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EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960) Review

Eyes Without a Face PosterBy Colleen Wanglund, MoreHorror.com

Directed by Georges Franju, EYES WITHOUT A FACE (Les Yeux Sans Visage) is a French horror film based on a book of the same title by Jean Redon. It was the first modern horror film made in France when producer Jules Borkon saw the success of British horror films in the French market.

The film opens with an attractive woman driving along a dark road. She eventually pulls over along a desolate riverbank where she dumps the body of a young woman. The body is later found by police and Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brassuer) is called; he identifies the body as that of his daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob). Christiane was reported missing by the doctor not long after an accident horribly disfigured her face. After the funeral, Dr. Genessier returns to his home with Louise (Alida Valli), the doctor’s assistant and the very same woman who dumped the body into the river. It seems the doctor’s daughter, however, is not dead, but hidden inside the mansion.

Dr. Genessier and Louise have been luring young women back to the mansion to take their faces and replace Christiane’s disfigured one. None have worked, so far, due to tissue rejection but the doctor is determined to restore his daughter’s face. Meanwhile, Christiane has phoned her fiancé Jacques (Francois Guerin) who believes she is dead. He reports the strange calls to the police and while there overhears a report about missing young women who strongly resemble Christiane. Jacques recognizes a description of Louise and agrees to help the police; he works for Dr. Genessier at his clinic. Another young woman disappears not long after leaving the clinic, picked up by Louise and delivered to Dr. Genessier’s home. Will the police find her in time?

Originally released in the United States in 1962 with the title The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus (heavily edited and dubbed into English), EYES WITHOUT A FACE boasts no gore and very little blood. What makes this movie so creepy is its subject matter—a mad scientist killing young women for their faces to replace the face his daughter lost. The doctor methodically cuts the face away with his scalpel in a secret basement laboratory, complete with birds and dogs that the doctor has used in his previous experiments.

Genessier and Louise are cold and calculating, seemingly unaffected by the deaths they are responsible for. What is especially disturbing to me is Christiane herself. She also appears cold and unaffected, releasing a young woman not out of pity but because she has grown tired of being her father’s guinea pig. The film carries a somber and sinister tone throughout, although it does have a somewhat predictable ending. It is a beautifully done film that really should be seen.

EYES WITHOUT A FACE was initially criticized, as horror films were seen as an unworthy genre among French film critics. Getting a re-release on the big screen in 1986, it was given a much warmer reception and a much more positive critique. It was also shown in its original version in the U.S. in 2003, where it also received praise from critics. The film has a runtime of 84 minutes and is available on DVD from Criterion.

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