The Arizona desert, out in the middle of nowhere, and a glamorous housewife returns to her modern home with her groceries. Once inside, the telephone rings, and it's her friend who she tells to arrive for the dinner party at half past seven to give her time to prepare. However, that party will never be held as the woman is suddenly, brutally murdered in her own kitchen by a serial killer. A little time later, Paul White (David Keith), an electronics engineer specialising in hi-fi and television equipment returns home to his wife Joanie (Cathy Moriarty) to boast of his day's work. But could Paul have anything to do with the murder? Or is the killer someone else close to Joanie?
It seems as if you couldn't move for cinematic serial killers in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, from cheap Friday the 13th sequels to the classier likes of Manhunter, but before we reached The Silence of the Lambs there were occasional, bizarre explorations into the genre like White of the Eye. Based on a novel called "Mrs White" by Margaret Tracy and adapted by director Donald Cammell and his then wife China, this is no gloating presentation of sadistic violence, but more of a stylish examination of the limits of love with some deliberately obscure plotting.
The opening murder is filmed as if it were a rock video or a television advertisement, and throughout we are offered glossy closeups for atmosphere, not only the killer's twitching eyeball but food or spinning coins as well. Flashbacks are casually inserted to lend background to the characters, and through these we are enlightened as to how Joanie ended up in the small town in the first place. She was travelling with her first husband Mike (Alan Rosenberg) to Malibu, but along the way they had an argument that saw Joanie make a pretty good go of destroying Mike's prized eight track cartridge player.
One thing led to another and in their efforts to find someone to fix the machine, Joanie met Paul and they hit it off, leading to the relationship they currently enjoy. However, that relationship will be sorely tested when the police, represented by the easygoing Detective Charles Mendoza (Art Evans), take an interest in Paul as a suspect in the murders, mainly due to the tyres on his truck and his past record as a juvenile delinquent. But are they barking up the right tree, as Joanie bumps into Mike after some years, finding him working at a garage as a mechanic. In truth, although both men have their quirks, the real psychopath is easy to spot.
In fact, Cammell doesn't seem interested in the whodunnit aspect of the story, more in the semi-mystical themes he works into it. Paul and Joanie's marriage is sent into trouble when he starts an affair with a woman whose satellite hardware he was supposed to be fixing, and their happiness hits its first big obstacle. In amongst the murkiness, Moriarty and Keith make a convincing married couple, with Moriarty especially realistic amongst the weirdness going on around her. After an hour and a half of keeping the viewer at a distance, White of the Eye suddenly changes gear and hurtles into a delirious, blackly comical chase, with the killer terrorising Joanie and her daughter until the explosive finale. There are few serial killer films that would be brave enough to take Cammell's approach, and that's what distinguishes this work: there's nothing exactly like it. Music by Nick Mason and Rick Fenn.