Starring- Pierre Brasseur, Edith Scob, Alida Valli
UK Release August 24th from BFI on Dual Format DVD/Blu-Ray.
Once reviled on release, especially in the UK, EYES WITHOUT A FACE took its time to be eventually looked upon as a classic of genre cinema, even having the gaudy title THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DR FAUSTUS on it’s US release, which makes the film sound like a B-movie schlock fest. However it’s a film that also gained praise on it’s initial outing and has since become hailed as classic of genre cinema, one that fuses elements of melodrama, noir, mad scientist movie with a slight Gothic aesthetic to produce a superb and beautiful masterpiece, and thankfully the British Film Institute has made a fantastic Blu-Ray release worthy of any cinema fans collection.
Opening with a noir-esque shot of a women alone in a car driving down a stretch of road and then getting out of the car to dispose of a corpse. This women is Louise (Valli) a loyal assistant to celebrated surgeon Dr Genessier (Brasseur), whose daughter has gone missing. The reasons for the disposal of the corpse at the start become clear when once its found by the authorities, Genessier identifies it as his daughters, as this is all a cover, as his sibling is at his secluded mansion and is in hiding or rather more like imprisonment as she is hideously disfigured from a car crash with only her eyes remaining and with most of her facial features gone and with a garish white looking mask to wear that. His daughter, Catherine (Scob) strikes a tragic figure throughout the film almost bound to be imprisoned whilst her father and Louise lure girls to the mansion and drug them and surgically remove the face, so that Genessier can make sure Catherine obtains a new face. It’s only when cracks start appearing in the Surgeon’s work and he needs to find more girls who will replace his daughters missing facial skin, that the police start to show interest and its not long before Catherine has other ideas of her own.
Franju’s film, as mentioned before, was dismissed by some critics on it’s release though also hailed by others. The revulsion might come from the films infamous sequence of facial removal surgery, that even I found slightly queasy to watch, yet at the same time fascinated by it’s characters precise surgical movements done in an almost technical instructional manner yet at the same time going against all moral conduct that Genessier has now forgotten. This is only one sequence though in a film in which the characters are the main interest and not the sight of gory surgery, Herschell Gordon Lewis this aint, if that’s what your looking for. In many ways it blends an almost traditional mad scientist horror motif with a updated present day (for its time) background as Genessier can be seen as the mad doctor obsessed with performing the most ground breaking surgical breakthrough, yet losing his moral compass completely albeit assisted with a loyal aide (not a hunchbacked Igor like assistant) and with his daughter as less of the monster as more of the captive imprisoned victim who would rather accept her fate than become a mere subject for her fathers experiments. Indeed there is a certain tragic element in Scob’s superb portrayal of Catherine and even though we only see her actual face/other persons face grafted on in one scene, she spends most of the film hidden behind a haunted looking white mask that only has eye holes to show any expression.
Yet her performance shines through this showing the hidden anguish inside her especially at her father’s seemingly horrific obsession which is costing the lives of many innocent women. In particular one stand out memorable scene is when Catherine goes into the basement of the house and comforts the dogs imprisoned in cages constantly barking and also victims of Genessier’s experiments, as these are the only beings she can relate to now as she herself is effectively caged. Brasseur is also excellent in his role as the surgeon, a well respected man who we see for the first time giving a lecture on the possibility of skin grafts, and some can argue he is also a tragic figure someone driven by a need to restore his daughters beauty, as he feels guilt for causing the car crash that led to her disfigurement yet he is also willing to lie to the authorities about her death and willing to cross the line to use human subjects. He comes across as less of a monster and more a flawed, obsessed individual who cannot see what harm he is causing. As his assistant Valli, is again another superb addition and whose name horror fans will be familiar with from Argento’s SUSPIRIA, and is great in her role as a loyal aide to the doctor acting very friendly and to the victims she lures to the house, and even in once scene starts to seemingly question the madness and motives behind what she is doing but remaining ever loyal to the surgeon.
This is only the second time that I’ve seen Franju’s film and even on its first viewing I knew the film had a certain appeal to it, and now on a second watch the film becomes more richer in its dark mood, it’s superb rendering of old horror motif’s into an updated story, and a beautiful slight Gothic quality to its proceedings, and without giving too much away contains a superb final shot that is equally haunting and moving in its eerie beauty. A deserved masterpiece worthy of any genre fans attention.
Remastered in High Definition
Feature-length audio commentary by film expert Tim Lucas (Video Watchdog)
Monsieur et Madame Curie (Georges Franju, 1953, 14 mins): a study of the life and work of the Curies, told through the words of Marie Curie
La Première nuit (Georges Franju, 1958, 20 mins): a young boy spends a night in the Métro
Les Fleurs maladives de Georges Franju (Pierre-Henri Gibert, 2009, 50 mins): an overview of Georges Franju’s career
For Her Eyes Only – An interview with Edith Scob (L P Hugo, 2014, 17 mins)
Fully illustrated booklet featuring essays from Kate Ince, Isabel Stevens, Roberto Cueto Llera, Raymond Durgnat, Kevin Jackson and Michael Brooke; and full film credits
UK | 1960 | black & white | French language, with optional English subtitles | Original aspect ratio 1.66:1
Disc 1: BD50 | 1080p | 24fps
Disc 2: DVD9 | PAL