Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Eyes Without a Face

"Eyes Without a Face" aka "Les Yeux Sans Visage"* (Georges Franju, 1959) Bizarre French horreur film about a mad surgeon who, after disfiguring his daughter in an auto accident, resorts to radical plastic surgery, killing attractive women and surgically removing their faces and reattaching them to his daughter's.

There's a funny story of how Franju got the job. Impressed with the revenues being generated by Hammer Studios' roster of horror films, producer Jules Borkon decided that there should be a french equivalent. He hired film scholar Franju to make it "but not too much blood, or the French censors will get upset." Fine. "And no torturing of animals, it'll upset the British." Sure. "And no mad scientists--the Germans are a bit sensitive to that." Right.

So here's the story: a mad scientist who tortures animals and cuts off women's faces. Yeesh. Good luck with them censors.

The script couldn't have a better team of writers--Pierre Boileau and Thomas Nacejac, the authors of "Diabolique," and the book Hitchcock adapted "Vertigo" from--and Franju milks the suspense while keeping you on tenderhooks about actually seeing "the operations" (of course, you do). He also casts Alida Valli, the "find" of David O. Selznick who figures prominently in Hitchcock films, and "The Third Man," and here, her cool lack of expression is used to creepy advantage. Also there's a brilliant stroke casting Edith Scob as the daughter, even though she wears a mask through the majority of the film, the expressiveness of her eyes, and her balletic body-language creates a memorable character.

And Franju, with his minimalist sets and clinical eye, keeps you watching no matter how horrific the image gets, because he manages to create just as much lyricism as he does ugliness. You have to go back to the hey-day of Universal's monster movies and the films of Tod Browning and James Whale to find something similar. Along with "La Belle et la bĂȘte" and "Les Diabolique," "Eyes Without a Face" are at the top of the list when looking for creepy French films.

* Originally released in the U.S. as "The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus" (1962)

1 comment:

Walaka said...

Our gang saw this at a midnight Halloween showing - going in looking for the creepy - and mostly found it by turns incomprehensible and laughable.

We must have missed something.