Logline: After a car accident leaves his daughter horribly disfigured, a doctor takes horrifying, extreme measures to restore her face.
When Georges Franju’s highly influential and poetic masterwork Eyes Without a Face screened at the 1960 Edinburgh Film Festival, a reported seven audience members fainted. Franju slyly remarked, “Now I know why Scotsmen wear skirts.” The film is more shocking than anything in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which was released that same year.
Eyes Without a Face is essentially a tale of a helpless girl named Christiane and her evil father, who is a surgeon. This surgeon and his assistant are kidnapping young, beautiful women and removing their faces, attempting to graft the skin onto Christiane’s disfigured face. The film’s most shocking scene is undoubtedly, when the viewer is privy to the surgeon at work. He removes a woman’s face using a surgical knife and clamps. It is a long, intense, and uncomfortable scene that is bound to make you squirm. This scene, in particular, was butchered for American release.
At the heart of the film is a touching performance from Edith Scob as Christiane, who spends most of the film wearing a haunting, blank mask that makes only her eyes visible. One cannot help but empathize with Christiane’s loneliness and longing. When she finally lashes out at the end, it feels totally justified and well executed. One even gets a sense of the remorse that Christiane’s father feels for his actions, despite the fact that he will not let anything stop him.
Horror master John Carpenter has stated that the mask inspired Michael Myers’ featureless mask in Halloween. Pedro Almodóvar was inspired by the film when he made The Skin I Live In (2011) and the two films are very much linked in terms of their narrative and visual style. Then, of course, there is Billy Idol’s iconic pop tune “Eyes Without a Face,” which was inspired by the film. These are just a few examples of the film’s influence.
Eyes Without a Face is often regarded as the greatest French horror film of all time and for good reason. The film has a quiet beauty and its images are not easily forgotten. The gorgeous black and white cinematography adds to the film’s brooding atmosphere. Eyes Without a Classic is a horror classic that reminds us of the lengths individuals will go to restore physical beauty.
Rating (out of ****): ****