Sunday, October 31, 2004

DVD: Eyes Without A Face (1960)

Titles mean everything in show business. As THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DR. FAUSTUS, Georges Franju’s graceful chiller was double-billed with THE MANSTER. As LES YEUX SANS VISAGE, it gets the full Criterion treatment. And deserves it, because you won’t find better Halloween entertainment.

Franju takes the most lurid horror movie premise – a surgeon kidnaps young women, removes the skin from their faces, and grafts it onto the daughter he accidentally disfigured – and infuses it with elegiac beauty. He then tosses that poetry out the window for a gruesome O.R. sequence right out of EXTREME MAKEOVER that culminates in one of the most disturbing shots in cinema. Edith Scob drifts wraithlike through her father’s home, her ruined face concealed beneath an angelic mask. It’s a Cocteau film directed by Hitchcock with an injection of Hershell Gordon Lewis, and it’s consistently riveting.

The DVD is all treats and no tricks. In a 1982 interview from what looks like the Gallic version of “Creature Feature,” Franju explains that he was told to make a horror movie with no blood, which would upset French censors; no animal torture, to appease English censors; and no mad scientists, so as not to stir up any bad memories for the Germans. There’s a feature on the film’s screenwriters, the team of Boileau-Narcejac, whose novels have been the basis for so many legendary thrillers (DIABOLIQUE, VERTIGO).

But the real treasure is Franju’s 1949 short “Blood of the Beasts,” an expressionistic look at the abattoirs of Paris. It combines dreamlike imagery with staggeringly graphic footage of animals being butchered, in a way that prefigures Franju’s approach to EYES WITHOUT A FACE. It’s a haunting piece of filmmaking that many will find deeply disturbing – so naturally, I’m thrilled that it’s available to the public again.