by Tom Kapr
Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.
Eyes Without a Face is easily the most horrific film I’ve yet watched this month simply because it is the only movie so far that I had a truly visceral reaction to. Most of the film plays more on suspense than horror. Director Georges Franju himself even described it as “a quieter mood than horror. . . It’s horror in homeopathic doses.” And for the most part that is true. But there is that scene, that one scene, and if you’ve seen it you know which scene I’m talking about; that one scene that had me holding my hands to my face in horror. (It is also possible that there was some whimpering.)
The story focuses on a girl whose face has been horribly disfigured in a car accident and her neurosurgeon/plastic surgeon/mad scientist father who, to put it lightly, keeps trying to find new faces for her. And that one scene is depicted in excruciating, almost clinical, detail. There are other scenes that horrify as well, to lesser extents. But when Eyes isn’t being utterly horrifying, it really is quite poetic. That’s a rare combination.
One of the character types in the dramatic arts that most infuriates me is that of the father who equates his own personal pride, and need to be in control, with love. One I detest even further is the man who preys upon women. Génessier (played by Pierre Brasseur) is both. Regardless of his motivation, he is a predator (and an abuser of dogs to boot). And his nurse/assistant/henchwoman (Alida Valli) is no less detestable, as she lures beautiful young women to his clutches.
One of the most impressive things about this film is the performace of Edith Scob as Christiane Génessier, the unfortunate victim of both the disfiguring car crash and her domineering, obsessed father. Even spending most of her screen time behind a mask, her emotion comes through so clearly: through her eyes especially, but also through her hands and the way she moves about a room. It’s an astounding performance.
This is a great film. I want to clearly state that before I list my issues with this film.
- The carnie waltz music really is nigh unbearable. And about a half hour into the film, I realized why it had such a familiarity to it: it reminds me of the theme from Curb Your Enthusiasm. That’s probably not a parallel I should be making, but there it is.
- The two women (the stalker and the stalkee) look so much alike that I actually thought one was the other in their first scene together. Like, they have the same exact eyes. (But with faces.)
- No closure for Jacques in the end. I was really invested in his quest for the truth paying off. I would like to have seen an examination of his reaction to finding Christiane, alive but disfigured. Would he still have loved her? Would he have been able to see past her disfigurement, but not past her involvement in the heinous acts committed by her father on her behalf?
- And now my biggest issue, the one that actually made me angry. These two police officers basically blackmail this poor shoplifter girl into helping them by using her as bait for Dr. Génessier. And then not only do they not keep on eye on her, but they have absolutely no concerns or suspicions when Génessier himself tells them that she simply checked out of his clinic and walked home?
All that said, the very ending of this film was really satisfying.
Final grade: A
My Flickchart ranking: #389 (out of 3262, a relative 88/100)