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This Georges Franju arthouse freakout is a terrifying treat on this new Criterion Blu-ray edition...
Criterion / 1959 / 90 Minutes / Unrated / Street Date: October 15, 2013
When the jovial, almost pop-mod soundtrack of Eyes Without a Face kicks in, one feels gypped. With a lilting, saccharine energy, at first Georges Franju’s horror favorite appears to be nothing more than a simple French film gone sour – sure, the first image is of a strange woman dumping a body into a river, but hey: with a soundtrack more Herman’s Hermits than Edith Piaf, why not crack a smile? Where’s the gross stuff?
Well, the magic and terrorizing success of Eyes Without a Face lies in the fact that by the time this picture spirals into its last half-hour, that first smile is a distant memory, a rocky hillside carved by a glacier of outrageously powerful creepiness. Franju doesn’t just tell the stories of victims of a deranged physician and the beautiful young maidens he enslaves here: He literally turns his audience into a victim of sorts.
This writer had heard of the film through various horror idea factories – in many academic circles, it was hip and cool to talk about the film’s notoriety, though most scholastic snobs never truly bother to check it out – but the act of revisiting Eyes Without a Face on this new Blu-ray edition remains a singularly unique experience for me. Its nebulous storyline revolving around the above-mentioned crazy quack and his wife and daughter who were both physically maimed in a car accident is derisively simple on the surface – “Oh, these crazy old French movies! How fun!” – but when said surgeon performs his first operation, all cutesy camp is vacuumed out fast.
Our medical madness here involves the doctor stealing women’s faces – literally cutting them off with a scalpel in order to graft them onto his heinously disfigured offspring’s grotesque mug (wifey already got fixed up – but don’t lift up her pearls without taking a deep breath first). And Franju doesn’t polish his horrifying operating table with quick editing or symbolic narrative gesture: we watch women’s faces being cut off.
It’s not the most theoretically fascinating film ever – it belongs more on late-night horror stations than on museum shelves – but Georges Franju’s majestic Eyes Without a Face is exactly the kind of horror film unsuspecting (and otherwise) cineastes have deserved for quite some time. It’s a perfectly artistic French art film that doubles as the best popcorn-scream fun you’ll have this month.