A name like Eyes of the Chameleon calls up images of the Italian giallo genre, with its blood drenched serial killers pursuing oversexed young women. While its title hints at such a relationship, and there is indeed much blood and a few oversexed young women, Eyes of the Chameleon doesn't really do justice to the genre, and ends up rather weak.
Sara (Ann Teal) is a Las Vegas bartender who seems lost in the world. Her relationship with boyfriend Steve (Danny Countess) isn't going anywhere. She's listless and bored, perhaps tired of life. On a lark, she goes to visit a fortune teller with her friend Rachael (Laurie Zetts), and somehow manages to get cursed. Things begin to decline from there, and Sarah's life really goes off the rails.
One by one, Sara's friends start to get murdered, slashed with a knife, sometimes tortured prior to death. And Sara is strangely unconcerned about it. Indeed, she seems to be quite a different person than she used to be, though all the audience has for evidence of this are comments from Steve or other friends. She begins to develop a decidedly dark tinge to her sexuality, ranging from cheating on her boyfriend to particularly painful piercings and taking up with total strangers for a group sex romp. As Sara's life declines, we also get to watch the mysterious killer snatch up and mutilate his victims. Detective Lundy (Mikos Zavros) is suspicious of all these people with connections to Sara turning up dead, and hovers about trying to discover what's going on, with much sympathy from the audience, who are trying to do the same thing.
Lots of hints of childhood abuse are thrown about (and overt depictions of it, including the masked killer's uncle locking him under the floorboards and berating him constantly) but no coherent narrative seems to come together. Even the intended to be shocking reveal of a dark secret from Sara's past doesn't really resolve the issues of plot, or exactly what the filmmakers were trying to do. But the messy plot isn't the biggest problem with the film. That honor is reserved for the protagonist, Sara. Simply put, she is very hard to like. Films don't absolutely have to have an empathetic lead to work. Many fine films don't have one, but it helps draw the audience into the story. It helps them care one way or another about the outcome. Eyes of the Chameleon seems to be trying to show the descent of its main character into madness and self destruction, but we are never given a good idea of what Sara was like before things start to go bad. Her very first scene is at the fortune teller, where her life starts its precipitous decline. Prior to these events was she bubbly and absent minded? Detached and aloof but an absolutely loyal friend? Affectionate and thoughtful to her family? We have no idea, other than a couple of people saying that she has changed. Without any affection for the "before" Sara, how is the audience supposed to be invested in the decline of the "after" Sara? This narrative flaw dooms the story even more than the sometimes clunky dialogue or awkward performance. That kind of thing can be forgiven in a passionate and cogent film.
The leads perform well enough, and the blood effects are competent, but outside of the first couple of scenes, no tension is developed. We never like Sara, or any of the characters enough to give a hoot about their fate. The audience is never given the opportunity to invest in the characters, and the narrative isn't compelling enough to make up for that lack. Quite a disappointment on many levels. This one is a rental only.
The video is presented in 1.33:1 standard and doesn't look that great. There is a lot of aliasing, and the shadows can overcrowd the action in low light.
The audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and is serviceable but not fantastic. The dialogue is always clearly audible, and no hiss or other issues are present. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are included.
There is an odd note about the extras. The disc packaging indicates that a director commentary and slideshow are included as special features, but neither of these is present. Some deleted scenes and a trailer are included, along with the standard of Troma specific features. One interesting segment is a bit from Troma's upcoming Produce Your Own Damn Movie Box Set, which is fun and interesting.
Eyes of the Chameleon wants to be a tense and engaging thriller, perhaps in the vein of those great Italian gialli from the seventies. But the plot is too mushy and the characters too ill defined for it to rise to that level. Tension is never developed, and we don't care one way or the other about our protagonist. While there are a few good points, this one mostly misses the mark.