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"Nightmare Classics" The Eyes of the Panther (1989)

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A General Lack Of Style Prevents Accurate Cinematic Conversion Of Bierce Classic Tale.

Author: rsoonsa ( from Mountain Mesa, California
9 March 2006

One of Ambrose Bierce's most acclaimed fables of the supernatural, generally published as part of the collection of his shorter works titled "Tales of Soldiers and Civilians", is freely modified for this film from producer Shelley Duvall's "Nightmare Classics" series, and this effort fails to establish that requisite mood of grotesquerie that Bierce masters, with a result that the piece seems merely absurd. Although baldly a melodrama, Bierce does not depart from his signature cynicism; however, a cinematic treatment of a narrative so brief and intense as this one is best actualized through extensive use of voice-over relation, as well as adherence to the original dialogue and events, fundamentals that are not accomplished in this affair, as it in fact has largely been in Michael Barton's more convincing 2005 version, filmed in Los Angeles. The setting is Bierce's native, and favoured literary, region of the Ohio River Valley during the formative years of the United States, when the young nation's Far West was what is now its Midwest, the storyline depicting the possession of a young woman's quintessence by a black panther, certainly a rather queer premise to accept, and one that needs a talented cast on board in order to implant and maintain audience interest. C. Thomas Howell's acting long suit appears to be noirish roles and is not persuasive in either of his character displays here - - as a young lover or as an old man with his performance in the latter part quite risible and not served by substandard makeup effects. Female lead Daphne Zuniga, whose best physical attributes are from her neck up, is fortunately able to remain clad throughout this film, doubly felicitous for a viewer because the costumes are well-designed and historically accurate, to boot. Utilization of an actual black panther is not ably shot at the film's end, weakening the climax, and the overall rather shoddy quality of the production extends even to the home video box that illustrates Zuniga as being pregnant, whereas in reality another actress, Ruth de Sosa, playing as her mother, was in that state, a critical plot element. Duvall's artistic success with her Faerie Tale Theatre was not often matched in this series.

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