24 Nov 2009

Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Most people will know, little, if anything about Eyes Without A Face, except maybe that the white plastic mask worn by Doctor Genessier’s disfigured daughter Christiane was the inspiration for Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s Halloween. That is hopefully all set to change thanks to its long-awaited release on Dvd, which offers a whole new generation of movie fans the opportunity to experience a genuine lost classic. After nearly killing his beautiful daughter in a car accident, Genessier’s guilt leads him and his assistant Marie to embark on a series of murders, with the intention of using the flesh of their victims to rebuild her face. The uniqueness of this film comes not only in the truly repulsive concept of an insane doctor and his equally terrifying assistant (who is indebted to him after becoming the first successful recipient of his radical facial reconstructive surgery) performing their grotesque experiments, but also the deliberately slow pacing and sparseness of dialogue will seem foreign to modern horror fans raised on the endless shock and gore of Hostel and Saw. Like Genessier himself, it is cold, clinical and utterly precise. Not a frame of its luminous black-and-white photography is wasted, and though barely a single drop of blood is spilt onscreen it contains moments far more disturbing than anything being made in Hollywood today. What makes Eyes Without A Face transcend so many lesser films are the frequent moments of beauty throughout it. We are haunted by the image of the once attractive Christiane walking alone through the cavernous house in which her father has imprisoned her, only her pleading desperate eyes visible beneath her mask. Juxtaposed with the utterly monstrous scenes of Genessier operating on his victims, her suffering takes on a lyrical quality, particularly in the sequence where she tries to befriend the numerous guard dogs that are kept on their property. Denigrated by the French press when it was released in 1959, and forgotten for years, hopefully now this masterpiece of psychological cinema will be afforded the respect it deserves, and mentioned in the same breath as Suspiria, and The Wicker Man as one of the greatest horrors ever made.

Matthew Kleebauer

Director: Georges Franju
Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Julliette Mayniel, Edith Scob
Runtime: 81 Minutes
Certificate: 15

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