Dir: Eros Puglielli.It-Sp-UK. 2004. 110mins.

The latestCattleya-Alchimia co-production (after Callas Forever, Don't Moveand I'm Not Scared), Eyes Of Crystal is a declared attempt torevive the horror-thriller genre that, in Italy, is virtually synonymous withDario Argento. Though uneven, second-time director Eros Puglielli's serialkiller yarn is a stylish and enjoyable essay in shock tactics. It's certainly alot more tense and edgy than anything Argento has done recently (though that'snot saying much).

But horror fans are choosycustomers, and in avoiding the psychological approach favoured by Amenabar in TheOthers and going all-out for gore, Puglielli lays down a risky gauntlet.Beneath its visual fireworks and MTV-generation zap-editing, Eyes Of Crystalis a conventional and rather old-fashioned example of the genre, with a seriesof efficient, by-the-book crisis points; it may find it difficult to woo thoseweaned on the cutting-edge horror of Japanese films or their US remakes.

Still, what it loses inArkansas horror-freaks it should make up in ordinary punters, especially in themain co-production territories, Italy and Spain, where Lo Cascio and (to alesser extent) Jimenez will act as bait, and where the film's more thanrespectable jump-in-your-seat quotient will keep people hooked. The film opensin Italy on Nov 26.

As in Seven, a serialkiller follows a pattern which allows us to predict certain things about themurders to come - both their number, and the manner of killing. The allegorieshere are stuffing - in the taxidermist's sense of the word - and dolls:specifically, a life-size eighteenth century sex doll whose limbs, head andtorso are sewn on to the appropriate bit of the victims body.

Lo Cascio plays GiacomoAmaldi, a police detective with (guess what') a ghost in his past and (guesswhat') an older buddy partner who acts as a calming counter-balance to Amaldi'shot-headed intensity. Lo Cascio is riding high at the moment on the back of TheBest Of Youth and Good Morning, Night, and while his performancehere is no great advertisement for the nuances of his acting style, his decentbut emotionally bruised cop is always watchable.

Spanishdancer-turned-actress Lucia Jimenez does her contractual best with the role ofGiuditta - the usual pretty victim who has a habit of wandering into darkcorners at just the wrong moment.

Visually, the film is at itsbest when the tension is racked up and Puglielli is given free reign to indulgesome of the jump cutting and surreal dream inserts that marked his early-careershorts. The montage of the initial triple-murder is a textbook style exercise,and Puglielli and cinematographer Luca Coassin play entertainingly with the"glass eye" metaphor, framing shots in the eyes of stuffed animals and dolls, bouncingblurred views off mirrors, building an atmosphere of menace and threat that isunderscored by Francesc Gener's brooding electronic-Medieval soundtrack. Flesh- old, young, shaved, lacerated, stitched - is another underlying obsession.

What is lacking is the kindof suture practised by the film's villain: the contrast between the action andnightmare sequences and the plodding police-station or love-interest passagesis strident, and every retreat back to TV angles and lighting comes as aletdown.

Some may be turned off bythe overloading of plot details and false trails; but a certain looseness comeswith the territory, and the film derives a kind of genre authority by relaxingback into stock settings - the hospital, the university, the police station,the protagonists' apartments, the spooky abandoned orphanage.

Though shot on location inBulgaria with mostly local below-the-line actors and crew, Eyes Of Crystaldoes not feel like a Europudding; settings like the Black Sea coast near Varna,with its rusting hulks, are used inventively to evoke a place that is almost,but not quite, familiar, a rubbish-strewn city that is almost at the end of itstether.

Prod cos: Rai Cinema, Cattleya, Alquimia Cinema, Nimar Studios,The Producers Films (Eyes of Crystal)
Int'l sales:
TF 1 International
It dist:
01 Distribution
Riccardo Tozzi, MarcoChimenz, Giovanni Stabilini
Scr: Franco Ferrini, Gabriella Blasi, Eros Puglielli, from the novel L'Impagliatore by Luca diFulvio
Luca Coassin
Prod des:
Antonello Rubino
Mauro Bonanni
Francesc Gener
Main cast:
Luigi Lo Cascio, LuciaJimenez, Jose Angel Egido, Simon Andreu, Carmelo Gomez