Not enough anesthetic is a very bad thing...
1960 was a banner year for all-too-human cinematic horrors, what with being the year that unleashed both PSYCHO and PEEPING TOM onto the world's screens, but there's an equally-excellent and disturbing work from the same year that very unfairly gets overlooked in the deep shadows cast by its contemporaries. The French-Italian LES YEUX SANS VISAGE ("Eyes Without A Face") hit the States in a dubbed version as THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DOCTOR FAUSTUS two years after its initial release and I have no idea how it was received here at the time or if the version released in the U.S. suffered under the censor's shears, but I suspect its fusion of what were then hardcore shocks with a distinctly Gallic sensibility and visual lyricism may have left most American audiences asking "What the fuck did I just see?" Nonetheless, the film has since gone on to rightly be considered a classic, and it is a sheer delight for both fans of the genre and the casual thrill-seeker.
The film chronicles the efforts of the brilliant-but-clearly-insane Doctor Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) to restore the visage of his daughter, Christine (Edith Scob), whose face was mutilated in a car accident caused by her father. A pioneer in advanced surgical and grafting techniques, the doctor will stop at nothing to provide his daughter with a new face, even if it means coldly kidnapping and murdering innocent young women and depriving them of their features. Meanwhile, a depressed and despairing Christine must wear a disturbing featureless mask to hide her disfigurement between her father's attempts at finding a stolen face that will "take," occasionally making silent phone calls to her fiancé, Jacques (Francois Guerin), who thinks Christine is dead.
The haunting masked face of the tragic Christine (Edith Scob).
Following failed attempts at transplanting stolen faces — the tissue eventually degrades, despite Génessier's medical wizardry — the doctor sets his sights on Paulette (Beatrice Altariba), a woman who checks into the doctor's clinic after being coerced by the authorities following an arrest for shoplifting. Paulette has characteristics right in line with those of the murdered women, so the police figure she'd make the perfect bait for luring out the serial mutilator/murderer...
A solid creeper from start to finish, LES YEUX SANS VISAGE melds lurid murder fiction with classy execution and a genuine air of sadness in its proceedings, along with a great moment of surgical gross-out that must have been exceedingly shocking some fifty-four years ago. (Hell, when factored into the creepiness built up by the film up to that point in the story, it's still a very potent image!)
A vile act of thievery and an utter violation of the Hippocratic oath.
There are few horrors that resonate as strongly as the medical/surgical variety, thanks to doctors and surgeons being figures in whom we are supposed to place our trust without reservation, so there is literally no hope whatsoever when one of those supposed healers makes a move to the Dark Side. Génessier's crimes are executed with a chilling dispassion that perfectly plays off of his daughter's soul-deep misery, and while one can easily understand his motivations, his actions are sickening on an all-too-relatable level. Once he has stolen what he needs from his victims, they are discarded as casually as one would throw away a snotty Kleenex, an ignominious end to vibrant, potential-filled young lives.
A strongly scripted, believably acted, and visually poetic top-shelf effort all the way, LES YEUX SANS VISAGE is right at the top of this year's 31 Days entries as a must see for anyone who's taken the time to read this post. When it comes to psycho doctor movies, this is one of the all-time masterpieces.
Poster from the original theatrical release.