Eyes Without a Face is a strangely lyrical horror film, recalling somewhat Val Lewton’s productions for RKO in the 1940s. The movie is almost as interested in identity and morality as it is in scaring you. But scare you it does, not only with its ghastly premise, but with some stark images that burn themselves into your memory.
Brilliant reconstructive surgeon Dr. Genessier keeps his daughter Christiane hidden away in his roomy estate in the Paris suburbs. Her face had been ruined in a car crash, beyond even his ability to repair. She wears a rubber mask to hide her wounds, and all the mirrors in the house have been removed. Even so, Christiane knows that a mangled face means society will never have a place for her, and she is filled with despair at her plight.
But Dr. Genessier has a plan: he believes he can succeed in a radical transplant that will give Christiane another woman’s face. Unfortunately, a live donor needs to be secured; and as no one is likely to volunteer a face, he decides to abduct a suitable woman and take it from her.
There are some lovely understated performances here, chiefly by Alida Valli as Gesennier’s too-faithful assistant Louise, and Edith Scob as the tormented Christiane.
This is French horror at its best: slick, stylish and beautifully photographed. Director Georges Franju was a giant in French cinema, and was roundly criticized by the critics of his day for working in the “minor genre” of horror. But Franju knew that horror is the perfect place in which to examine the darkness we all carry around inside us.
Eyes Without a Face screens Monday October 6 and Tuesday October 7, 7:00 and 8:45 at the Trylon. Want advance tickets? Get ’em here.