Reely Bernie Horror Fest: Eyes Without a Face – 1960

Origin/Director: France/Georges Franju

Viewings Tally: This was my first viewing! I wanted to include at least one black and white classic that also happened to be an international hit.

Synopsis: Dr. Genessier is riddled with guilt after an accident that he caused disfigures the face of his daughter, the once beautiful Christiane, who outsiders believe is dead. Dr. Genessier, along with accomplice and laboratory assistant Louise, kidnaps young women and brings them to the Grenessier mansion. After rendering victims unconscious, Dr. Genessier removes their faces and attempts to graft them on to Christiane’s. [Letterboxd]

Reely Bernie’s Take: With a plot more terrifying than its cinematic execution, Eyes Without A Face is a tame ride but a worthwhile one, nonetheless. A postmodern eye needs to look past the primitive pencil-to-scalpel scene and embrace the themes of cosmetic superficiality and transience of beauty to experience its horrific subtleties. In a way, it is the Frankenstein story set in the French, 1960s suburbs as Dr. Genessier’s ego for creation exploits itself and its own creation. Madness and obsession soon follow.

France at this time was exploding with New Wave filmmaking explorations and iconoclasm, but there is not a trace of this in Eyes Without A Face. One wonders if a dash of unconventional narrative would have made this a bit spookier and ambiguous. Like Diabolique (1955), Eyes Without A Face follows standard thriller procedure but with a less satisfying conclusion. At least it knows how to frame its haunting images of Christiane in the infamous white mask and build brooding tension at the halfway point.

As per usual, I enjoyed the minimalist effects: The constant dogs barking in the background allude to a highly protected, inescapable mansion property, and the sick reality is that the dogs can’t escape either. Also, the pristine black and white photography by Eugen Schufftan cuts through each character’s facial expression – both hidden and overt – like a knife through a blank coloring book (not sure if that pun worked, but I had to try).

“Release the hounds!”

This is not the obvious, in-your-face (pun intended) kind of horror film we see today. Eyes Without A Face is subtle, dated, but effective in portraying man’s obsession with image, perfection, and the temptations of what once was. If you can jeer off the abrasive, carnival-esque organ score and hit play with no technological distractions, you may get a chill or two watching Dr. Genessier’s creation unravel literally and metaphorically.

The Shot that Won’t Let Go:

This sequence of facial deterioration plays like a precursor to The Fly (1986)

Final Score: 3 Curb Your Enthusiasm Theme rip-offs out of 5 (of course, Eyes Without A Face came first, so I guess this doesn’t make sense, but, wow, they sound so similar!)

Have you seen this classic? Any thoughts?

Thanks for reading,

Reely Bernie

17 thoughts on “Reely Bernie Horror Fest: Eyes Without a Face – 1960

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    1. Hey, thanks, Damien! That means a lot from a seasoned expert like you! Thank you for visiting and reading and HAPPY HALLOWEEN! It’s coming so fast! FULL MOON!

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  1. This is one of my favorite horror films of its time. It doesn’t seem all that “scary”, and it really isn’t that. It’s more about a chilling atmosphere and the tragic feel. Those horror films are usually my favorite; a bigger focus on atmospheric dread, less on gory murders and ghouls jumping in your fucking face.

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  2. I saw this at least 10 years ago on Turner Classic Movies, and boy how Georges Franju was ahead of his time, and a revolutionary to boot in what he was willing to push, especially that surgery scene. The film just oozes haunting atmosphere, poetic ambience, and of course Poe style tragedy. It truly is Poe Gothic put into film and paint canvas form.

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    1. Thank you so much for your input/experience with this classic. That’s just it: How was the reaction at the time of its release? According to you, it was ahead of its time, so I can imagine the initial jaw drops and horror! (We’ve, well, I’VE become to desensitized to these movies maybe because I’ve seen so many.) Your descriptor of “Poe Gothic” is spot on! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this movie and thanks for reading!

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  3. I liked it…the black and white adds to this. Some movies should only be in black and white. Heck some tv shows should only be in black and white…imagine the Twilight Zone in color. This one is creepy. I feel so sorry for her and for the victims…I knew I remembered the dogs…when you mentioned it that is what I thought of.

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