Le plot: Docteur Génessier, a brilliant surgeon, has a daughter who had her face blown off in a car accident that was his fault. Not just some facial scarring: we assume she does not have any face at all because she is forced to wear a creepy-looking mask. His assistant Louise kidnaps fair, blue-eyed girls from Paris (out of gratitude: some time in the past he fixed her face), takes them to his country estate where he chloroforms them, cuts their face off (they show this happening with unsettling detail) and grafts it onto his daughter. The grafts generally don't take, requiring more trips to Paris for Louise.
This goes on until the Gendarmes realize a lot of fair, blue-eyed Parisian girls have gone missing, and they convince Paulette, a petty shoplifter they have in custody, to be kidnapping bait in lieu of jail (I assume this sort of plea-deal is legal in France).
All this definitely qualifies Eyes Without a Face as a horror film. It was influenced by early Hammer films, which were very popular in France in the 1950s. Les yeux sans visage was eventually released in the United States-- after being dubbed, edited and retitled The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus. It came out on a double-bill with The Manster-- Another flawed classic.
A few thoughts:
• EWAF was directed by Georges Franjou, the co-founder of the Cinematheque Française, the world's first cinema archive. The influence of the films he archived--in particular German Expressionism-- is quite evident in some nice little bits of poetic film language added to the horror-film base, a cinematic roux. My favorite: Docteur Génessier is opening up a crypt in a cemetery to dispose of another dead girl's body. Louise stands guard. She hears a roaring sound. Thinking a car is coming, she looks around and sees nothing. But she looks up-- and sees a jet flying high overhead in the night sky. The shot lingers: the wingtip lights blink as it slowly crosses the frame. Then another shot of Louise-- just watching the plane. An ambiguous, introspective, beautiful moment plunked right in the heart of all the horror.
|This is the best look we get of La Fille Sans Visage|
in all her purposely out-of-focus glory.
The power of imagination-- or was 1960 effects makeup
technology not up to the task?
• It's another film with a soundtrack that has not aged well. It was the second score by Maurice Jarre, who would go on to win an Oscar with his score for Lawrence of Arabia two years later, pretty much the only member of the EWAF cast or crew who would make a successful migration to Hollywood. For all the orchestral sweep of his scores (Dr. Zhivago, Witness, Ghost) with EWAF his musical contribution is stubbornly Gallic. Jarre created themes to his score: when the mad doctor's assistant would go out looking for fair mademoiselles to carve up, the soundtrack would blare something that sounded like a bistro quintet with a triple-time "umm-PA-PA" meter. It's almost exactly like the theme song of "The Larry David Show." Distracting.
• Courtesy of the IMDb and Hulu, you can actually watch the entire thing free!