Classic French-Italian artsy-horror in glorious Blu-ray? Don’t mind if we do, actually. This’ll be a doddle to review.
A woman dumps a body in a river and the police are surprised to discover her face has been removed. Then up pops Dr. Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) to identify the body as his daughter who was disfigured years earlier in a car accident caused by the doctor himself. Obviously suicide or some such, but how come there’s another man claiming it might be his missing daughter? Of course, the doctor’s daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob), is still alive and the guilt-ridden Génessier has got his loyal secretary (Alida Valli) combing the streets for likely candidates for a bit of involuntary face-removal so that he can restore his daughter to her former glory. The body in the river was one of the unfortunate donors. Inevitably, what with tissue rejection and so on, these face transplants never go quite according to plan and it looks like Génessier’s quest is going to take a few more attempts. Now the police are investigating those missing girls and you just know this isn’t going to end well.
Eyes Without a Face is still a visual stunner and it’s easy to see what a ground-breaker it was at the time. Horror over here was in the Hammer-style and this is certainly no Hammer even if there is a hint of the gothic about it. It has to be said that the sight of Christiane floating around in her white mask is probably one of the creepiest things committed to celluloid, and the near-legendary face-removal scene is still fairly wince-inducing even if it has lost some of its power to shock over the last half a century. There’s a dream-like quality to it all that evokes the stuff of nightmares, which is why the film is rightly regarded as a classic.
So there you go, end of review: it’s perfect.
Ah, you’re still here? OK, fair enough. We’ll say it then. While you won’t read a bad word said about EWaF anywhere else, we’re brave enough to tell you that it plods like no-one’s business. Georges Franju might be one of the great visual directors but even he reckoned he wasn’t the greatest storyteller, and the direction here is a teensy-bit on the leaden side. Some might call it lyrical, but if you’re not in the mood then you’ll find the 84-minute running time seems a lot longer. The problem is that while there’s a lot going on, there doesn’t seem to be much driving it and it gets a tad repetitive. Christiane cries a lot and her father looks so continuously dour that the movie can’t sell you the idea that an apparently successful operation is going to end in anything but another disaster. Tension is replaced by glumness. Horror isn’t supposed to work like that and you can’t help thinking it isn’t quite the sum of its parts.
But having just dissed the undissable, that’s not to say we wouldn’t recommend what is, ultimately, a classic. Just make sure you’re in the right mood for a bit of unsettling visual poetry rather than something that’ll grab you by the throat with its compelling narrative.
Actually, that wasn’t a doddle at all...
Special Features: Commentary by Tim Lucas / Two documentaries / Interview with Edith Scob / Collector’s booklet
EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1950) / DIRECTOR: GEORGES FRANJU / SCREENPLAY: GEORGES FRANJU, JEAN REDON / STARRING: PIERRE BRASSEUR, EDITH SCOB, ALIDA VALLI, JULIETTE MAYNIEL / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 24TH