Eyes Without a Face combines b-movie subject matter with poetic art house cinema to very effective results.
Directed by Georges Franju in 1959 the film is about a mad doctor (Pierre Brasseur) who is determined to find a face that he can graft on to his daughter Christiane's face which has been destroyed in an accident. In order for his experiments to work the doctor needs the faces of a young woman who are of the same build as his daughter. In order to attain these faces he sends out a former patient of his (Alida Valli) to lure women to their country mansion. Then the women are put under and surgery is done to remove their face.
It's a particularly gruesome subject matter but it is handled in a rather graceful way. The film became a cult hit back in 1959 and of note has one scene that was considered too shocking by audiences back then but by today's standards - while still unpleasant - is almost tame. What is effective is the film's eerie tone and chilly fog laden setting and the rigid phlegmatic characters. Due to the visual atmosphere the film would have worked beautifully as a silent film.
At the heart of the film is the nature of identity. And the way that a young woman can only attain that through the death and destruction of others. Yet in the process her innocence and pain is challenged with each subsequent failed attempt by the doctor to make the flesh masks work.
Eyes Without a Face is the only film Georges Franju is know for in the US - although he had an impressive track record and was an influence on the French New Wave directors. It's easy to see his influence because it doesn't hone to a genre as much as it cross pollinates genres to create an ultimately unique cinema that is tied to both self conscious movie reality and realism.
Shot in black and white with a relatively modest budget, good performances and a steady suspense Eyes Without a Face is French horror film that by todays' standards is less scary than eerie. It's also got a neatly poetic ending that today would be an invitation to a sequel.
The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The black and white image is sharp and clean but does not have strong contrasts. The look of the film has a B-movie quality to it and shows itself to be dated.
Audio is French monaural and sounds good. The film is heavy on background noises such as dogs barking and wind blowing. Dialogue is dubbed but sounds fine
There is a 22 minute short film by Franju from 1949 titled The Blood of the Beast that is a documentary about a slaughterhouse in Paris. Unlike Eyes Without a Face it really does have some hard scenes to watch even by today's standards . And, yes, animals were
hurt killed in the making of the film. The film is in many ways a prototypical New Wave film in the way it juxtaposes images of innocence and beauty with shots of brutality and death. Other extras include Franju on Fantasy a TV show short (about 5 minutes) with Franju talking about fantasy and horror, two short interviews spliced together on the making of The Blood of the Beast and a six-minute excerpt from Les Grande-peres du cinema a documentary about the collaborative nature of Piere Boileau and Thomas Narcejac who co-wrote Eyes Without a Face. Last are two trailers (one for a film called The Manster) and a gallery of photos and poster images. There is also two booklet cover essays. One by David Kalat that is informative and one insighful one by Patrick McGrath.
Eyes Without a Face is a horror picture that defies genre by the quality of the graceful (albeit b-movie) directing and the way it escapes predictability. Made in 1959 the film is dated and will not scare many people even though there is one rather gruesome scene. The extras are modest but give a good background to the film.