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Original film poster
Original film poster

Eye of the Devil is a 1966 British mystery/horror film with occult and supernatural themes directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Deborah Kerr, David Niven and Sharon Tate. The film is set in rural France and was filmed at the Ch√Ęteau de Hautefort and in England.[2] Eye of the Devil is based on the novel Day of the Arrow by Robin Estridge and was initially titled Thirteen.[3]


David Niven plays the owner of a vineyard, who is called back to the estate when it falls on hard times. Accompanied by his wife (Deborah Kerr), the couple are confronted by a beautiful witch (Sharon Tate), who also lives on the estate with her brother (David Hemmings). As time passes it becomes clear that a blood sacrifice is expected to return the vineyard to its former glory.



The Day of the Arrow was published in 1964. The New York Times praised it for telling the story from a male point of view although said the ending would not surprise anyone who had read The Golden Bough.[4] Film rights were bought by Martin Ransohoff of Filmways, who had a multi-picture deal with MGM.[5]

The script was written by Robin Estridge, author of the novel. Terry Southern was brought in to do an uncredited "tighting and brightning" of the screenplay.[6]

Kim Novak was signed to play the lead.[7] (Novak had signed a three-picture deal with Ransohoff in 1961.[8]) David Niven joined her as co-star. It was the first feature film for Sharon Tate who had been discovered by Ransohoff when she went to audition for Petticoat Junction; he was impressed and put her under a seven-year contract.[9] Tate had spent months studying and playing small roles at Ransohoff's expense before making her debut.[10] "Everybody should make an effort to show a new face in every major picture," said Ransohoff.[11]

The original director was Sidney J. Furie, who had signed a three-picture deal with Ransohoff.[12] In August 1965, shortly before filming was to begin, Furie was replaced by Michael Anderson.[13] When Anderson fell ill, he was replaced in turn by J. Lee Thompson.[14] Shortly before filming started the title of the movie was changed to 13.[15]

Filming started on 13 September 1965. In November, with only two weeks of shooting to be completed, Novak injured her back in a riding incident. While doing an important scene on location in France, she was thrown from a horse.[16] The film was shut down while Novak sought treatment. She tried to resume filming two weeks later but was exhausted after only one day of work and was unable to go on. "There is no permanent damage to Kim's back," said her husband Richard Johnson. "It is not something that will trouble her for the rest of her life. She will recover eventually. It is going to take time and will not be an easy matter."[1] (Novak later said the injury was a broken vertebra.[17])

"It is tragic, but without Kim or a replacement, we cannot go on," said David Niven. "The person I feel most sorry for is director J. Lee Thompson. He has put everything into this picture."[1]

She was replaced by Deborah Kerr.[18][19] As a result, many scenes had to be reshot, with Novak seen only in some long shots.[19] However, David Hemmings recalls in his autobiography that he witnessed a bitter argument between Kim Novak and Martin Ransohoff near the end of filming led Kim Novak to be sacked and the film to be reshot with Deborah Kerr.[20][21] Filming resumed with Kerr in December.[22]

When asked what it was like to act with such a distinguished cast Tate said "Of course I was nervous but I was flattered rather than intimidated because everybody put me at such ease. They are such pros. You don't see their technique but when you are surrounded by the best it brings out the best in you."[9]

To give the pagan rites some authenticity, Alex Sanders, an English occultist and Wiccan, was hired as a consultant to the film.[23]

Critical reception and box office

The film features the debut performance of Sharon Tate, cast by Filmways executive Martin Ransohoff, who hailed her as his great discovery. The film attracted little attention and had little impact on Tate's career. A The New York Times review referred to Tate's "chillingly beautiful but expressionless" performance.

Although Eye of the Devil was not a commercial success in the United States when first released, it was popular in Europe, and it has acquired a degree of cult status, largely due to its surreal themes, and the 1969 murder of Tate. The film is also notable for its distinguished supporting cast,[19] which includes veteran actors Donald Pleasence, Flora Robson, Emlyn Williams, Edward Mulhare and John Le Mesurier.

In 1968 the film was listed as one of only three Ransohoff films to not make money (the others were Don't Make Waves and The Loved One.) [24]


Eye of the Devil was released to DVD by Warner Home Video on 21 February 2011 via its Warner Archive DVD-on-demand service as a Region 1 widescreen DVD.

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