EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959)
Directed by Georges Franju
Screenplay by Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narcejac and Jean Rendon and Claude Sautet
Based on the novel by Jean Rendon
I don’t understand why all the film companies don’t just hand over all their film libraries to the Criterion Collection. Starting in 1984 with laserdiscs and to the present day with DVDs, Criterion has consistently put out high quality versions of films, leading the way for the marketplace and making home video better for all film fans.
I just got done watching one of their latest releases, the 1959 French horror classic Eyes Without A Face. The film opens with a woman’s body being dumped in a reservoir. After speaking at a medical conference, Dr. Génessier is contacted by the police because that girl may be his missing daughter. At the police station, he identifies his daughter’s body. As he leaves, Dr. Génessier meets another father whose child is missing. A killer is on the loose that is preying on young women.
After his daughter’s funeral, we learn the truth. Dr. Génessier is involved with the missing women. Dr. Génessier’s assistant brings them to him to use for experiments. The doctor is trying to successfully graft an entire face for the benefit of his daughter. He horribly disfigured her in a car accident and won’t stop until he can repair the damage.
It is a very intriguing story about the lengths a father is driven to when motivated by guilt and love. The script has a number of good plot twists that surprise throughout by taking conventions and doing the unexpected with them in a believable way. There was only one part of the story that didn’t make any sense. The police have discovered a pattern that all the women who have disappeared have blue eyes. This has to be a coincidence because only the skin is used, yet why make mention of it?
The film does show its age at times. The pacing is too slow in a few spots for a modern-day audience. Most people used to the revved-up, manic horror films of today might not be used to sitting still for so long to enjoy the beauty of the photography or the suspense the film has to offer. Also, the effect of the face removal scene is minimized by over 40 years of advancement in film make-up. You need to have an understanding of film history to truly appreciate this film.
As usual for any Criterion disc, the extras are outstanding. There are excerpts of interviews with the co-scripters, Boileau and Narcejac, who authored novels that became Clouzot’s Diabolique and Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and trailers for the film including the 1962 English-dubbed release that was paired with The Manster, but don’t expect a Criterion edition of that anytime soon.
The oddest segment is an excerpt from a French television series from 1982 called Cine-parade hosted by an odd-looking fellow, reminiscent of a fat, Larry Fine. In an episode entitled Le Fantastique, director Franju talks about being given the film to create, but being told by the producers that there could be no blood, no animals could be shown tortured and no mad doctors, so as to appease censors from different countries. This segment ends with the face-removal scene from the movie and reveals the masterful job that was done in the restoration of this film. The clip from the TV program is completely filthy; dirt and hair appear in every frame. The color of the black and white has aged and become a sepia tone.
The most amazing part of the DVD is Blood of the Beasts, Franju’s 1949 documentary about the slaughterhouses of Paris. In the “Le Fantastique” segment, Franju talks about finding terror in the everyday and he certainly accomplishes that feat here. Even meat-eaters might have trouble watching the way the animals are prepared. We see a captive-bolt pistol killing a horse, a poleax used to open up an ox’s head and the decapitations of veal and sheep. As they are bled and cut apart, their bodies still kick and twitch. Obviously, the limitations on Eyes Without A Face were not in place for Blood of the Beasts.