Tender, grotesque, and beautiful, Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face continues to be one of the most entrancing horror films ever put to celluloid. Years ahead of his contemporaries, Franju’s terrifying tale is a shock and a salve for any audience. The sheer audacity found in some of the more horrible imagery, an audacity that makes the feature quite scandalous at times, is soothed somewhat by the haunting placidity of its romantic sensibilities.
Franju’s dark influences are staunch, and eternally keep the film grounded in a microcosm of Gothic style. A possessive patriarch, the world-renowned Dr Genessier (Pierre Brasseur), keeps his faceless, innocent, daughter (Edith Scobe) locked away in the upper floors of decadent French country home. Aided by a dedicated ex-patient (Alida Valli) he kidnaps young women in search of an adequate donor.
Eyes Without A Face, adapted from Jean Redon’s novel, is a surprisingly weird slice of 60’s horror. Maurice Jarre’s bizarre soundtrack achieves the light romance of classic horror films, then tears away from reality with a circus-like glee. The opening scenes are a perfect set-up for this domestic/surgical/murder-fuelled tale; the beautiful Valli drives down a country road in the dead of night, the music tearing faster and faster through a headspinning carnival. There is something farcical and dangerous going on under the mask of Gothic French Romanticism.
Hot on the heels of Hitchcock’s Psycho, Franju’s efforts became part of a shifting landscape in horror, one which favoured the psychological roots of the human threat as opposed to the nuclear ones of the alien/bug threat. This permitted a more muddied view of the hero/villain relationship. Dr Genessier is every bit the devout father of classic Gothic literature yet here he is awarded the cutthroat medical expertise found in the next generation of villains. Edith Scobe haunts the halls of her father’s suburban manor, her viciously scarred face hidden beneath an ominous mask. Her transformation into a kind of Frankenstein monster is inevitable considering her father’s persistent need to murder other young woman in search of an acceptable skin graft. Franju understands the desire to save our loved ones, but is fully aware that murder, for any means, will make monsters of us all.
A sumptuous piece of cinema combining the aesthetics of classic French cinema, Grand Guignol, and psychological horror; Eyes Without a Face is a frankly ground-breaking work from a fascinating time in the history of horror.
Dir: Georges Franju
Stars: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Edith Scobe