Doctor Leonard Chaney (Richard Basehart) is a man burdened with overbearing guilt, a weight on his shoulders which has pushed him into more and more obsessive research into eye surgery. But while his claims towards a breakthrough may apply to the animals he has experimented on, he cannot say the same for humans, as performing an eye transplant on a dog is not comparable to doing so on a person, no matter how much he would wish it to be so: there's only a short window of time in which to complete the operation, for instance. The reason he is so fixated is thanks to his daughter, Nancy (Trish Stewart), who he feels responsible for after a car accident when he was driving...
You guessed it, he inadvertantly blinded his daughter in that automobile smash and has been trying to make up for it ever since, but to no avail. Quite how he's done this is to say the least somewhat misguided, but what would you expect from a character who owed much to the mad scientists who proliferated around the nineteen-thirties and forties, in the movies that was? Dr Chaney's name was surely no coincidence in connection and tribute to the golden age of horror, but Lon Chaney Jr would be more often playing the victims of mad science, not the perpetrators, and with his rich but oddly indistinct tones Basehart did not elicit fond memories of the classics.
Much of that was down to the bleak atmosphere oppressively bearing down on the characters, and by extension us watching, as there was no respite for them or us by the point the plot had come to a head. That storyline owed much to Georges Franju's much-heralded shocker Eyes Without a Face from about twenty years before this, yet still influencing its descendants as the perfect combination of melancholy and outright disgust that you would see at various levels in the work of Jess Franco or David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly. In this case our director was an actor, stepping in to assist producer Charles Band who was crafting his Empire, er, empire of low budget genre efforts which would soon be flooding the market.
That director did not appear in this, but in the first of his sole forays behind the camera for a feature (his other was a softcore Cinderella musical, also for Band - ah, the seventies), but his face would be as familiar as his name, Michael Pataki, who appeared in a plethora of movies both blockbuster and impoverished. Here he directs as if this were a TV movie, competent but uninspired, close to an early episode of a miserabilist series that arrived twenty years later, Millennium - why make that allusion? Because its star Lance Henriksen showed up here as Dr Chaney's first victim in a billing suggesting he was the hero, only to prove as useless as all the other victims as they were trapped in the dungeon of the mansion of the doomed. They couldn't get out because they were locked in, but there was another reason they were stuck.
And this was down to their lack of eyes. Yes, if you were squeamish about such things, and who isn't, this was a movie that could be a particularly queasy watch as not only did the crazy doc remove the organs to transplant into his daughter time and time again since his technique didn't work properly, but he kept his sightless, reluctant donors in a cage where they wailed and stumbled around, as if this sudden handicap left them so helpless they could barely behave like normal folks anymore. His assistant in this was played by Gloria Grahame, who like Basehart had a decent number of respected roles in her filmography but was now reduced to second banana in a deliberately doleful chiller; she looks vaguely engaged with the part, but you can tell she'd rather be elsewhere should the opportunity arise. As for Basehart, he was urbane and pitiful, a strange mix, when the experiments failed for the umpteenth time, yet you didn't feel too sorry for him by the end, a denouement which offered no hope and not exactly entertainment, either. Music by Robert O. Ragland.