Eyes Without a Face

Edith Scob in Eyes Without a Face [Les yeux sans visage] (dir. Georges Franju, 1959).

Alida Valli.

Juliette Mayniel.

A dubbed version of Franju's film was released in the US in 1962 as The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus (on a double bill with The Manster). I'm thinking that, aside from the vocal synching, it must not have looked too terribly different to American viewers from other horror movies of that era. This is not a slight against Franju, but a reminder that some of the most innovative and hallucinatory images in cinema came out of the low-budget productions of that genre at that time, and have largely been consigned to the dung-heap of drunken irony (or "camp"). Granted, many of them might work better as silents.

And in fact, there is nothing particularly remarkable about the script (or at least the dialogue) of Les yeux sans visage: a doctor abducts young women and attempts to graft their faces onto his daughter, who has been badly disfigured in a car accident. It could easily be a schlock B movie. Strike that: it deliberately uses the trappings of such movies. What separates it from its American equivalents, or models, is largely pace. Everything is at the mercy of Franju's macabre visual lyricism--perfectly complemented by Maurice Jarre's mad, carnivalesque score.

The face removal scene is horrifying, and can't help but recall the notorious eyeball scene in Buñuel's Un chien andalou. Included on the Criterion disk is Franju's 1949 short Blood of the Beasts, which uses the pretext of being a documentary about slaughterhouses to allow Franju to indulge his surrealist's appetite for aestheticized cruelty. Horses, cattle, and sheep are killed, dismembered, and flayed before the camera, and the camera comes alive with a sadistic sentience. The effect is too rarified to be considered pornographic, and too frank to make it all the way towards art. It's more of an essay, an essay whose thesis is clouded by hepatomancy.

Blood of the Beasts [Le sang des bêtes] (dir. Georges Franju, 1949).

Blood of the Beasts.

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