Movie Review: “Eyes Without a Face” – Father Knows Crazy

Written by Angela September 05, 2014

eyes3Family dynamics are always complicated, but there’s nothing like having a mad scientist for a dad to really stir the proverbial pot. Such is the tribulation of one young woman in the 1960 French-Italian horror film “Eyes Without a Face”, directed by Georges Franju and based off a much more lurid novel by Jean Redon. The film may have been lost to obscurity for a number of years, but a recent resurgence has finally given it the widespread recognition it deserves.

Sparing not a single gruesome detail, “Eyes Without a Face” is the story of Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brasseur), a brilliant professor and surgeon praised for his advancements in the field of heterografting (skin transplants). Little do his admirers know that his knowledge has been wrought from the experiments he performs within the privacy of his own home, free from the rules and regulations of the hospital, and where he also obsesses over his only daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob). Kept secretly alive after a disfiguring accident, she is confined to the walls of the house while her father ceaselessly attempts to find and graft onto her a new visage. Acting partly out of love and mostly out of insanity, Genessier will stop at nothing to give his daughter a face—not even serial murder. What Christiane wants, however, is something else altogether.

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“Now you have your lovely face. Your real face.”

French horror nowadays is predominately marked by the New Extremity movement, wherein the aim of the game is to outdo all other sub-genres by producing the most violent, disturbing, and uncomfortable films on the planet (ie Pascal Laugier’s unforgettable “Martyrs”), all the while keeping its artistic integrity in tact. Perhaps the reason that “Eyes Without a Face” has come to contemporary critical attention is due to its prestige as a possible precursor to such films. Although many horror movies of the 60s revolutionized filmmaking by delving into darker, more controversial territory than that of their predecessors, this particular film makes for an especially fascinating watch as it pushes the bounds of the time with its considerable violence and strong shock value. Cut and re-cut to meet the demands of a number of international distributors, the original movie available at present boasts a no-holds barred surgical face removal scene. The black and white cinematography (shot, by the way, by Lang’s “Metropolis” cinematographer Eugen Schufftan) helps to alleviate the jolt of the gore, but the scene’s cold, matter-of-fact tone is nonetheless gloriously heinous, even by today’s standards.

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“Smile this time. Not so much.”

With a carnival-themed score composed by maestro Maurice Jarre (who later on wrote the world famous theme to “Dr. Zhivago”), and stellar performances by Brasseur, who somehow manages to win over our sympathies despite his desperate homicidal tendencies, and Scob, who acts solely through her eyes as she dons a mask for most of the film’s duration, it’s a wonder that “Eyes Without a Face” was not deemed a cult classic any sooner than it has been. Not only does it make for an elegant sample of horror film history, but its themes of patriarchal control over the feminine subject make for quite the interesting post-viewing conversation. Complete with an almost fairy-tale like ending, there’s a wealth of elements to be appreciated here by today’s audience. The film may have been censored, dismissed and generally misunderstood back in its day, but it seems to have at last found its rightful time.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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About Angela

Angela McInnes is an English major and up-and-coming horror film aficionado. To her, happiness is a bottle of rum and a creature-feature on a Saturday night.

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