A surgeon causes an accident which leaves his daughter disfigured, and goes to extremes to give her a new face.
I may have hit my stride in choosing high quality movies you guys, these past few have been pretty good and Eyes Without a Face is continuing that trend. I watched the Criterion version of the film for this review, and have genuinely no idea what difference that made, being my first exposure to this particular film. Right off the top, it seems worth saying that this movie is great and well worth checking out without knowing too much about it. My lack of knowledge made the movie genuinely surprising, and I encourage you to just stop reading and go check the movie out.
If you’re still here, then let’s talk about it.
Eyes Without a Face is a black and white French horror film from 1960. This does mean, for the lazy among you, that this movie requires paying attention to subtitles. If you can get passed that, you’ll be in for a beautiful looking, and genuinely eerie film that more than earns the praise and attention it receives among classic horror films. The film was directed by french director Georges Franu, and based on a novel by Jean Redon. I have to admit my ignorance here, and say that many of the works by both men don’t come across as terribly familiar, so please recommend anything you enjoy.
One of the first things that caught me off guard about this movie was the fact that it, more than once, caught me off guard. The movie begins making efforts to hide or imply any violence or frightening images, and actually manages to convince you that this, like many older films, will be conducting it’s horror off screen. It successfully makes itself distinct and creepy when we’re introduced to Christiane and see her deeply unsettling mask. This makes the effective gore make up, and the rather disturbing surgery scene significantly more effective than you might expect.
Eyes Without a Face has a lot of patience in its delivery, and does build to an effective and creepy ending. So much of how well this film works is in the hands of the performers. Particularly, Edith Scob (Brotherhood of the Worth) as Christiane. While it would be easy to dismiss her performance as a bit melodramatic, and say that her mask does all the work for her (it does a lot, but it takes someone to inhabit it), but this simplifies her character significantly. The way she carries herself, and moves through her home is bizarre and she pulls off the sort of mannequin aesthetic that the mask makes whole. She does have some great over-the-top moments, but in the context of the film, her performance works gangbusters.
Pierre Brasseau (Children of Paradise) and Alida Valli (Suspiria) are great as well. Brasseau is Christiane’s brilliant and obssessed surgeon father, going to great lengths to return his daughter’s beautiful face. Valli helps Brasseau to obtain victims because of some kind of implied debt. It seems Brasseau helped rebuild Valli’s face at some point, and now she helps him.
The movie is entertaining, surprisingly gory, and rather beautiful in its own way. If you’re a fan of stylish, black and white, french films then this is really going to do it for you. It’s an absolute classic, and one that I’m so glad that I’ve finally seen it.
MY RATING: ****