Friday, 2 November 2007
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
The daughter of the great surgeon Dr Génessier is horribly disfigured in a car accident. She is left virtually without a face. Her father is determined to restore her to her original beauty, whatever the cost. His assistant Louise is devoted to him, with good reason – her own face had been horrifically damaged but he had repaired the damage so well that no trace of her accident remained. She kidnaps beautiful young women for him, young women whose faces will be removed to provide his daughter’s new face. Georges Franju’s 1960 Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux sans visage) is one of the classics of the horror genre; it has influenced a host of subsequent movies, some of which are little more than copies of this film. Few of these later movies have captured the essential feel of Eyes Without a Face however. Although the surgical scenes are remarkably graphic for a movie of its era the overall impression is one of restraint. Franju’s treatment of his subject matter is resolutely non-sensationalistic, and visually the movie is lyrical and haunting, and even poetic, rather than horrific. In an interview included on the DVD Franju points out that Dr Génessier is not a mad scientist – he is a sane man who does insane things. His motivations are rational; he simply takes them to insane extremes. Pierre Brasseur is frightening as Dr Génessier because his manner is so calm and reasonable. Edith Scob’s performance as the daughter is mesmerising and eerie. Her face is covered with a mask for most of the movie, and she movies in a strange and wraith-like manner, as if she is not really a living person at all. Since her accident she is so disconnected from the world of ordinary people that she is really more of a living ghost. It’s not a movie that is likely to terrify a modern audience, but it remains disturbing. It’s a strange and strangely beautiful film, and it’s a film that every horror fan must see. And if you’re not a horror fan, see it anyway.