Les Yeux sans Visage

Georges Franju, France, 1959, 90 minutes

One of the greatest horror films ever made, and also one of the most bizarre. Franjus's haunting direction combines realism and fantasy, poetry and polemics, and savagery and tenderness to unique effect, creating a surreal nightmarelike vision, and a superb study in obsession.

The plot is grotesque and incredible. A mad professor feels guilty for having mutilated his daughter's face in a car accident, so he takes to murdering young girls and grafting their faces on to his daughter's. In terms of visceral impact, this film can claim, along with Psycho, co-paternity of the splatter genre, but the horrific side of the film is counter-balanced with Franju's portrait of tenderness and love. The doctor's sadism is born out of undying love, and the girl's final act of murderous catharsis is caused by her sympathy for her father's victims.

The film owes much to Cocteau, who had said, "the more you touch on mystery, the more important it is to be realistic", and in this manner, Franju injects a cold insistent realism into his poetic fantasy. His love of silent films is also evident in the elegance of his images. The sheer magic of the imagery is most memorable when the daughter drifts through the house in a waxen mask of eerie beauty, and especially in the extraordinary final sequence. Lit by an incandescent flame of beauty, terror and madness, the victim turns on the torturer, looses the dogs on her vivisectionist father, and wanders free through the night, her mask discarded but her face seen only by the dogs at her feet and the dove on her shoulder.

This is an astounding film. Its sheer cinematic force is immeasurable, and I strongly urge you to see it.

Review by Mark Radice
Taken from EUFS Programme 1994-95