Saturday, May 23, 2009

Eyes Without a Face (a.k.a. Les Yeux sans Visage)

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but no matter how much I may enjoy gorefests and the over-the-top bloodiness of the best slasher movies, I will happily take a horror movie that emphasizes creepiness over blood any day of the week. That’s not to say that Eyes Without a Face has no gory moments (indeed, a couple shots are pretty extreme for a movie from 1959), but it does mostly focus on being one of the most unsettling and weird horror movies of its day.

The film is about a famous surgeon in the French countryside whose daughter’s face has been hopelessly ruined in a car crash, and so he becomes obsessed with kidnapping other young women and trying to surgically graft their faces onto his daughter. Clearly a man ahead of his time, as just recently have we had the world’s first successful face transplant. While he uses his first victim as a means of faking his daughter’s death, the police do eventually start noticing the disappearances of several young women in the area, all of whom seem to have recently been at the doctor’s clinic (way to keep attention away from yourself there, buddy). Additionally, he also finds he has to contend with his daughter, who is increasingly horrified at what is being done to all the young women, as well as to herself.

It’s always interesting to me how the French countryside can look so beautiful in so many movies, and yet look so grim and ghoulish whenever a horror movie is set there (Calvaire is another one where all of France seems to be a grim post-apocalyptic wasteland). Add to that the unsettling carnival music, and the constant sound of the doctor’s pack of dogs barking, and you’ve got a place that seems a wee bit less pleasant to live than, say, Manon des Sources.

I also enjoyed how plausible most of the film was – not only is there nothing at all supernatural about the plot, but it bears mentioning that quite a few of our major medical breakthroughs have indeed come from using people as complete guinea pigs. Sure, most of the time there wasn’t any outright kidnapping going on, but there hasn’t been any shortage of tests done on minorities or prisoners of war (or, in the case of the Japanese Imperial Army, all of China) – in short, any time someone was able to pretend someone else wasn’t a real person. This was a pretty dark subject matter for the 50s – or even today – and even if it doesn’t fully deal with the questions it raises, it still makes it one of the best horror movies out there, and one that it’s a shame almost nobody my age has seen.

Rating: *** ½

No comments: