Halloween Endurance Test: Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Director Georges Franju (Blood of the Beasts) was tasked with creating a French horror sensibility when he signed on for Eyes Without a Face.
The script was written by the same team who had wrote (the classic) Diabolique; this time telling a tale of a scientist/doctor who’s sole ambition is to cure his daughter of the horrible burns he (accidentally) gave her. The burns leave her wearing an expressionless mask, and him murdering nubile, young women to transplant their faces onto hers.
First things first, building a French horror industry from stretch is no small order. For your film not only has to play at home (France), but also in all the neighboring kingdoms (i.e. England and Germany). Neighbors that each have peculiar censor requirements.
The English wouldn’t allow films depicting cruelty to animals into the country; a tall order when the film’s antagonist the doctor tests his medical procedures on the dogs in his kennel. The Germans had no problems with animals, but would prefer not to see any “mad scientists;” as they had recently had their own problem with them (see WWII). And the French, well the French wanted horror, but please leave out the blood; ‘cuz that’s just too horrific.
The film itself brings immediate Halloween connotations. Since he couldn’t show any gore, Franju utilized an expressionless mask to hide the daughter’s face. Watching her blank, doll-face run around the mansion eerily evokes a Mike Myers who was still 20 years in the future.
Franju is quite vocal about his style, which operates on the borderline between mundane reality wild fantasy. The reveal is the money-shot, a normal surgical procedure until the doctor and nurse take forceps and lift the girl’s face off. A masterful shot, the lifting visage obscuring the bloody skull left behind until the last instant.
Most interesting, the cops fail to stop the mad doctor, and instead, it’s his own daughter that brings him down. Freeing his last victim from the surgical ward confines and then letting the dogs loose on him. Frankly, if it wasn’t for that last victim being a police plant, there’d be no reason for them at all in this movie.