Eyes Without a Face (1960) – French Horror Artistry

Eyes Without a Face (1960) - Movie Poster

Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

Recently, Malevolent Dark reviewed the Peter Cushing film Corruption (1968). In that review we mentioned that it had a lot on common with the plot of the French film, Eyes Without a Face (1960). It felt appropriate to review the latter for a couple of reasons. First, a little compare and contrast never hurt anyone. Second, this film gets a lot of attention for its artistic merits and visual style. Eyes Without a Face offers an elegant journey through a horrific tale.Wsdfsdfsdfdon

Eyes Without a Face (1960) - Dr. Genessier
Dr. Genessier does god work by day, at night he commits unspeakable crimes

Eyes Without a Face, The Story

Directed by Georges Franju, Eyes Without a Face tells the tale of a woman that suffers from severe facial damage from a car accident. Her father, a world renowned plastic surgeon does everything he can to save her face, no matter the cost. His obsession with repairing her damaged face leads him down a destructive path of evil.

Franju takes a nuanced approach to telling his narrative. He tells a character driven tale that takes advantage of the moral ambiguity of the roles that he creates. The lead character, Christiane Génessier played by Édith Scob, hates the fact that her father sacrifices innocent women to save her face, but she doesn’t exactly say no to his assistance. She clearly laments the pain caused by her father, but yet she also yearns for a return to normalcy. Christiane wants her face back.

Christiane’s father, a brilliant plastic surgeon played by Pierre Brasseur, spends his days legitimately helping people. At night, he murders young women so that he can transplant their faces on his daughter. He commits these crimes knowing to well that his chances of success remain slim. No sacrifice proves too great for Dr. Génessier in his quest salvage his daughter’s face.

Dr. Génessier receives assistance from a woman named Louise (Alida Valli). Louise also knows right from wrong, but she she owes the Doctor a debt of gratitude for saving her own face in events that occur before this film takes place.

Eyes Without a Face (1960) - Chiristiane's pale, featureless face
Christiane’s pale and featureless mask that hides her hideous injuries

A Story About Corruption

Those familiar with Corruption (1968) will notice a similar plot foundation. Peter Cushing’s super-model fianceé suffers sever burns on her face. The only way that he can save her looks requires him to collect an evergreen supply of pituitary glands from young women. His procedure offers pleasing results, but the improvements do not last. Additional victims must be acquired to keep the illusion alive.

While Corruption deals with moral ambiguity as well, Corruption reverses the roles to a certain degree. Christiane presents somewhat of a sympathetic figure that in many ways serves as a victim of her circumstances. To contrast, Lynn Nolan in Corruption drives the murder of young women through her own narcissist desires. Peter Cushing’s character of Sir John Rowan abhors what he has to do, yet he concedes for the love of Lynn.

Eyes Without a Face (1960) - The infamous face transplant scene
For a movie otherwise bereft of gore, this facial transplant image is stunning

Artistry in the Uncanny Valley

One of the more striking features of the film concerns Franju’s presentation of Chiristane throughout the film. Rather than indulge the audience with a direct view of her facial injuries, Christiane wears an eerie white mask throughout most of the film. Devoid of features, the mask presents quite beautifully; however, it’s also strangely unsettling.  The term “Uncanny Valley” defines that point on a continuum where something approaches humanity, but as it does it becomes unsettling and creepy.

While Franju declines to show Christiane’s face, he does depict the surgery required to save her face in great detail. What stand out about this surgery is the length at which Franju uncomfortably focuses on the sawing and slicing of the sinews that hold the face to the muscle. This continues until that uncomfortable moment when the Doctor and Louise peel the face from its home in preparation for transplant. Inexplicably, they let the donor live as if that will not become a major problem for them.

Eyes Without a Face (1960) - Georges Franju could not find a more angelic face than that of Edith Scob
Georges Franju could not find a more angelic face than that of Edith Scob

A Good Film, but Possibly Overstated

Eyes Without a Face seems to hold a firm place on any Internet list attempting to highlight relevant, but obscure horror films. Repeated brushes with these lists seemed to indicate that we were missing something. What we found upon watching was a clever little film with a bit of an artistic flare. Certainly, Eyes Without a Face is interesting fodder for horror historians, but it might fall short of a masterpiece.

The movie plods along rather slowly and never really offers much excitement. It seems clear very early on that Christiane’s saga will end in either revolt or suicide. However, we did find the ending to be satisfying despite it not leaving the plot fully resolved. Still, in between the start of the film and its interesting conclusion, too little happens too slowly.

Yet, Eyes Without a Face has merit in the fact that 1960 is a fairly early year for this level of auteur direction in a horror film. In that, it retains a strong legacy and influence. We have already mentioned its influence on Corruption. There are many more films that owe something to Eyes Without a Face. One of the more interesting associations involves Christiane’s featureless. John Carpenter believes that subconsciously Christiane’s mask inspired the pale white mask of Michael Myers. That’s an accolade worthy of praise.

Eyes Without a Face (1960) - French Horror Artistry - Malevolent Dark
eyes without a face movie poster

Director: Georges Franju

Date Created: 1960-01-01 00:00

Editor's Rating:
3

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