Eyes Without a Face
Release Date(s)1960 (October 15, 2013)
Studio(s)Gaumont (Criterion - Spine #260)
Eyes Without a Face (titled Les yeux sans visage in its native France) is a 1960 horror film about a young girl whose face is tragically destroyed in a car accident and her obsessive father, Dr. Génessier, who will stop at nothing to restore her face to its former beauty.
The film was directed by George Franju, who also directed the disturbing but beautiful Blood of the Beasts, and later Judex, but also features cinematography by the great Eugen Schüfftan, who also photographed The Hustler. The film was originally seen by US audiences and marketed as a schlock film. It was re-edited, dubbed over in English and retitled The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus and released as a double feature with The Manster. It was mostly treated and critiqued as a cheap horror film, but as the film’s life grew through re-releases in either theaters or on home video, it acquired a much more respectable reputation. It also influenced a number of filmmakers and is seen as a classic of the genre today.
For me the film is like a bad dream of some sort. It feels that way at times, but it’s also a bit psychologically unsettling. We’ve seen these types of films with this subject matter, but none feel as poetic or as unsettling. The film features three great performances from Pierre Brasseur, Edith Scob and Alida Valli, all of whom carry a heavy burden ad characters in one way or another. The things that Dr. Génessier is doing to these poor young women are horrible, but at the same time you can sympathize with him. The score really helps in that capacity. It helps to leave a window of cynicism open with its macabre and circus-like quality. There’s a very ghastly moment in the film where the doctor removes a young girl’s face that’s very realistic (and still effective) that could play as overly horrific in a more serious film, but I think the tone set early on keeps it from reaching that level, and you’re better-equipped to handle it. It’s unsurprising that it influenced a number of filmmakers, musicians and writers. Combined with the score, the performances, the direction and the cinematography, the film is a masterpiece and will likely continue to influence filmmakers all over the world.
Criterion’s Blu-ray upgrade of Eyes Without a Face features a “new high-definition digital restoration” from the original 35mm camera negative in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Without question, this is definitely a step up from Criterion’s previous releases of the film, and more. The image is quite stable, film grain is healthy and even throughout, blacks are quite deep, contrast and brightness are excellent and image detail, sharpness and clarity are quite magnificent. I didn’t notice any major film defects or digital manipulation at all either. The soundtrack, which is the original French uncompressed mono, sports some surprising fidelity. Dialogue is clean and clear, as are the sound effects, but it’s the film’s score that really shines. It blends beautifully within without ever being overbearing, while at the same time boasting beautifully above everything else. It’s a very well-mixed soundtrack for sure, and the lossless quality makes it all the more better. There are subtitles in English, which seemed very accurate and easy to follow along with.
The film’s extras include the aforementioned Blood of the Beasts documentary (also digitally restored, and in HD); archival interviews with Franju himself; a new interview with actor Edith Scob; excerpts from Les grands-pères du crime, a 1985 documentary about the film with writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac; both the film’s French and US trailers (the latter of which is the double feature trailer for The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus and The Manster); and finally, a 20-page booklet with essays by novelist Patrick McGrath and film historian David Kalat. The only thing missing from the previous Criterion DVD release is a stills gallery, which I assume was jettisoned to leave more bit room for both the main feature and the documentary.
Eyes Without a Face is unquestionably a classic film. You can clearly see the influence it had on films much later, but for today’s audiences, it’s not as well-remembered as it should be. It’s more of an art house type of film now, which is a shame, because audiences, especially horror fans, should relish it as a well-made piece of horror. And with Criterion’s Blu-ray release of the film, that should be an easy thing to do.
- Tim Salmons