There are genuine moments of tension like when one victim is harassed with increasingly menacing phone calls. The cops refuse to help her, and she is in her apartment running through her living room just to turn on her light switch. When her ding dong boyfriend shows up, he pops in with a creepy mask that made me jump because I was expecting the killer. And when one woman flees her office after getting phone calls, she heads into an elevator, only to be called on the elevators emergency phone! The tension and excitement isn't too surprising considering Weiderhorn was the writer and director of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD II (1988) and SHOCK WAVES (1977).
I think the characters are well written for this type of film. You can't help but like Jane, the smart news reporter investigating the killings. When her boyfriend asks her to move in, she says No because her deaf-blind sister Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is just settling into her new home. She thinks he would resent them both and eventually leave them. I can appreciate such strength and honesty from a female character. To make matters more difficult, Jane feels guilt over her Tracy's (hinted at) molestation that left her deaf-blind after leaving her alone one day. This reinforces her boyfriend's notion that Jane is on a quest to save the rest of the women in town because she couldn't save her own sister. Leigh is usually hit or miss in her movies. You either like her or not or she doesn't even register on screen. But here she is just a teenager, but plays a deaf-blind girl realistically.
Adding to the creepiness of the film, is the feel of the killer just being a regular guy lost in a crowd. When Jane breaks into his home, she tries hard to find anything out of the ordinary. He eats, sleeps, and relaxes like a normal guy. It almost seems mildly perverse when Jane starts calling and harassing him. She even sucks lightly on a cigarette afterward as though she got off on it.
But I do have some problems with the film. Initially, it feels like a feminist's version of REAR WINDOW where the reporter stalks and hunts the rapist/ killer herself. As a "Reverse Rape/Revenge" flick, this shows her character tracking him down BEFORE he can hurt her or her sister instead of shelling out revenge after the crime was committed. But the film steers dangerously into sleaze territory in some parts, which pretty much makes all feminist statements null and void. The strip club scene was unnecessary and should have been omitted.
I am also concerned with the motive for the killings and its portrayal of women. Serial killers have a certain type they seek out. But this killer targets a stripper, a good girl next door, a deaf-blind young girl, and a completely random woman on the street. Sometimes he harasses the women for long periods of time and knows personal information and sometimes he just attacks because the mood strikes him. This doesn't make any sense. Either he is a meticulous killer that plans his kills or he is a deviant with a bad temper. So the only thing I could conclude is that all women are equal and worthy of death despite their differences in the filmmaker's eyes.
The most tense, yet sleazy part of the film was when he breaks into Jane's home and finds Tracy there alone. (SPOILER ALERT) He begins playing games with her because she is blind such as moving around a plate and knife as she is trying to cut a piece of cake. Eventually, she notices she is not alone and attempts to flee. But what is absolutely despicable is it's showing of child molestation and attempted rape on screen which completely disgusted me. Leigh herself was barely 19 years old when this started filming.
As if the age and deaf-blind factors were not bad enough, this is the second time this character gets molested in the movie. Damn, tough luck. But wait, it gets goofier. After her attack and supposed killing of the prick, she waltzes into the bathroom to start "exploring her body". Huh? Um, I will take a wild guess here and say that the last thing a woman wants to do after getting raped would be to start touching herself sensually. There are more important things to do like, you know, call the friggin' police!! The other part that makes this so damn disturbing is the revelation that no matter how hard Jane tried to protect her sister, she couldn't. In fact, her sister is molested BECAUSE she tried to help. So what is the theory here? That women should just give up and let themselves be mauled by men because otherwise they will get it twice as bad?
Released in 1981 by Warner Bros., it clocks in at 85 minutes. It is currently unavailable on DVD.
Bottom Line: Very tense & sleazy feminist alternative to REAR WINDOW.