A surgeon, guilt-stricken over the disfiguring of his daughter Christiane, sequesters himself in the French countryside trying to restore her beauty. How? How else. He and his nurse abduct women, surgically remove the face of their victim, and attempt to graft each face onto Christiane. With each failed surgery, Christiane is left to wander the chateau in a ghostly white mask, as her father descends into obsession and madness.
Franju was one of the founders of the Cinematheque Francaise — i.e. he’s no rookie — he helped define the rules that govern Film Noir for the French New Wave. I could not find a trailer to accompany this note, but once you’ve seen the photography of EYES WITHOUT A FACE, you will not forget it. While Franju acknowledges a debt to silent horror and the Surrealist movement, his style here is nonetheless way ahead of it’s time. Opting for black & white to avoid censorship of his surgery sequences, Franju refined a shadowy gothic tone that has influenced supernatural and other horror movies ever since.
It’ll finish Wednesday,
AFTER THOUGHT from October 16th, 2014
Evidently, trailers have become available online for EYES WITHOUT A FACE in the recent years since I wrote the above announcement for my west coast coworkers. Other developments have taken place as well. Other genre films over the years have borrowed elements from this film, including the knowing allusion of Jerry Hall wearing a strikingly similar mask to Christiane’s, under similar circumstances, in Tim Burton‘s BATMAN. More recently Pedro Almodóvar‘s THE SKIN I LIVE IN offers a bold-faced and loving tribute to this chilling masterpiece, fully borrowing the story and central conceit, albeit as a vehicle for Almodóvar’s trademark darkly comic ironic melodrama rather than as a straight forward horror film.
On a personal note, it’s heartening to see vanguards of celebrating unsung classics like The Cinefamily in Los Angeles or the Church of Film in Portland, OR embracing this film. When I initially shared the above announcement in my talent agency gig, my worthy adversary (and wet behind the ears whippersnapper) Evan dismissed it as “a B-movie.” Without hyperbole, dismissing EYES WITHOUT A FACE as a B-movie is like dismissing The Archer’s PEEPING TOM as a B-movie. While both may have had their controversial histories, both were ambitious, insightful, soulful, and as impeccably crafted as any Oscar-baiting prestige film. As occasionally happened in the ol’ lunch movie days, Evan and others busied themselves elsewhere and mocked what they had not experienced, while a small squad of the faithful were riveted the first day. The same friends showed up the second day, having read up on Franju and Valli, and found themselves a whole new corner of filmdom that they were excited to explore.
Yes, this is a mad scientist movie. And yes, William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST was just a supernatural movie. And yes, Jim Henson’s THE DARK CRYSTAL was just another Muppet movie. Dig a little deeper, friends. Long before the irony generation of the 90’s appropriated the trappings of genre to make personal statements, Georges Franju welcomed you into a dark house, and used the mechanics of horror to show you that human regret and sorrow can be the greatest sources of terror.