Eyes Without a Face / Yeux Sans Visage, Les (1960)

“My face frightens me; my mask frightens me even more.”

Synopsis:
A renowned surgeon (Pierre Brasseur) hoping to graft a new face onto his injured daughter Christiane (Edith Scob) enlists the help of his loyal assistant (Alida Valli) in kidnapping unsuspecting young women with similar features.

Genres:

Review:
Georges Franju’s Les Yeux Sans Visage remains one of the most haunting and memorable horror films ever made. As in Val Lewton’s early RKO films, Franju relies on atmosphere rather than gore and violence to tell the creepy tale of a young woman trapped in a web of paternal love. Scob is effectively ethereal in the title role; the imagery of Christiane moving through the halls of her prison-like house are guaranteed to hold fast in your memory — as is the infamous surgery scene, when Brasseur methodically slices off a girl’s face. Surprisingly enough, the film contains some levity as well, thanks both to Maurice Jarre’s carnival-like score, and a critical subplot about a naive shoplifter (Beatrice Altariba) who becomes an important catalyst in solving the mystery of the disappearing girls. The final scenes of this must-see horror film are both satisfying and devastating.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Edith Scob as Christiane
    Edith Scob
  • Alida Valli as Dr. Genessier’s loyal assistant
    Alida Valli
  • Stunning b&w cinematography by Eugen Schufftan
    Cinematography
  • Dr. Genessier surgically removing a girl’s face
    Surgery
  • The final powerful sequences
    Birds
  • Maurice Jarre’s haunting, carnivalesque score

Must See?
Definitely. This horror classic — which merits repeat viewings — will remain in your mind long after you’ve watched it.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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3 Responses to “Eyes Without a Face / Yeux Sans Visage, Les (1960)”

  1. A definite must!

    ‘EWAF’ is a textbook case in how to turn what is essentially shock-value, ‘mad scientist’ schlock into high art. And, as TCM’s Mr. O has told us, it failed on release. I hesitate to believe the problem was one of marketing. Its main ‘problem’ is that it’s just too out-of-the-box for the average horror fan – there’s less that’s ‘paint-by-number’ about it. It does deliver horror tradition on some counts (tho the major surgery scene is more unsetlling than horrifying), but overall – well, it’s thinking-ff horror (somewhat in the company of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’).

    Though Franju’s direction – unlike, say, Polanski’s – only elevates the acting level a notch more than one would expect for a film of this sort (more than that would be unnecessary), the real stars of the film are its mood and its look. DP Shuftan (who, the following year, shot ‘The Hustler’ as well as the vastly forgettable Carroll Baker bomb ‘Something Wild’) embraced the story with a piercing, haunting, poetic beauty. Some of the moonlight shots in particular are exquisite. As well, Franju employs a mix of heartbreaking (i.e., ‘Christiane’ greeting her beloved dogs) and breathless imagery. (I esp. like the shot which shows Valli racing the next victim back home in her car – which is smack parallel with a racing locomotive.) And, yes, the package comes complete with Jarre’s fitting score – which does sound strange at first… – thus, appropriate.

    I think ‘EWAF’ remains somewhat unsung. It’s the kind of film that’s ‘fun’ to introduce to other ffs who – for some inexplicable reason – have never heard of it. And, agreed – it’s one that many ffs will want to return to from time to time.

  2. I wonder how many die-hard ff’s would really NOT have heard of/seen this gem? Though I’ll concede it seems (sadly) unsung for the larger population of movie-goers…

    As a side-note: I was fortunate enough to experience ‘EWAF’ for the first time on the big screen, in a dingy revival house on Haight Street in San Francisco while my boyfriend at the time was attending a heavy metal concert… I still feel like he’s the one who “missed out”!

  3. Surely you’ve come across film fanatics who are not necessarily foreign film fanatics. Sadly, I have.

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