From the mask worn by Michael Myers in the Halloween franchise to Pedro Almodóvar’s sublime The Skin I Live In, the influence of Georges Franju’s horror classic Eyes Without A Face looms large, more than half a century since its release. Ostensibly a mad-scientist fairytale, cast with a surrealist’s gaze, it relies heavily on mood, right from the opening scenes, as Alida Valli’s character Louise drives through a deserted Paris, looking for a place to dump an inert corpse.
This comes as the result of the latest experimental failure by Professor Génessier (Pierre Brasseur), a noted plastic surgeon desperate to restore the face of his daughter Christiane (Edith Scob), scarred after a car accident. In his isolated mansion, where Christiane hides in the shadows, her eyes peeping through a plastic mask that covers her disfigurement, he practises the art of transferring living tissue from one subject to another, courtesy of the kidnapped victims his assistant Louise brings him.
With the black-and-white photography and oblique camera angles borrowed straight from film noir, Franju keeps in mind the very real horrors of mid-20th-Century Europe – it’s no real stretch to imagine Génessier as a Nazi scientist. Yet as much as it looks back, Franju’s film also looks forward; like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, produced the same year, it’s a bona fide forefather of the modern-day serial-killer movie.
Still, it’s a movie rooted in emotion, not exploitation: a telling portrait of a father driven mad by guilt, delivered by Franju with surgical precision.
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