The French always it do it right. They will always go there. If you want face in American cinema you will get a whole pile of Lana Turner, Vivian Leigh and Barbara Bel Geddes. You want face in France? They will give it to you alright. They will serve up a slice of face directed by George Franju entitled, LES YEUX SANS VISAGE. Over here in the grand ole U.S of A. we called it EYES WITHOUT A FACE.
Based on the novel by Jean Redon and adapted for the screen by Pierre Boileau (author of the source material for Diabolique and Vertigo), EWAF is one creep-fest of cinema. The opening sequence, lit by only one spotlight, see the french country side zoom past us. A disgruntled looking woman pulls over her car and tosses a body wrapped in plastic out the door. It was kinda like one of those, "oh...this is where we are going with this film!" and it was very welcomed.
Two police officers, investigating the murder of the girl say things like, "She was skinned" and "Rats got at her". It's all very lurid, but they don't really show any of it the gruesomeness they talk about. But there is an underlying feeling that EYES WITHOUT A FACE might just go there. We are then introduced to Doctor Genessier, played by Pierre Brasseur. He has some troubles. A lot of troubles. He is haunted by the fact that he was responsible for a car crash that left his once angelically beautiful daughter without a face. So distraught and racked with guilt, he has been experimenting with creating a new face for her. But you can't just make a face out of thin air. You gotta get them from somewhere. Hitchhikers (pretty ones) or that new girl in town (as long as she is pretty) are right up his alley. He sends his assistant, Louise, into the city to procure faces for him. This is when we get to meet Edna. A fresh face! Under the guise of apartment hunting, she is tricked into visiting the countryside where she almost immediately realizes that she has made a mis-step.
If you love watching people ascend and descend stairs in a creepy house as much as I do, then Eyes Without A Face is the movie for you. Hidden away from the rest of the world at the top of the house, is Christiane. She does everything a normal teenage age does. Lays around, broods, reads, and crank calls boys. But there is only one big difference. SHE AIN'T GOT NO FACE!
But she is gonna get one soon!
Forget Michael Myers and Ghostface Killer, Christiane's mask has got to be one of the scariest mask I have ever seen. Now, I see what Billy Friedkin and Laura Brannigan were going for in the "Self Control" video! YIKES! DOUBLE YIKES! She is a tormented soul, because she certainly does want a new face, but she always knows deep down inside that she really shouldn't expect another face from another person. But now that there is a pretty young thing in the house, she is willing to give her father another chance in some face/off face/on magic.
And then it happens. If you were wondering if the movie was going to go there, this is the moment it does. Full on take your face of surgery. It is gross and disgusting. It's done well, but done cheaply. You can't tear you EYES away from the scene, but it's not vomit inducing, because the knife bleeds onto the face, rather than the other way around. It's quite fanstacting to watch the film maker try to make the special effect of facial removal believable. A for effort and A for money well spent. For three minutes you are transfixed by the screen and just when you want to turn your eyes, you can a flaw in the special effect that brings you back to reality.
The doctor has a new face for his daughter and Edna gets to wear bandages wrapped around her head and a cute new outfit (this is SCREAMING for a Halloween costume). She, naturally, has a MAJOR freak out and bust out of the lab and runs up the endless flight of stairs and stumbles right into the arms of the person who is gonna get her face. It does not end well.
Weeks past and it's dinner time. Christiane shows up with a new face and she looks like an angel. She loves it. She isn't as brooding anymore and she is borderline in a good mood. She is all smiles and nice-nice. And like most teenage girls all she can talk about is boys. Until the screen goes dark and a montage of pictures centered around her face sliding off. You know it can't be good. And we finally get confirmation that this isn't the first time it has happened. Is She is the puppeteer with the strings attached to her guilt ridden father, which she plays effortlessly? Does she demand another face? All questions with no easy answers. So once again, the hunt for a new face begins. But this time the police are on the case and have a decoy face named Paulette, who is gonna bust the whole scene wide open.
The last ten minutes are full on fingernail chewing material. Paulette awakens with an oval shape drawn with a marker around her face and realizes has gotten in over her head. The doctor has his scalpel ready and Christiane must make a decision that will alter her life forever. And the dogs that the doctor has been experimenting on finally get themselves some revenge, CUJO style. The finale shot is so majestic and haunting, that it doesn't even seem like it could have been storyboarded. It is pure magic.
Causing much controversy at the time of it's release in 1960 for the face grafting scene, audiences lined up to see it in France, but reputedly kept passing out. Which is ALWAYS a good way to sell a movie. In America, it got edited (no face/off) and dubbed and retitled "The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus". It was billed with the MUST SEE film "The Manster". Luckily, fans of The Manster, they got to see at least some sort of cut of this masterpiece in the theater.
Shockingly restrained and elegantly gruesome at the same time, EYES WITHOUT A FACE proves that you don't need a face to give good face.