Cinema: Blind Fear

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Sarah has an air of deceptive fragility, but the English lass is really porcelain on the outside, granite within. The girl is stone blind—the result of an equestrian accident. But she is making a wizard adjustment at her uncle's isolated house in Sussex. Then, rather abruptly, things spiral downward. Her boy friend Steve (Norman Eshley) leaves her alone to take an afternoon nap. She awakes to a house full of death. Some bloody maniac has gone crackers with a shotgun, cutting down everyone in the family. But he has accidentally dropped a clue—a bracelet with his name engraved upon the surface. Sarah finds it, but of course she cannot read the evidence. The maniac heads back to the house to retrieve the bracelet, and Sarah's only hope of escape is through an invisible maze of doors to the stables and an unsaddled horse.

Such is the warp and woof of See No Evil. The notion of any helpless, threatened blind girl kilometers from nowhere would excite empathy and terror. As Sarah, Mia Farrow raises every available hackle as she retrogresses from sunny convalescent to whimpering animal. She has done her homework diligently; the tentative movements, the high querulous voice that reveals her pitiful dependence are convincing attributes of her newly sightless state. If she displays a narrow emotional range, that is less the fault of the actress than of the film makers.

With Good Reason. Back in 1967, Audrey Hepburn played a blind girl pursued by a homicidal maniac. But in Wait Until Dark, Playwright Frederick Knott used a series of ingenious devices to keep the killer and the audience dangling. In See No Evil, Scenarist Brian Clemens offers no motivations and precious few plot twists. Nor is his head-on harum-scarum approach improved by Richard Fleischer's blunt direction, which favors sudden cuts to broken corpses and sadistic closeups of a girl precipitously tumbling into catatonia. Manifestly, Fleischer is out for only one thing: to inspire sudden fear. That he does, but at the expense of taste. The two were not mutually exclusive in two previous Fleischer films of homicidal violence: Compulsion (the story of Leopold and Loeb) and The Boston Strangler (based on the confessions of Albert DeSalvo). Fleischer, 54, appears to know how to deal with real killers; it is with the make-believe kind that he finds himself ill at ease.

·Stefan Kanfer