Man, 1960 was quite the year for horror cinema. In England, you had Peeping Tom and Village of the Damned. In America, Psycho (as well as a personal favorite, House of Usher). In Italy, Black Sunday. In Japan, Jigoku. In France, Eyes Without a Face.
Yes, Eyes Without a Face deserves to be here with the rest of these. While it does feature your tried and true mad scientist story, it portrays fully formed characters far beyond the schlock stereotypes so often found in the genre. It’s also an interesting step forward in gore films, with a scene in which our mad scientist surgically degloves a woman’s face. While skinning and the like had been done in horror film before this (the earliest example I know of is 1934’s The Black Cat, though a human is vivisected in 1932’s The Island of Lost Souls), it generally was not shown on camera. Eyes Without a Face does not hold back in this regard, forcing you to watch as the mad scientist character Dr. Génessier first slices away and then peels back the skin of a woman with practiced precision. It almost becomes a medical drama in how clinically he performs the task.
Why? Because he is attempting a skin grafting operation for his daughter, whose face was disfigured in a car accident that he caused due to his hubris. To save her face, the doc and his assistant begin abducting women and removing their skin. Unfortunately for them, daughter Christiane Génessier has been through the emotional wringer and not come out the other side unphased from her grief, isolation, and despair. While she is forced to wear a mask for the majority of the film, her eyes successfully convey her torment. When she does receive a new face transplant, it then necrotizes over a series of slides and must come off, trapping her in her disfigurement once again.
Eyes Without a Face is a movie about pride, about isolation and despair in the wake of tragedy, and about the horrors we’ll commit for the ones we love. It’s unfortunate that the victim is the one forced to wear the mask and literally put on a brave face, but there is an element of reality there too. We hurt the ones we love. I highly recommend it to any horror fans who have not seen it.
Plus, watching someone’s face rot off is just plain nasty.