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Les Yeux Sans Visage (1959)

aka Eyes Without A Face
aka The Horror Chamber Of Dr Faustus
aka House Of Dr Rasanoff

Director: Georges Franju
Starring: Pierre Brasseur, Edith Scob, Alida Valli, Francois Guerin, Juliette Mayniel, Beatrice Altariba
Screenplay: Jean Redon, Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Pierre Gascar, Claude Sautet, based upon a novel by Jean Redon

Synopsis: At night, a woman throws the body of a dead girl into the river. In Paris, Professor Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) is lecturing on the new surgical technique of heterografting. After the lecture, Genessier finds the police waiting for him. He identifies the body as that of his missing daughter, Christiane, whose face was destroyed in a car accident, and who, he claims, drowned herself out of depression. At Christiane's funeral, the woman who disposed of the girl's body is revealed as Genessier's secretary/nurse/mistress, Louise (Alida Valli).

The two return to Genessier's house, where the real Christiane (Edith Scob) is waiting, her face hidden by a mask. Genessier, who caused the accident in which Christiane was injured, has become obsessed with using his heterografting technique to restore her face. He had his daughter declared dead to divert suspicion about the real dead girl, and to prevent Christiane's fiance, Jacques, who works with him, from finding out what he is doing. For his experiments, Genessier needs tissue donors. The first such experiment, using the girl buried in place of Christiane, was a failure. Louise, who has been devoted to Genessier since he restored her own damaged face, goes out to lure another girl to Genessier's house.

It seems for a time that the experiment has succeeded, but this graft is also rejected. The donor tries to escape, and is killed when she falls from a window. Christiane begs her father and Louise to stop their experiments, but Genessier's obsession has become a madness. Finally Christiane, too, is driven to the point of insanity.

Comment: A strange mixture of mystery and cold, clinical reality, Franju's Les Yeux Sans Visage may well be one of the most influential horror films ever made. Even as John Carpenter's eerie and not-particularly-bloody Halloween gave rise to the increasingly stupid and revolting slasher films of the eighties, Les Yeux Sans Visage spawned an entire sub-genre of medical horror films featuring mad doctors carrying out gruesome (and usually pointless) surgical experiments, kicking off with Jesus Franco's Gritos En La Noche (The Awful Dr Orloff), which was made the three years later and stole most of Franju's plot.  In that film and those that followed it, the surgical scenes are the raison d'etre; here, the scenes are repulsive but not at all gratuitous, being used to illustrate the depths to which Genessier's obsession has led him.

Pierre Brasseur gives an effective performance here, conveying the arrogance of a man whose inability to admit defeat leads ultimately to his daughter's madness and his own death. His behaviour in disposing of his second victim's body in the grave of his first, in brushing aside the father of a girl he has murdered, and above all in using his own daughter as an experimental animal, has a coldness and a brutality about it that is very disturbing.

As Louise, whose blind devotion to Genessier has made her an active party to kidnapping and murder, Alida Valli lends Brasseur strong support; but the film belongs to Edith Scob, who gives an extraordinary performance as Christiane almost entirely through the power of her body language. Only once do we see Christiane's "normal" face (and even then there's something creepy about it), yet Scob manages to convey all of Christiane's misery and pain and her conflicting feelings about her part in her father's activities.

The scenes of Christiane drifting about the enormous house, and particularly the film's final sequence, have a chilly beauty that is comparable in many ways to parts of Jean Cocteau's stunning La Belle Et La Bete (1946). Much of the credit must go to cinematographer Eugen Schufftan. The terse, understated script was very much a joint effort. Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac are best known as the authors of the novels on which Clouzet's Les Diaboliques (1954) and Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) are based. Claude Sautet was also a director.

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB