bring them the sexual excitement their relationship lacks.

Ottavio (Jose Quaglio), the house servant, has a private sex shrine to his employer in his closet in Eyes Behind the Wall (1977).

Eyes Behind the Wall also introduces a secondary storyline involving Ottavio that is never developed but adds another layer of perversity to the claustrophobic atmosphere. The servant has his own voyeuristic tendencies, spying on Olga in her bath and worshipping fetishistic images of her in black bra and panties that adorn the inside of his wardrobe.

Nobody is who they appear to be in this film and by the end of it everyone is exposed in a final revelation via a flashback that is too twisted to be convincing. It comes off as a contrived solution to ending a bizarre tale yet it lingers in the mind because it is just so damn peculiar.

Arturo (John Phillip Law) hangs out at a smoky disco bar observing the dancers but too shy to join them on the dance floor in Eyes Behind the Wall (1977).

What makes Eyes Behind the Wall stand out from other Eurotrash offerings is the unexpected casting of John Phillip Law as the emotionally damaged Arturo, who ends up being the most sympathetic character in the film. Law has a fairly limited range as an actor but with the right role and director he can be utterly convincing as in his breakthrough role as a Soviet sailor in Norman Jewison’s The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966) – he was a Golden Globe nominee for Most Promising Newcomer – the avenging gunslinger in Death Rides a Horse (1967), and the criminal mastermind of Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik (1968).

John Phillip Law co-stars with Jane Fonda in the 1968 sci-fi sex comedy Barbarella, directed by Roger Vadim.

In Eyes Behind the Wall, Law is no longer the golden boy/male sex symbol of the sixties which was exploited in films like Barbarella (1967). His handsome features have hardened and middle age is upon him (he was 40 at the time) but he is still in good physical shape which is evident in the numerous nude scenes. In fact, the film takes a casual, matter-of-fact approach to sex and features some unexpected male and female frontal nudity.

Arturo (John Phillip Law, right) makes the mistake of bringing home a stalker (Jho Jhenkins) he met in a disco in Eyes Behind the Wall (1977), directed by Giuliano Petrelli.

In one of the early sequences in the film, Arturo strips down and does a series of nude calisthenics, which are observed with great excitement by Ivano and Olga. Things get weirder when Arturo is picked up by a black man and brings him home, culminating in what looks like anal rape with Arturo screaming his head off. Later the kinkiness continues as Olga initiates an affair with Arturo that begins with oral sex as Ivano watches and records every detail. The voyeuristic nature of Eyes Behind the Wall often seems to be the sole reason for the film’s existence but there are indications along the way that Petrelli is striving for some deeper significance about Ivano and Olga’s growing addiction to peeping. Eyes Behind the Wall would actually make a good double feature with The Sorcerers (1967) in which a hypnotist (Boris Karloff) and his wife (Catherine Lacey) become addicted to living vicariously through a young man (Ian Ogilvy) via mind control.

Eyes Behind the Wall is not without its laughable moments and one of them involves Arturo’s keen interest in avant-garde music. When he plays one of his records for Olga, it sounds like a bad hybrid of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” with music cues from Dario Argento film soundtracks by The Goblins. In addition, a trip to a decadent disco where the women patrons are scantily dressed and one blonde bares all is set to a pitiful pop tune with repetitive lyrics cooing “Disco Boogie.” That doesn’t stop the dancers from gyrating wildly to a non-disco beat. (The score, by the way, is by composer Pippo Caruso).

Ivano (Fernando Rey) opens a Pandora’s Box of perversion when he urges his wife to become involved in his study of human behavior in Eyes Behind the Wall (1977).

One last thing to mention is the presence of the great Spanish actor Fernando Rey, who has played sexually obsessive characters before and much more memorably in the films of Luis Bunuel such as Tristana (1970) and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977).

Arturo (John Phillip Law) is seduced by his landlady (Olga Besira, who played a Bond girl in The Spy Who Loved Me) in a scene from the kinky drama Eyes Behind the Wall (1977).

Eyes Behind the Wall remains Petrelli’s solo effort as screenwriter and director and he is a relatively obscure figure in Italian cinema. He also worked as an actor in minor supporting roles in such films as the Euro-crime thriller The Italian Connection (1972), the WWII drama Massacre in Rome (1973) and the comedy Dog’s Heart (1976).

A frisky nightclub dancer grooves to some really bad Italian pop music in Eyes Behind the Wall (1977), an Italian erotic drama about voyeurism.

Eyes Behind the Wall is available from Video Dimensions which released it on DVD in February 2014. The film is in Italian with English sub-titles and the video quality is acceptable though a blu-ray upgrade would be preferable. There are also import versions of the film available from various distributors if you have an all-region DVD player.

Other links of interest:

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/may/16/obituaries.mainsection

http://www.johnphilliplaw.com

https://www.enforex.com/culture/fernando-rey.html

http://www.bondstars.com/olgabisera/index.htm

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