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Eye Of The Beholder

Studio: Wicked Pictures » Review by Disco Dirge » Review Date: 11/4/04

XCritic's Advice: XCritic Pick

GENRE: Straight Feature
DIRECTORS: Brad Armstrong
STARS: Kaylani Lei, jessica drake, Charmane Star, Lezley Zen, Monica Sweetheart, Ava Vincent, Lauren Phoenix, Taylor Rain, Brad Armstrong, Evan Stone, Tommy Gunn, Talon, Trevor Zen, Mike Horner, Jonathan Morgan
LENGTH: 150 mins without bonus material

It is the Holy Grail of hardcore. It's what every XXX auteur strives for. In the lexicon of the lewd, it rivals the perfect pop or the sensational quirt as the ultimate adult industry ambition. What is this elusive item, you ask? Let's call it legitimacy. Or perhaps mainstream mimicry. Maybe the best way to describe it is the ability of a pornographic movie to hold its own structurally, thematically, artistically and technically - with a regular Hollywood film. Few filmmakers have dared to compare with the big boys, settling for a second tier existence as an illegitimate entertainment contender. Still others openly mock attempts to challenge the Tinsel Town approach, blaming such a wannabe wisdom on undermining the business in general. If sex is supposed to be about hot, horny action who cares if there is plot, acting or other cinematic standards in a fuck film? Such a sentiment seems rather shortsighted, however. Individuals arguing against such a perspective are obviously forgetting something about smut: it's supposed to be fun as well as frisky. It's supposed to engage AND arouse. It is supposed to stimulate and satisfy. So why lock out a whole avenue of possible amusement just because it smacks of a desire for broad-based popularity. The only reason to attempt a more Cineplex structure is to bring more tools and cunts to the common man (or woman). Brad Armstrong obviously believes in such an evangelical approach to eros. His latest extravaganza, a spicy suspense thriller called Eye of the Beholder manages a rare feat for a hardcore film. It's a wonderfully passionate piece of porno, and it's an equally effective film. While the word 'masterpiece' doesn't get bandied about that often in adult filmmaking, Eye of the Beholder is such a near perfect specimen of shocker and cocker.

The DVD:
Eye of the Beholder is a great film. It combines clever scripting, a brilliant directorial/design approach, magnificent performances and an amazingly enigmatic narrative that keeps you glued to your chair for nearly two hours and thirty minutes. To call this epic enterprise a faultless film would be a bit of a stretch. Writer/Director/Actor Brad Armstrong does have a heavy hand with the long, languid takes, milking every last ounce of atmosphere out of his creepy sets and situations. And there are some artistic choices that work once, but don't quite hold up over multiple applications (the whispering ghost ideal becomes an aural aggravation after a while). But despite the minor foibles, this movie really soars, not just as hardcore but as an amazingly inventive thriller. Since Joe Eszterhas and Basic Instinct came along and sullied the suspense film, such a cinematic statement has gone and gotten a hackneyed name for itself - and rightly so. Just check out the pay cable channels on your service any lonely latenight and see the number of nauseating variations on this tepid theme. Utilizing such a used up idea to carry your creativity is a one-way ticket to tedium. But not for Eye of the Beholder. By actually emphasizing the EROTIC aspect of said genre, this fuck film becomes the ideal embodiment of the genre's many mandates.

Besides, Armstrong has bigger, better ideas. Combining elements of the usual Hollywood horror film with a bit of an Asian flair (the film is very reminiscent of the Japanese Ringu/Ju-On/Juon take on terror) and some incredibly intense suck and fuck, the director manages to mesh the divergent elements effortlessly. But this is not some homage, or ridiculous rip-off. Armstrong crafts original, inventive ways of telling his story and his experiments in both visuals and plotting pay off time and time again in this film. Eye of the Beholder is indeed a very engaging, exhilarating experience. Forgetting about the fornication for a moment, this movie really draws us in and has us caring about the characters. Wicked contract gal Kaylani Lei gives a powerhouse performance to match her minx marquee charms to really bring her hampered heroine, Sonya, to life. She is simply amazing in this movie. Equally compelling is Charmane Star, who really looks the part of a supernatural slut, the kind of haunting specter you wouldn't mind hovering around, say, the BEDROOM every evening. From Evan Stone's brazen, ballsy turn as an evil, abusive asshole to Armstrong's own calm, casual boyfriend appeal, the acting really holds this film together. Combined with a script that never cheats on its audience and a luminous job behind the lens, Eye of the Beholder easily becomes a great helping of both humping and polished professionalism.

The story is simple. Sonya has been blind for five years. After a cornea transplant, she can see again, but she is also cursed with a terrifying gift of "second" sight. Seems she "visually' recalls events in the donor's life, and the images are horrifying: death, abuse, and horrible human sadness. Wanting to find out more about the person she's channeling, Sonya's investigation leads her to an adult film studio, a diva-like actress and a vile, villainous suitcase pimp. You see, Sonya received the eyes of Tammy Thai, a notorious porn star, and she's starting to become obsessed with her death. Why? Well, first, because it may not have been an "accident", as widely reported. And second, she is starting to become "possessed" by this revenge-seeking spirit. In between, we witness sex scenes that both advance the plot and arouse our senses. To give more of the plot away would ruin the many magical moments in the movie. But since porn fans like to know about the action incorporated into narrative, we'll look at the individual sex scenes in the film. Let's start with:

Scene 1: Lauren Phoenix, Talon
Sex Positions: Foreplay, Tit Play, Blow Job, Deep Throating, Cunnilingus, Fingering, V to M, Straight, Anal Reverse Cowgirl, $hot in Mouth, Oral Clean Up
Plot Point: While searching for a voice calling her name, Kaylani stumbles upon some hospital workers in flagrante delicto.
As with all the sex in Eye of the Beholder, the fucking is expertly integrated into the narrative. Kaylani's character interrupts this couple as they copulate in the supply closet, and once she excuses herself, Talon and Lauren get down to the delightfully dirty business. Like any perfect match up, both performers here compliment and accentuate each other, the result being a very exciting sequence. Score: 8 out of 10.

Scene 2: Kaylani Lei, Brad Armstrong
Sex Positions: Foreplay, Blow Job, Cunnilingus, Fingering, V to M, Straight, V to M, Doggy, Reverse Cowgirl, $hot on Face, Oral Clean Up
Plot Point: Upon returning from the hospital, Kaylani wants to "see" what she's been missing.
Proving that she's more than just a pretty face and gifted actress, Ms. Lei lights up this scene with her powerful, petite porn presence. Once she and Brad begin balling, the passion is just electric. With a lithe, killer body that recalls both maturity and innocence, Kaylani crafts a superior sequence of shark for the whole world to witness. Score: 8 out of 10.

Scene 3: Kaylani Lei, Ava Vincent

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Sex Positions: Foreplay, Tit Play, Vaginal and Anal Fingering, Salad Tossing, Cunnilingus
Plot Point: To prove she exists, the ghost gives Kaylani a "hallucination" of what it would be like to have sex with her therapist.
Most same sex sequences are either calm or chaotic, so it's nice to see a little bit of both in this exchange of erotic. Ava may not be able to act (her attempt at playing a psychiatrist is just a joke, though it really doesn't hurt the film) but she can sure pet pussy. Together with Kaylani, the perk parameters are very hot and heavy, giving off a genuine aura of personal arousal. Armstrong tries to keep the porn part of the plot by editing in several split-second montage shots of the movie's main ghostly images (Charmane's face, a driver's license, a paper with the word 'contract' visible, the car crash scene) and the effect is excellent. It reminds us there are reasons for all the actions, both sexual and serious. Score: 7 out of 10.

Scene 4: Charmane Star
Sex Positions: Spooky Cabaret, Masturbation, Toy Play
Plot Point: Charmane appears to Kaylani in a "vision", doing an electric bit of self manipulation.
Using a music video style to accent the creepy atmosphere of this toy to twat installment, Charmane puts on quite a show and Armstrong captures it confidently. While there is nothing really unusual about the scene (except that our actress looks like the living dead and is fluffing her fetlocks on an operating table covered in bloody gauze!) we do sense both a sinister and a sexual element to Charmane's act. It really adds to the film's mood. Score: 6 out of 10.

Scene 5: Lezley Zen, jessica drake, Monica Sweetheart, Tommy Gunn, Trevor Zen
Sex Positions: Industrial Cabaret, Dueling Blow Jobs, Ball Action, Cunnilingus, Fingering, Straight, V to M, Doggy, Girl on Girl Grinding, Reverse Cowgirl, Face Sitting, $hot on Faces, Snowballs. Oral Clean Up
Plot Point: While visiting an adult film studio, we see a group scene being shot.
Functioning as both a potent example and a direct parody of those highly stylized glamour shoots so popular in porn right now, the rough and rugged factory setting is ripe for some sensational stump thumping. Tommy and Trevor have their own "tools" to tout and the ladies respond with magnificent lust. The grubbiness and grit add a lot, and Armstrong keeps his camera focused on the most important elements in the sex the one-on-one (or three-on-one) dynamic between the performers. With great looking gals getting it on with big, brawny ballers, this group grope is a real sizzler. Score: 8 out of 10.

Scene 6: Taylor Rain, Evan Stone
Sex Positions: Face Sitting, Fingering, Tit Play, Vaginal Tongue Fucking, Anal Tongue Fucking, Salad Tossing, Blow Job, Cowgirl, Anal Reverse Cowgirl, Straight Anal, $hot to Face and Mouth, A to M, Oral Clean Up
Plot Point: As a way of introducing Charmane's slimy suitcase pimp, we see him fucking his latest "find".
It's amazing to watch Evan Stone act. Usually, when working his wonder wand in a lady, he uses aggression AND sensitivity to amplify the passion. Here, it's all cock and bullshit as he turns up the hostility and replaces the compassion with cruelness. While not a visual or sexual abomination (this is still a straight hardcore film, remember) Evan makes us believe that his character is a callous, cold heart bastard. Taylor takes on Mr. Stone's massive member with ample skill, creating a fuck fest that reminds us of the threat ever-present in the plot. Score: 8 out of 10.

Scene 7: Kaylani Lei, Charmane Star, Brad Armstrong
Sex Positions: Blow Job
Plot Point: The borders between the real and the paranormal are blurring, as Brad gets head from both Kaylani and her "spiritual substitute".
For a blowjob only scene, this sequence packs some unashamed ardor. The premise adds even more fire to the fever furnace as Lei becomes "possessed" by Star, and her pitch perfect take on her co-star's mannerisms and persona is amazing to watch. As she removes Armstrong's armature and begins the basting, the director employs a very effective way of visualizing the spirit switch. In long pans up and down his body, Lei and Star magically 'interchange', seamlessly suggesting that both babes are blowing this boner in ephemeral unison. The result is a novel take on a normal XXX conceit. Score: 8 out of 10.

Scene 8: Kaylani Lei, Charmane Star, Evan Stone
Sex Positions: Evocative Cabaret, Sideways Cowgirl, Cowgirl, $hot to Face
Plot Point: Hot on the trail of the truth, Kaylani "sees" Evan and Charmane in the moments before the accident.
The last sex sequence in this film is also the most inventive and mysterious. Kaylani is having her "visions" of Evan and Charmane's last few fuck sessions and the ghostly image of the couple copulating randomly appears around a darkened living room. The effect is both eerie and erotic. Eventually, the ghost approach is abandoned as we see Stone and Star pounding away on the couch. Naturally, like in the scene with Armstrong before, edits replace Star with Lei and visa versa, resulting in something both disorienting and delightful. Evan still has his evil entity cap on, and you really do fear for the safety of both characters in this scene. Mixing trepidation with titillation is par for the carnal course in Armstrong's bag of directing dimensions. It's why Eye of the beholder is such a fascinating fuck and fright film. Score: 7.5 out of 10

It's impossible to praise Eye of the Beholder enough. Maybe it's the lowered expectations one brings to a XXX feature, or a combination of competent sex and suspense, but this is a fantastic, first rate film. It represents a benchmark in Armstrong and Lei's careers and announces the arrival of a new brave blueprint in adult entertainment. Certainly, there have been other successful meshings of sin and cinema. Robby D's Repo Girl comes to mind. So does David Stanley's comedies (The Contestants, Bare Stage). Yet both of those films feel like movies with sex scenes randomly carved into them. Eye of the Beholder is different. It uses both the erotic and the eerie to create a complete carnal package. There are some incredibly minor imperfections, elements that could be ironed out very easily. The film could use a little editing. It tends to overplay the atmospheric, spook show circumstances, letting tracking shots and dark ride situations overplay their part. And there is a performance faux pax or two. Still, Eye of the Beholder is a scintillating, cinematic experience. Hardcore fans should rejoice at the overall level of excellence here.

The Video:
The best way to describe the amazing, anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen image presented by Wicked for Eye of the Beholder is to make this simple, salient statement. Armstrong's artistry flawlessly recalls its big budget, mainstream brethren. The movie looks absolutely outstanding on this transfer. Color is used successfully and succinctly to suggest both reality and the realm of the supernatural, and the pristine print provided really emphasizes this aspect. Blacks are rich and deep, and there are none of the annoying video variants that usually mess up digital dioramas. One could quibble and argue that Lei's car drive home in the bright outdoor sun is far too fuzzy to successfully suggest a non-amateur approach, but this is a minor mistake. The rest of Eye of the Beholder looks beautiful and evocative, all of which adds to the film's sense of tension and terror.

The Audio:
In a very unusual move for a hardcore film, Eye of the Beholder has an amazing, channel challenging Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix. Armstrong makes the most of the immersive aspects of this aural attribute and the results are beyond belief. Ghostly voices resonate across the speakers and effects move behind and around us. Voices here are clear and crisp, with all dialogue and spectral elements completely understandable. As incredible as the video is, the audio is even better. There are even several options that you can use to design your own audio backdrop for each sex scene. In the Setup Menu, you can choose the regular soundtrack, a music only approach, or a dialogue only dimension while the couples are canoodling. It's a great option. Overall, the underscoring provides the proper environment for both sex and suspense, making Eye of the Beholder one of the best looking AND sounding adult entertainments on the market.

The Extras:
This two-disc set is just loaded with extras, more so than other double DVD collections. Disc 1's sole feature is a full-length, talking-through-the-sex-and-all, commentary featuring the multi-hatted Brad Armstrong and star Kaylani Lei. While it is unusual to hear an adult narrative that has people remarking on the ribaldry taking place, this is a very fun discussion. Brad gives away lots of the cinematic secrets in the film, discussing shooting setups, special effects and artistic choices. Kaylani acts like a color commentator, offering her cutesy pie opinions on the sex scenes, actor antics, and the combination of fuck and fear factors. Though it tends to trail off toward the end (Kaylani marvels at the 150 minute running time) this is a wonderful, witty track between two very friendly and extremely genial people.

Disc 2 begins with All Access: The Making of Eye of the Beholder. This 35 minute behind the scenes featurette walks us through every aspect of the production, from the initial scripting (the film was originally entitled The Donor) to the final filming of the car crash footage. Seeing as this movie was made in only five shooting days (delineated individually in the featurette) we really get the chance to see how a hardcore feature is created. Armstrong covers a great deal of cinematic ground during each separate shooting scenario and the amount of work that gets done, outside the suck/fuck, is astonishing. This is an excellent backstage look at the world of smut, almost mandatory viewing for those who want to know how adult films are conceived and completed.

The next menu choice offers up some "Video Extras", and there is a wealth of bonus material here. We see Kayalni on the box shoot for the film, as well as some bloopers and outtakes. There is a cabaret-style selection called "The Girls of Eye of the Beholder", which offers up video vamping from most of the cast. There is a 'Behind the Scenes Sex Reel" that gives us additional glimpses of the bountiful balling, and we even get to see Kaylani pose for her own personal pussy toy. The best sequence in this section is a little something called Evan Stone's "How To...". This amiable, joking porn star gives us tips on how to become a male performer, how to stay hard during breaks and how to act like a raving maniac. It is a breezy and fun little film and really showcases both Stone and the attention to detail Wicked put into this project.

Other added elements include an 11-minute interview piece with Kaylani and Armstrong, covering a lot of the same material found in the Making-Of and the commentary, and Charmane's full masturbation sequence utilized to make the "music video" style section of the film. There are also two bonus scenes offered, one of which was used in the movie as a televised "signal" from beyond the grave. We begin with another Kaylani clip:

Bonus Scene 1: Kaylani Lei, Steven St. Croix
From: Beautiful (2003)
Director: Michael Raven
Kaylani and Stephen are in a darkened environment and she is blowing his boner with randy relish. Even though she's sweet and petite, Ms. Lei really lunches on Steve's log, talking it all the way deep into her throat. Hoping he can match up to her meat eating mannerisms, Steve tosses salad and snacks on snatch with equal erotic abandon. We get a little straight mish and doggy before Mr. St. Croix creams the scene with his love liquid. Kaylani takes a mouthful and enjoys every drop. Together, this couple really sizzles, and the setting really sells the sex. While it would be nice to understand the dynamic going on here (Steven is dressed like a 40s PI), this is still a satisfying sequence. Score: 7 out of 10.

Bonus Scene 2: Charmane Star, Stephanie Swift
From: Red Dragon (2001)
Director: Brad Armstrong
In a very, over the top Chinese restaurant setting, Charmane and Stephanie get down to some samurai Sappho as martial arts toys (numchucks, mini-whips) become dildos for our frisky femmes. Charmane uses both ends of her weapon to shift Ms. Swift's sands. Stephanie applies the flogging facet to plow Ms. Star's poon. The result is a weird, wicked lesbianism scene with more V/A to M toy style than any other erotic aspect (oral, fingering). While it's more strange than sensual, it is still a welcome, if usual, take on the standard same sex shenanigans. Score: 5 out of 10.

Along with photo galleries, star stats, promos for this movie and other Wicked titles, DVD-Rom features, a DVD Catalog and phone sex ads, Eye of the Beholder is everything a fan could want in an adult DVD title. The extras really compliment the production, giving us insight into what it took to bring this amazingly effective film to life.

Final Thoughts:
Readers often wonder how the DVD Talk Collectors Series title is awarded to a disc, especially with so many divergent critical opinions presenting their own personal requirements and picks. For the Dirge, the situation is simple. If he can't imagine a better overall presentation, from movie and tech specs to all around digital dimensions, the categorization is clearly warranted. Well, if ever a DVD DEMANDED such a tagging, it would be Eye of the Beholder. Better than most of the STRAIGHT straight features in the mainstream and gifted with the added incentive of spectacular sexual antics, this breathtaking bonanza from Wicked and Brad Armstrong is the very definition of the Collector's Series sentiment. On the Disco Dirge Peter Meter, Eye of the Beholder deserves a 10 out of 10 and is more than highly recommended. Couples will clamor for more movies like this films that gratify in both the XXX and Cineplex capacity. So there is nothing else to do but hand over that coveted Cohabitation Certification. While lovers of amateur ass fucking and gonzo glory holing may look at something like Eye and grimace at the mainstream maneuvers involved, there is no denying how potent they are. This is a great film, in all its aspects. Brad Armstrong may just be the Perceval of porn. Indeed, Eye of the Beholder sure feels like that elusive, legitimate radiance at the end of the adult industry tunnel.

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