EYES WITHOUT A FACE
THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DR FAUSTUS
(Les Yeux Sans Visage)
Eyes Without a Face also pioneered the theme of the mad surgeon. This was a theme nominally related to the mad scientist film. Where mad science films are usually just monster amok films that tell of devastation on a social level, mad surgeon films are usually firmly and solidly horror films that centre around the shock of facial mutilation and disfigurement and play on peoples fear of doctors. (Although, with its insistence that skin grafts are impossible without the use of radiation, Eyes Without a Face certainly traverses into science-fiction territory). Eyes Without a Face was popular and had a number of imitators such as Atom Age Vampire (1960), Circus of Horrors (1960) and Jesus Francos The Awful Dr Orloff (1962), which spawned a number of sequels, Corruption (1967) and Mansion of the Doomed (1976), while it also influenced the Japanese arthouse film The Face of Another (1966) and Pedro Almodovars The Skin I Live In (2011).
Eyes Without a Face came out the same year as Jean-Luc Godards Breathless (1959). It was a time when French cinema was aggressively deconstructing Hollywood models. Rather than anything as visually experimental as what Godard was doing, Eyes Without a Face remains solidly grounded within the psycho-thriller. It is certainly a psycho-thriller tempered with the visual poetry of a director like Jean Cocteau. The title of the film the literal French translation Eyes Without a Face (not the ridiculous 1962 American release where it was retitled The Horror Chamber of Dr Faustus, despite the fact that the film does not feature any chamber or a Dr Faustus) has a double-meaning, referring both to the surgical procedure of removing facial features and to the character of the daughter played by Edith Scob who wears an immobile mask through which the only moving part of her face is her eyes. It is a remarkable performance that Edith Scob gives, drifting through the laboratory sets like a broken bird with her eyes imprisoned inside the immobile facial mask. There is a haunting fragility to the character, that comes beset by the continuing tragedy of her fathers failures and with images of her trying to make calls to her old love.
It is Georges Franjus blend of poetry and horror that made Eyes Without a Face a classic. There is a scene every bit as striking and effective as the classical unmasking in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) wherein we see Edith Scob drifting through the lab, touching the dogs and then the face of the girl on the table and the shock of the girl as she comes around and we see a brief glimpse of Scobs disfigured face from her point-of-view. The most striking sequence is where we see Pierre Brasseur methodically prepare and then slice off a girls face. It is a scene that still holds impact fifty years later despite such scenes having been made routine by slasher films it is impossible to imagine what effect it would have had on audiences in 1959. The ending is a marvellous moment of poetry with Edith Scob freeing the dogs who turn upon her father, while she walks out amid a flutter of freed doves.
Georges Franju has been an unjustly neglected director in French cinema. His only other works to venture into genre material are Judex (1963) and Shadowman (1973), both homages to the fantastical world of Louis Feuillades silent serials filled with masked thieves and super-criminals.
Full film available online but in poor quality US-dubbed version here:-