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Eyes Behind the Stars (1978)

Plot: reporter uncovers a grand conspiracy within the English government

An Italian conspiracy thriller that simultaneously rips off Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966), Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and British television series UFO (1970–1973) from a director that makes Alfonso Brescia, and Emimmo Salvi look competent in comparison. Mario Gariozzi was a hack on the level of Ferdinando Merighi, Pier Carpi, Ciro Ippolito, and Raúl Artigot. In the near thirty-year period from 1962 to 1993 Gariozzi was active as both a writer and director. Only Eyes Behind the Stars, the spoof Very Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind (1978) (with María Baxa and Mónica Zanchi), and The Brother from Space (1988) are the most remembered from his modest filmography. If there’s anything that can be said about Gariozzi it’s that his lovably dopey Eyes Behind the Stars (1978) probably ended up as one of the possible inspirations behind Chris Carter’s The X-Files (1993-2003), by far the most enduring property and the popular series of the 90s. On all other fronts Eyes Behind the Stars (1978) is stunningly, headscratchingly incompetent and then some. Not helping in the slightest is Franco Garofalo as the proxy-leading man early on.

During a fashion shoot in the English countryside photographer Peter Collins (Franco Garofalo) and his model Karin Hale (Sherry Buchanan) inadvertently capture evidence of extraterrestrial activity in the region. Collins realizes that something is afoot and embarks on an investigation of his own once Hale has bid her farewell. The photographer disappears and Hale offers the negatives to hardnosed cop-turned-reporter Tony Harris (Robert Hoffmann) after which she too disappears without a trace. The string of disappearances send Harris on an investigation on his own. Together with his assistant Monica Stiles (Nathalie Delon) he follows the clues where they take him and soon he’s conferring with ufologist Perry Coleman (Victor Valente). Not only has Harris to deal with the aliens neutralizing witnesses and evidence, but also law enforcement in the form of Inspector Jim Grant (Martin Balsam) who makes his investigation considerably more difficult. On top of that Harris has not only come in the crosshairs of the aliens but also of a clandestine government covert ops codenamed The Silencers whose leader (Sergio Rossi) is a high-ranking official. Is it all a grand government conspiracy and/or is there a traitor among Harris’ allies?

While the movie is headlined by Austrian actor Robert Hoffmann, there’s the prerequisite faded American star in the form of Martin Balsam, French import Nathalie Delon (one of the ex-wives of Alain Delon) as well as peplum, giallo and spaghetti western pillar George Ardisson and cult queen Sherry Buchanan. Balsam won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1965 and obviously he’s a far way from On the Waterfront (1954), 12 Angry Men (1957), Psycho (1960), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), Mitchell (975), and All the President's Men (1976). Sherry Buchanan never quite was a one-hit wonder like Belinda Mayne, Sarah Langenfeld, and May Deseligny but she never ascended to cult superstardom the same way as Caroline Munro, Barbara Bouchet, Rosalba Neri or Nieves Navarro either. Buchanan rose to fame with What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974) and Tentacles (1977) but sadly never managed to escape the muck of exploitation she made a name in. Among her more memorable undertakings are Last House on the Beach (1978), Zombi Holocaust (1980), Escape From Galaxy 3 (1981), and Tinto Brass’ Capri Remembered (1987). Like Evelyne Kraft her tenure in Italian exploitation was as brief as it was intense. By the time her star burned bright her career fizzled out without much fanfare.

Arguably Eyes Behind the Stars is a just a tad too ambitious for its own good. Mario Gariozzi’s screenplay contains enough material for two, nay, three features. The vanishing of photographer Franco Garofalo and his model Sherry Buchanan after they discover something fishy in one of their pictures is liberally borrowed from Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966). Eyes Behind the Stars only becomes interesting once Robert Hoffmann’s reporter character is introduced. Once ufologist Victor Valente and Natalie Delon join Hoffmann Eyes Behind the Stars turns into a conspiracy thriller that is dreadfully slow even by late seventies standards. Despite the aliens zapping witnesses and stealing evidence there’s no sense of urgency to any of the proceedings. At least the comparisons to The X-Files aren’t entirely unwarranted. Gariozzi has all the classic elements: mysterious disappearances, clandestine covert ops, government and aliens conspiring together and a massive cover-up. Yet none of it amounts to anything. Robert Hoffmann and Natalie Delon obviously were no match for David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Neither does the schmaltzy screenplay capitalize nearly enough on the covert ops The Silencers. Imagine what Antonio Margheriti, Sergio Martino, Umberto Lenzi, or Enzo G. Castellari could have done with a premise like this. Since Gariozzi doesn’t possess a fraction of talent Eyes Behind the Stars is not only terminally dull and completely uneventful but hideously ugly to look at to boot.

Had Eyes Behind the Stars been directed by Antonio Margheriti, Sergio Martino, or Enzo G. Castellari then it probably would have been a whole lot more lively and fast-paced. It was released in 1978 smackdab in between the still ongoing wave of foreign – and domestic Star Wars (1977) imitations and the nascent post-nuke craze following immediately in the wake of George Miller’s The Road Warrior (1981). Eyes Behind the Stars, for all intents and purposes, positions itself as a “serious movie” on the subject of UFOs, alien invasions, and government conspiracies. It makes the cardinal mistake of casting Franco Garofalo as the proxy-leading man and insists that Sherry Buchanan keeps her clothes on. Then again, Eyes Behind the Stars was produced by Armando Novelli. Novelli produced among many others, the kitschy gothic horror potboiler The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960), the giallo The Beast Kills In Cold Blood (1971) with Rosalba Neri, and a number of Fernando Di Leo movies, including his Milieu trilogy as well as a few erotic thrillers near the end of the eighties and early nineties. In a move that was bold even for late 1970s Italian exploitation standards Marcello Giombini’s score liberally plagiarized a very obvious motif from Jean-Michel Jarre’s 1976 Oxygène suite. Giombini doesn’t bother hiding his plagiarism by changing a few notes around but freely lifts the melody in its original form. In that sense it’s similar to the little seen Hong Kong-Taiwan ghost romance Ghost Of the Mirror (1974) with Brigitte Lin.

If it’s remembered for anything Eyes Behind the Stars is nearly as incompetent as Raúl Artigot’s failed gothic horror throwback The Witches Mountain (1975). This thing is as dull and uninvolving as these Italian potboilers tended to come. Somebody, anybody, could’ve made this a whole lot more interesting. Whether it was an experienced action movie director or even somebody like Andrea Bianchi, Umberto Lenzi, or Luigi Cozzi. Anything would have improved Eyes Behind the Stars from becoming the stillborn wreck that it is. What we're left with is the sort of tedious dross that not even the petite and always enchanting Sherry Buchanan can possibly liven up with her radiant looks. Poor Sherry could never catch a break. To go from something as hideously boring as this to the double-whammy of Marino Girolami’s Zombi Holocaust (1980), and Adalberto Albertini’s Escape From Galaxy 3 (1981) in just two years is a frightening prospect, indeed. Eyes Behind the Stars looks as if it was a lost Alfonso Brescia production. Hell, we’d go as far to posit that even Jess Franco’s worst from around this time were better than this hot mess. An interesting premise is one thing, but not even a miracle could save this one…