Some of my absolute favorite horror, action and suspense films combine sharp, clever ideas with B-movie roots; that is, in the wrong hands they'd be more "guilty" than "pleasure". Paul Verhoeven, John Carpenter (during the 1970s and 80s, especially) and David Cronenberg immediately spring to mind as masters of this domain. On paper, some of their best movies might sound awfully corny...but on screen they're entertaining, disturbing, thought-provoking and yes, just campy enough to satisfy your sweet tooth. Georges Franju's Eyes Without A Face fits in there nicely, especially if you prefer brie over sharp cheddar: this haunting tale of an obsessed father's pursuit to repair his daughter's disfigured face is dark, dramatic and disturbing, peppered with terrific visuals and blessed by an oddly memorable music score.
Our story follows Dr. Génessier (Pierre Brasseur), a respected surgeon on the verge of a major breakthrough that would allow skin transplants to become a reality. Practice makes perfect and the doctor's been doing his fair share, including animal experiments and facial reconstruction on his faithful assistant Louise (Alida Valli), for starters. It's all led up to his potential masterpiece: a complete facial transplant for his daughter Christiana (Edith Scob), who nearly died in a car accident and now wears a mask to conceal her ravaged appearance. It'll be a tricky operation, made all the more difficult for two reasons: the police think his daughter's dead, and he'll need the face of a beautiful young woman.
Eyes Without A Face works quite well on many levels, not the least of which is a ghost story about someone who isn't even dead. The inquisitive Christiana wanders the lonely house like a spirit, unable to show emotion with anything but her wide, expressive eyes. Her mother's recent passing, combined with her newly disfigured appearance, has all but sapped Christiane's will to live. She's confined to the house and can't even speak to her fiancé Jacques (Francois Guérin), who works as her father's apprentice but, like the outside world, believes that Christane died in the car accident. Almost every possible solution to her problem would leave her stripped of a former life, so it's no surprise that she's less than willing to go along with her father's twisted but oddly thoughtful scheme. As our story unfolds, one thing becomes perfectly clear: Eyes Without A Face, like its subject matter, is about more than what's on the surface.
Criterion's 2004 DVD was the first domestic release of Eyes Without A Face in that format...and more importantly, the first opportunity for many to see it in its original form. They've given it another *ahem* facelift with this Blu-ray, which beefs up the A/V presentation and shuffles around the extras a bit. Those new to the film will enjoy its visual strengths and pulpy core elements, while seasoned veterans will simply appreciate its continued existence in high definition.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Not surprisingly, Eyes Without A Face's haunting appearance is rendered nicely on this crisp, dependable 1080p transfer. Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the striking visuals retain excellent detail with strong textures, a healthy amount of film grain and deep black levels. Several of the earlier scenes don't boast the same level of quality, but this is undoubtedly more of a source material issue than a fault with the restoration or digital transfer. Simply put, it's head and shoulders above Criterion's own 2004 DVD and, if nothing else, will satisfy long-time fans and impress newcomers.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
The French LPCM 1.0 mono track is perfectly acceptable overall, as neither the dialogue nor the amusingly light music cues fight for attention. Several light hisses and crackles are present during a handful of sequences, but it's nothing major and Criterion undoubtedly did what they could to preserve the aging source material. Optional English subtitles have been offered during the main feature and all applicable supplements, but they provide dialogue translation only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
As usual, Criterion's menu interface is relatively smooth and easy to navigate. This 90-minute film has been divided into 21 chapters (including color bars), no layer change was detected and this Blu-Ray is locked for Region "A" playback only. The disc is housed in Criterion's trademark "stocky" Blu-Ray keepcase and features two-sided artwork similar to the 2004 DVD release. The included Booklet
features production photos, reprinted essays by novelist Patrick McGrath and film historian David Kalat, plus Criterion's familiar cast/crew credits list and notes about the A/V presentation.
Nearly the same as Criterion's 2004 DVD
with two exceptions: first, we're given a new eight-minute Interview
with Edith Scob (turning 76 tomorrow!), who sheds some light on the production experience and early casting memories. Unfortunately, the DVD's excellent photo and art gallery hasn't been ported to this release for reasons unknown.
Otherwise it's business as usual, albeit with a deserving bump to HD. Recycled extras include Franju's remastered short documentary "Blood of the Beasts", two Interviews with Franju and co-screenwriters Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narcejac, and a French television program excerpt entitled Le fantastique and a pair of Trailers; the original French version and an American alternate in which the film was dubbed, renamed The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus and paired with George Breakston's The Manster. As expected, optional English subtitles have been included for translation purposes only.
Eyes Without A Face remains as potent and unsettling as ever, laced with haunting visuals that will stay with you long after the credits roll. Whether you first viewed Georges Franju's masterpiece as The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus or in its uncut, original form, it holds up well to repeat viewings and is recommended for fans of French New Wave cinema, Hitchcock and the countless films it's influenced during the last 50+ years. Criterion's Blu-ray outperforms their own 2004 DVD, but not completely: it focuses more on the A/V presentation than new supplements. Regardless, Eyes Without A Face is a strong effort that leaves a lasting impression; for that alone, it comes Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.