EYES WITHOUT A FACE
Review by Michael Jacobson
Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Edith Scot, Francois Guerin, Juliette
Director: Georges Franju
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66”1
Features: See Review
Length: 90 Minutes
Release Date: October 19, 2004
most striking aspect of Eyes Without a Face is its grisly
centerpiece…not that we haven’t seen the like in horror movies, but I
can’t remember a 50s film ever offering so unapologetic a piece of gore.
When the film first premiered in France, it’s been said that people
fainted in the theatre. As the decade turned to the 60s, the influence of this movie
helped usher in a new generation of horror films, where directors no longer felt
constrained to leave acts of violence off screen or all to their viewers’
yet the irony is that this isn’t really a blood and guts horror film, but a
rather surreal, atmospheric one. Director
Georges Franju took a simple premise and crafted a deliberately paced and slowly
unsettling look at character driven horror…and despite the fact that he shows
what he shows, the most effective aspects of the movie are the ones that inspire
the subconscious mind.
opening is quite striking…after the credits play out over a tracking shot
representing the point of view of a moving car, we are introduced to a woman
driving in the night. Her face
glows in the light, but she seems ill at ease…the unnaturally loud sound of
her engine accents this. She
adjusts her rear view mirror, and we see a cloaked figure in the back seat. We are startled; she is not.
It is a body she is about to get rid of.
name is Louise (Valli), and she’s the assistant to a dour scientist Dr.
Genessier (Brasseur), a man whom we first see lecturing on the possibilities of
a “heterograft”…transplanting human skin from one body to another to heal
disfigurements. His interest is
more than academic, we come to learn.
himself for an accident that disfigured his daughter Christiane (Scob) that left
her literally without a face, he is determined to restore her to her state of
beauty. In a distant, giant, empty
house, she strolls around with a strange, muted mask that only lets her eyes
show. Meanwhile, Genessier and
Louise are preparing to find a new “volunteer” donor so that he can try the
operation yet again.
centerpiece, as I mentioned, is a look at the operation in progress, and it gets
much more graphic than you might imagine. One
can easily see the seeds of John Woo’s Face-Off being planted, as the
ugliness of trying to create beauty becomes manifest.
possibly even more disturbing is the aftermath…Christiane is temporarily
restored to loveliness, but the doctor knows something is wrong.
In a series of grim photos, we see how her condition deteriorates.
She no longer wishes to try, but her father is determined to make one
more go of it.
are investigative cops who aren’t much help, and a boyfriend whom we think
will save the day, but seems unable to see beyond reason into the fantastic and
figure out what is happening. The
climax is assured, but it may not come the way you’ve been conditioned to
the movie first played in America, the “face-lift” scene was itself lifted,
but I’d wager that even without it, the film is still capable of delivering an
unnerving and unsettling experience. But
I’m always in favor of seeing pictures presented the way the director
intended. Criterion has restored Eyes
Without a Face to its full, gruesome running time, and has given modern fans
a chance to revisit a controversial and striking classic in all it’s bloody,
anamorphic black and white transfer is quite good. The print is very clean; only a couple of darker images
exhibit a bit of residue ‘flicker’, but big spots, scratches and scars are
extremely minimal. Images are crisp
and clear and contrast levels are striking without being too grainy.
mono soundtrack is better than most; largely because of how important sound is
to the overall effect of the film. From
the menacing strains of car engines to the constant din of barking dogs to a
striking music score, this audio offers good dynamic range while being presented
with a clean transfer that keeps background noise minimal.
main extra is the inclusion of an infamous short documentary by Franju called Blood
of the Beasts, a rather realistic and grisly look at a slaughterhouse on the
outskirts of Paris where horses, cattle and sheep are systematically killed,
skinned and processed. There is a
vintage interview segment with Franju, as well as one with writers Pierre
Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who not only penned the screenplay for this movie,
but also were the men behind Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Clouzot’s Diabolique.
out are a stills gallery of rare photos and two trailers; the original French
one, and the English language double-bill one where the film was retitled The
Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus.