Preceding Jamaa Fanaka’s critically acclaimed Penitentiary as well as the intense and influential TV event “Scared Straight,” 1977’s Short Eyes (prison slang for pedophile) is a searing “slice-of-life” film that dares to deal with the topic of child molestation. Controversial at the time of its release, Short Eyes eschews the stories of the victimized and instead shines a disturbing light on the predator himself: his fantasies, his motives, his “pleasures” and, as it turns out, his comeuppance.


Everyone in Short Eyes has an unsettling story to tell. There’s Clark (Bruce Davis) a preppy-looking white man just entered into the penal system; Juan (Jose Perez) a curios inmate who makes himself available to Clark’s pedophilic confessions; “Cupcakes,” (Tito Goya) a young man whom everyone wants to bed; Paco (Shawn Elliott) a heterosexual who, nevertheless, has fallen in love with “Cupcakes,” El Rahim (Don Blakely) a militant Muslim “spiritual leader,” and Longshoe (Joseph Carberry) the self-assigned representation of the behind-bars “white race.”


Director Robert M. (Extremities) Young brings to vivid life Miguel Pinero’s award-winning Broadway play, offering up an expanded look at inmate politics, institutionalized racism, and the combustible nature of the male ego behind bars. Add a compelling cast of unknown character actors, a select few real inmates, and a haunting location shoot—New York City’s graffiti defaced House of Detention (aka “The Tombs”) and you have a film whose omnipresent explosively colored background mirrors the characters explosive passions.


Can a self-confessed child molester also be the “victim” of a false allegation that places him in mortal combat? Can a “guidance counselor” have illicit, self-serving ulterior motives? Can an inmate singled out for his sexual charisma both spurn and revel in his own objectification? These are just a few of the challenging questions on board. Obscene language, sexual situations, violence and murder are a part of Short Eyes’ provocative narrative. So is the unmistakable touch of Hollywood: two full musical numbers by two familiar “inmates”; Curtis (“Super Fly”) Mayfield (who also produced the soundtrack album) and Freddy (“Before The Next Teardrop Falls”) Fender.

A discomforting look at prison life and prison culture, Short Eyes, like the inmates that inhabit the “Tombs,” makes a lasting impression. Distinct and memorable.



Josiah Howard

Josiah Howard lives in New York City. His writing credits include articles for The New York Times, The Village Voice and Motion Picture. Currently he is adapting a previously published work for the big screen. A veteran of more than one hundred radio broadcasts, he is a regular contributor to the film review website Grindhouse Cinema Database and in 2014 was featured in five episodes of TV One's award-winning documentary series Unsung.

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