Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Director: Georges Franju
I didn’t expect this film to be a horror movie classic, but as it turns out, it is. I went into this movie not knowing what to expect, save for the fact that it’s one of those movies that you have to “see before you die”. I put off watching it because I thought it would be a boring film, but as I began to watch it, I was transfixed by the beauty in the imagery and the fact that it was going down horror movie territory, something totally unexpected for me.
The story is all about a surgeon who is trying to give his daughter a new face. You see, she was in a terrible car accident and her face was horribly disfigured. Her father, the surgeon, concocts a way to give her a new face. Unfortunately, it involves ripping the face off somebody else! Will this procedure work? Will somebody stop the mad doctor? How far should science go to prove a point?
First off, this film was beautifully shot. It took advantage, as many European films do of Europe’s beautiful architecture and natural landscapes. A director doesn’t need millions of dollars to make his movie look good, he simply has to have an eye for beautiful locations and the talent to shoot them well. This is what happens with Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, it simply looks amazing because Franju shot in these beautiful locations, this, if you ask me, elevates the material from its B movie roots and takes it into art house territory. Still, at heart, this is you’re a-typical mad doctor on the loose movie, there’s more than a passing resemblance with films like Frankenstein (1931) or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Yes, this is a film is about a mad doctor, going above and beyond to make his theories come true, to make his experiments work.
The film is most famous for its surgical operation scene, which I imagine must have been quite the show stopper back in the day. Reportedly, people passed out during that sequence. I do remember as I watched the film, I suddenly felt I was watching “the scene”. You know how when you’re watching classic films and see a famous sequence for the first time and you realize you are in the presence of greatness…that’s how I felt with that scene. It’s an art film mixed with a horror film, loved that about this one.
After watching Eyes Without a Face I realized where Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In (2011) comes from. Almodovar’s film is extremely similar in premise and visuals so obviously this film was a major influence. The only thing is that Almodovar’s film dives a bit deeper into themes, while Franju’s film is simplistic in nature and almost kind of void of any themes. The film shocks, has an interesting premise and looks amazing, but what is it trying to say? What is its ultimate purpose? It seems to me like Franju’s film only manages to shock and titillate and that it does in a beautiful way, but it doesn’t go beyond that. So in that sense, it’s an exercise in style over matter, poetic/surreal imagery over depth or story. I’m sure back in 1960 this film must’ve shocked audiences, I’m sure it will be considered tame by today’s horror enthusiasts. Still, this is a beautiful looking horror film, a true classic of the genre. Definitely worth a watch!
Rating: 5 out of 5