Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Writing silly blog posts about schlocky b-horror and the like isn’t a hard thing to do; such films don’t necessarily demand quality reviews. The task of writing up a legitimately “Good” movie is much more daunting. For example, how can the words of an amateur movie geek possibly do a film like Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face any sort of justice? The truth is, I probably can’t. This, of course, is not going to stop me from trying.

Louise (Alida Valli), the doctor's ever-loyal assistant, looking for a good place to dispose of a body...

Louise (Alida Valli), the doctor’s ever-loyal assistant, looking for a good place to dispose of a body…

Dr. Génessier is France’s premier surgeon, famous for his lectures and innovative techniques. Lesser known is his penchant for hideous experimentation; his secluded, maximum-security laboratory is home to many poor creatures who are subject to his scientific whims. One of these subjects happens to be his very own daughter, Christiane. Unfortunately for her, she has yet to fully recover from a car accident caused by her father’s carelessness. She is suffering perhaps the worst deformity a person could imagine: she has no face.

After “escaping” from the hospital, the authorities have no idea what’s happened to poor Christiane, until they find a body in the local river. They are convinced it must be Christiane, for the corpse had no face. Once Dr. Génessier confirms the body is indeed Christiane’s, he no longer has to worry about his daughter being found by the cops, and he can continue on his mission to graft a new face onto his daughter.

A bandaged victim.

A bandaged victim.

The only way to do this, of course, is to lure unsuspecting young and beautiful girls to the laboratory. He does this with the help of his assistant, Louise (Alida Valli, whom you probably know from Suspiria), whose own face is a triumph of the good doctor’s surgical abilities. Naturally indebted to him for life, she skulks around town looking for unattached young women who could do without their faces.

While the doctor claims his intentions are only to help save the life and happiness of his daughter, it is clear the man is a real ego case with an awful lot to prove; he cares not that his daughter is kept prisoner in her own home, thought dead by everyone, including her poor fiance, Jacques. He also seems not to care a lick that he must ruin the lives of other young women to preserve his status as France’s top surgeon. Christiane is filled with despair, not knowing if she will ever escape life behind a terrible, expressionless mask. With her overbearing father and Louise constantly watching her, how will she ever get out?

And a masked victim.

And a masked victim.

This movie is creepy to the Nth degree! Masks often provoke discomfort and horror, no? Here, there is also sadness: Christiane does not want to be cooped up alone for the whole of her life while her father attempts to perfect his surgical résumé, and even though we cannot see her face, there is something inherently sad about that expressionless mask. Each time she calls her fiance Jacques and hears his voice, but cannot respond, it’s almost as though the mask gets a little bit sadder.

The film is also surprisingly gory for 1960; the surgical scenes are pretty up-close-and-personal, not leaving a whole heck of a lot to the imagination. Still, it’s nothing compared to the ridiculous, in-your-face garbage most horror flicks tout today. Perhaps that’s just because there isn’t much of the envelope left to push these days? Either way, Eyes Without a Face definitely earns its horror badge, though the film is in large part a crime drama in addition to a horror flick. Anyway, the film is more creepy-horror than gory-horror; the domineering father, the mystery behind the mask, the wanton kidnapping of young women for dreadful surgical purposes; all of these elements will no doubt inspire horror and disgust in the viewer!

Finally, it would be wrong of me to write up this post without mentioning Pedro Almodóvar’s recent film The Skin I Live In. While not a direct remake of Eyes Without a Face, Almodóvar more than nods to Franju, and while watching Eyes all I could think about is how desperately I need a copy of The Skin I Live In! If only more filmmakers could show imagination and flair while nodding to their predecessors instead of blatantly ripping them off or doing soulless remakes…


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