Evil and Nature in Eyes of Fire [Movie Review]

I first learned about “Eyes of Fire” (1983) through an article in Rue Morgue Magazine’s 2021 Halloween issue. It features a look at Severin Films’ “All the Haunts Be Ours,” a massive compendium of 19 curated folk horror films, “Eyes of Fire” among them. This issue of Rue Morgue was a fantastic companion piece and introduction to folk horror. I knew little about the subgenre, and most of my prior knowledge on what qualifies something as “folk horror” came from Robert Eggers’ “The Witch,” a perfect American folk tale that draws inspiration from religion, superstition, the Salem Witch Trials, and the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches). (Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” is also a great watch, focusing on sea lore.)

I’d never seen a horror-western hybrid about the American Frontier and European settlement and colonization, so “Eyes of Fire” was a treat for my eyeballs. 

 

What I love most about “Eyes of Fire” is the “man versus nature” theme. We see characters brave the harsh elements (rain, wind, etc.) to set roots in a new land, but we also see characters face, embrace, and succumb to their own inner natures. We see the wild-haired Irish fairy-witch Leah, a character perceived as strange and other, perhaps even a nuisance to some of the other characters, but in reality, she’s pure power and strength, tapping into her magic and saving nearly everyone throughout the film. Then we see the true colors of Leah’s guardian Will Smythe, an adulterous and murderous preacher who claims an unwavering devotion to God.

Eyes of Fire movie poster

Dark Spots

The natural world (and location) is used as a plot device to expose the characters’ true selves. While the cursed valley in the film doesn’t make Will Smythe evil, its chaos brings to the surface the worst already in him – his pride, ego, stubbornness, blind devotion, and dark secrets…but we’ll get to those later. In the forest just beyond the valley, there are trees that contain the trapped souls of those who settled in the valley before. The trees act as power cells or storage units for the devil-witch who holds dominion over the forest. This lore is further explained by the film’s Lone Ranger/Aragorn-type character, Marion. According to Marion, there’s a Native American belief in the natural balance of all things. Sometimes, things can get out of balance, especially in places where large numbers of people have died unjustly. The blood of those victims can gather in one dark spot, and it seeps into the earth, infecting it. The souls of those who have died gather into one evil, breathing spirit. In “Eyes of Fire,” this earthly creature takes the form of a devil-witch who controls the souls in the valley, summoning them from the trees when she needs to. Leah, a good witch just coming into her power, is warned about the witch and she prepares by connecting herself with the earth and the valley through some interesting and unconventional means.

Mud and Power

Early in the film, Will Smythe, Leah, and a few other adults and their children exile themselves from Dalton’s Ferry after Will is accused of adultery. As the travelers approach the valley controlled by the devil-witch, Leah is left behind and she feels a sense of dread while leaning against a tree. We gradually see several faces (souls) trapped in the tree. It’s an eerie scene because Leah can feel lingering emotions and sense past tragedies, but there’s never a moment where we see her turn to look at the tree and scream. In a typical horror movie, we’d see that moment of sheer terror, but there’s something more subtle and unsettling about the way Leah turns her head and listens to the voices crying out for help. This emphasizes her ability to connect with the earth to sense that something bad has happened, and is going to happen again. 

When Leah discovers that the devil-witch plans to harvest the souls of the children currently living in the valley, she prepares for battle. The primary way that Leah seems to increase her power is to eat mud and dirt. There’s a scene where she grabs two giant fistfuls of mud, and she eats it without hesitation. During my first watch, I was stunned. Then I thought about it. Maybe it’s her way of connecting with the earth and the valley – currently the witch’s territory. But wouldn’t ingesting this evil, cursed soil corrupt her? I guess the argument could be that it’s like getting a magical vaccine or booster shot – you need a little bit of that evil to grow stronger against it. And it’s clear from the get-go that Leah isn’t one to be corrupted. Later, before Leah heads to the witch’s bog, she grabs another fistful or two of dirt to take with her. It also makes sense when we recall Marion’s story about the ties and connections between humans and the earth. If nature is magic and power, and if nature can be used to absorb souls, emotions, and energy, then it makes sense for Leah to become one with nature however possible.

At the film’s end, Leah senses Marion in peril. She finds him trapped in a giant tree along with the devil-witch. Leah appears naked and screams for Marion to pull the witch from the tree. It’s interesting because there are a couple of times where Leah appears naked, but it’s never in an exploitative or sexual nature. It’s likely to show that she’s one with the forest – a sort of wood nymph/wood fairy, if you will. It could even be a biblical nod (Adam and Eve). I’m unsure of the choice behind that. If you look at other movies with witch sabbaths, the witches are nearly always naked, so maybe the connection’s there. That aside, this is Leah at her strongest and most powerful – she’s ready to ascend. Marion kills the witch, and Leah absorbs her power. Here we see another connection between nature and power – the witch’s source of power comes in the form of a glowing orange frog that Leah scoops up and eats.

Shop

True Nature

While Leah rises, Will Smythe falls. For the insufferable and cocksure preacher, “Eyes of Fire” is ultimately about ignoring danger, even when it’s staring him directly in the face. On several occasions, Will dismisses impending doom to self-proclaim the valley as The Promised Land. He wants so badly to be right at the expense of the others. He wants to use, pick, and choose however it benefits him and his narrative. One of the children, Fanny, makes a good point when she says of course Will wanted to settle in that particular valley – the cabins were left by the previous settlers and most of the work had already been done for him. He just had to proudly plant the flag (or in this case, a giant cross) and claim the land as his.

On one morning, Will finds a ball of fur skins and they open to reveal a Native American child. Will views the child as a gift from the Native Americans and he gets excited at the chance of educating the child in “proper Christian ways.” Leah sees through the child’s fae-glamour and senses it’s a creature of the forest. Will is dismissive of Leah’s mistrust in the child and he becomes increasingly cruel towards her. He’s dismissive of every red flag represented to him, including a written warning from the previous settlers and Fanny awakening from a coma with an account of being abducted. 

At one point, the land (a.k.a., the devil-witch) is so angry that the sky is literally raining bones on the settlers, and Will decides to close his eyes and say a prayer. While his eyes are shut, Marion and Leah make a quick fix of ridding the valley of the mess. When Will opens his eyes, the sky is clear again. Will believes he saved everyone and that God answered his prayers.

The biggest turning point for Will is when Leah removes him from her protection and cuts him off from her power supply (and for good reason, too). It isn’t long before Will realizes that, without Leah, he’s dead weight, useless to the others. We know that the only reason Will survived his hanging at Dalton’s Ferry was because of Leah’s magic. The only reason Will’s cow continued to give milk was because of Leah’s magic. Without Leah, Will would collapse under the consequences of his actions. Will is a tragic and pitiful character who realizes too little too late that he was dancing right in the middle of a hot fire, and he got burned. 

Final Thoughts

Good riddance on Will – he was clearly holding Leah back. We don’t physically see Leah again, but she’s out there. I’d like to think she lets the surviving characters stay in the valley. I don’t see why she wouldn’t, especially since Marion was her ally and helped her rise in power. 

During the chaos, the children are found and questioned by French authorities, and they tell this magical story of two witches battling. One of the guards moves to take the children away, and we see he has a pair of yellow animal eyes. My take on this is that Leah basically hacked into this guy’s brain to take them back to the valley. If the valley is in French territory, perhaps Leah has access to all of the souls that reside there? It’s a rather interpretive ending, but sometimes those are the best.

“Eyes of Fire” is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I think I watched it maybe five times before writing this piece. I really wanted to know the characters inside and out, and I especially admired Leah’s journey from silent, disrespected, and overlooked to powerful forest witch-queen. Leah restores balance to a poisoned land by, well, ingesting some of it and becoming part of it. Unlike Will, she’s able to look into the fire (maybe even dance in it) and not be consumed by it. Yes, because of her magic, but I think it’s about acknowledging the evil that exists out there and not being blind to it. So here we come full-circle back to nature in all its forms. A movie about land, settling, and respecting the earth and bringing balance to it, “Eyes of Fire” is also about our inner natures and personal landscapes.

Bret Laurie

Bret Laurie

Author

Bret Laurie is an editor, writer, and longtime horror fan living in Massachusetts. He received his B.A. in English at Worcester State University and currently has six years of editing and social media marketing experience.

Follow Bret on Instagram

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
My cart
Your cart is empty.

Looks like you haven't made a choice yet.