Pale Gaze: the Postwar Medical Horror of EYES WITHOUT A FACE


A version of this article originally appeared in issue 23 of Diabolique Magazine, March/May 2015.

If you were a horror fan in 1962, chances are you may have pulled into the Drive-In for a double feature being advertised as the “Mature Horror Show!”  Sharing the bill with The Manster, a largely forgotten US-Japan co-production about a half-man half-monster with two heads, was The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, an eerie, atmospheric slow-burner of a fright film which posters claimed had “a ghastly elegance that suggests Tennessee Williams,” and which was “worthy of the great horror classics of our time.”  What you would have actually been seeing was a recut and English-dubbed version of Eyes Without a Face, a peculiar French import which had caused quite a stir when it premiered in Paris two years earlier.  Though now regarded as an overlooked classic, in 1960 Georges Franju’s lyrical and unsettling masterpiece was largely written off by critics as a pale pastiche of German Expressionism and Cocteau-inspired fabulism.  The tale of an emotionally unstable doctor’s efforts to help his disfigured daughter received decidedly mixed reviews in France, but had gained notoriety for an extended operation sequence which was so graphic that it reportedly caused several audience members to faint and countless others to leave the theatre when it screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival.  Franju, who was no stranger to unseemly subject matter, quipped, “Now I know why Scotsmen wear skirts.”

The scene in question, which depicts the removal and transplant of one woman’s face onto the head of another, was not only exceptionally graphic for its time, but unfolded slowly and methodically with clinical precision, creating tension through protracted closeups of every step of the procedure.  The content, as well as the presentation, was unprecedented in 1960.  Though the gore is tame by today’s standards, Eyes Without a Face maintains its ability to disturb the viewer thanks to its precise and masterful control of pace and tone, its lush and evocative black and white cinematography, and its cunning subversion of the common mad scientist narrative.  Franju, attmepting to lend respectability to a genre which was often unfairly maligned in his home country, wove binaries like man/woman and science/nature into a rich, complex, and nuanced tapestry of moral ambiguity which still raises difficult questions for viewers today.  Eyes Without a Face explores guilt, grief, gender, and power, all through the relationship of doctor and patient, of a father and his daughter.  But what is it about the medical profession (besides the preponderance of sharp objects) which makes it so perennially ripe for horror?

By and large, the public is accepting and supportive of the medical profession.  A patient may have quibbles regarding a particular physician’s bedside manner or seemingly perpetual tardiness, but will generally accept some degree of beleaguerment as endemic to the profession.  Often writers will editorialize about the monetization of a person’s health, bemoaning profit driven Big Pharma or, if they are less myopic, the greater capitalist rubric which propagates, if not necessitates, the reduction of the indisposed to a bottom line.  There will be a tired quip about sports cars and tee times, perhaps a flippant remark about penmanship.  But by and large, when in the throes of disease, most of us willingly plunk down our twenty dollar copay to see a doctor whom we hope, if not believe, genuinely wants to steer us toward health.

Disregarding specific cases of malpractice, whether motivated or negligent, mass public dissent generally arises only when science dares trammel upon that which is deemed God’s domain.  The pious of multiple denominations often view science as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, trespassing upon hallowed ground and plucking from the proverbial tree of knowledge; their ire is drawn when modern medicine infringes upon what they consider the natural order, the cycle of birth and death preordained from the heavens, the flickering candle of life which is to be ignited and extinguished only by God’s will.  The debate is most pronounced when lives are explicitly at stake: the public opposition to highly visible right-to-die crusaders such as minister-turned-agnostic Gerald Larue and the unfairly maligned (and convicted) Dr. Jack Kevorkian is illustrative, as are the instances of picketing, protesting, and sometimes even bombing which besiege abortion clinics across the nation.

Perhaps even more significant than these extreme cases, however, is the hostility directed toward vaccination and stem cell research.  Fundamentalist Christian sects which promote faith healing, the Luddite Amish, and Muslims who cite socio-political factors for their refusal all eschew vaccinations on religious rather than purely medical grounds.  Despite growing acceptance, many Christian denominations as well as some Buddhist scholars additionally remain opposed to stem cell research, particularly in the case of embryonic testing, often citing the same pro-life compunctions by which they oppose abortion.  Whether founded or not, these misgivings make clear the dilemma faced by all medical practitioners, regardless of altruistic intent: morality, rather than the clear demarcation of right and wrong which some believe it to be, is in fact a fluid and relative scale which can be manipulated to favor one’s agenda in spite of more widely accepted ethical mores.

This moral grey area, especially when considered in light of Lord John Dalberg-Acton’s famous axiom that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” adds resonance to one of the most enduring tropes of horror literature and filmmaking, that of the mad doctor or scientist.  One of the greatest, most haunting and poetic examples of this subgenre is certainly the motion picture in question: Georges Franju’s masterpiece Eyes Without a Face.  Originally released in France in 1960, at the tail end of the New Wave, the film was adrift upon arrival.  Though France already had a rich history of surreal and fantastic cinema, such as that of Georges Méliès, Luis Buñuel, and Jean Cocteau, they were slow to embrace the horror genre, which had already graduated from nascence to widespread acceptance in other countries.  Germany, as home to the Expressionist movement, possessed the richest history of cinematic horror, having provided such early classics as Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1920 and F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu two years later.  Universal Studios, meanwhile, produced popular adaptations of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) which prefigured their massive success throughout the 1930s and 1940s with the Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, and Wolfman films.  By the 1950s, England too had a distinct voice in cinematic horror thanks to Hammer Film Productions which made Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee into household names.

France however, widely considered the home of film criticism, looked down upon horror as a lowly genre of little, if any, artistic merit and many of its critics wondered why a respected filmmaker such as Franju would debase himself by entering such an insipid milieu.  Even before Franju began making films, he was an important figure in French cinema.  Born in 1912, Franju met and befriended Henry Langlois with whom he founded cinema clubs and published journals throughout the 1930s and 1940s, raising the profile of world cinema. Among the young cineastes whom he inspired were François Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard, who would go on to promote the auteur theory in their own journal “Cahiers du Cinéma” and to spearhead the influential French New Wave movement of the late 1950s.  The most significant of Franju and Langlois’ enterprises was the Cinémathèque Français, which remains to this day one of the largest collections of films and film-related resources in the world.

Franju began making his own short films in 1948 and received instant notoriety for Blood of the Beasts, a twenty minute black and white documentary which graphically depicts the slaughter of cows, horses, and sheep in a Paris abattoir.  Beyond the sensationalism of its content, Blood of the Beasts is noteworthy for its surreal juxtaposition of systematic violence with scenes of lyrical idyll, a technique he would he would recycle twelve years later on Eyes Without a Face.  Based upon a novel by Jean Redon, Franju and his assistant director Claude Sautet wrote the screenplay for Eyes Without a Face with Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, whose novels had inspired both the 1955 French thriller Les Diaboliques and Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo from 1958.  Producer Jules Borkon had acquired the rights to Redon’s novel to compete with the profitable horror films being produced in England and America and offered the project to Franju.  Unlike many of his contemporaries, Franju had no reservations about working in the horror genre, having been an admirer of the fantastique cinema of Méliès, Buñuel, and Murnau and writing at length about Fritz Lang.  Notably, Franju dedicated the first meeting of his Cercle du Cinéma club to screening and discussing horror films and would go on to remake Judex by Fantômas filmmaker Louis Feuillade three years after Eyes Without a Face.

Whereas most French filmmakers at the time would have balked at working in the disreputable realm of horror, Franju welcomed the chance to lend respectability to an unfairly maligned genre, and the limitations imposed upon him became aesthetic virtues.  The protagonist of Eyes Without a Face is Doctor Génessier (Pierre Brasseur), a renowned surgeon whose most recent fame has come from a new technique for skin transplantation called the heterograft.  To the public, he has had some success with minor grafts from one dog to another, but in private he has been experimenting on human flesh in order to restore the face of his daughter Christiane (Franju’s muse Édith Scob) who was badly maimed in a car accident for which Génessier was responsible.  Génessier’s assistant Louise (Alida Valli, of Suspiria and Inferno) has had her own face repaired by Génessier and demonstrates her gratitude through unflagging loyalty, which includes abducting girls for Génessier’s experiments and disposing of their bodies when surgical complications prove fatal.

Though eager to jump into the increasingly graphic horror game, Borkon was acutely aware of the concessions his film would have to make to censors and issued Franju three restrictions tailored to the film’s prospective markets: limit the amount of bloodshed to appease the French censors; avoid depictions of animal cruelty to not upset the British; and steer clear of the mad scientist stereotype, about which the Germans remain understandably touchy.  Rather than bemoan the futility of constructing a film in which the three main elements must be suppressed, Franju focused on the atmospherics and, with his co-writers, foregrounded the character of Christiane, whose eerily blank, masked visage infuses the entire film with an off-kilter and vaguely unsettling aura.  The opacity and immobility of her expression keeps Christiane perpetually at arm’s length, even as we want to sympathize with the burdened victim.  Franju, who cast Scob in several of his films, often remarked that her ethereal quality was an inviolable factor in the success of their collaborations, and in Eyes Without a Face, her delicate, fragile beauty, coupled with her rigid movements and oversized dresses, reminds the viewer of nothing less than a life-sized doll, oftentimes crumpled upon a chair or a chaise as if absentmindedly tossed aside, with vacant eyes peering ever outward from an alabaster face.  Even more so than the film’s infamous skin removal scene (which, at six minutes, tested the permissiveness of censors with its gory clinical frankness), Scob’s performance is Eyes Without a Face’s masterstroke.

In a 1983 interview with Sight and Sound, Franju declared that “melodrama is utter hypocrisy,” since if “we want to protect the unfortunate heroine, we must first want her to be unfortunate,” and it is undeniably true that much of Eyes Without a Face’s power to both entrance and unsettle comes from the indelible and iconic image of Scob seemingly floating through Génessier’s villa like an unquiet spirit, one step removed from both life and death, her fate resting uneasily in the hands of her brilliant but misguided father.  What really makes the images stick, however, is the sly manner in which Franju ultimately makes Christiane the most fortified and effectual character in the film, one of the many ways in which Eyes Without a Face upends and subverts genre conventions and, consequently, audience expectations.

In addition to the narrative conventions of horror, Franju borrows liberally from the visual and thematic aesthetics of German Expressionism, Film Noir, and the dreamlike narratives of Jean Cocteau, who would subsequently become one of Eyes Without a Face’s few contemporary supporters.  The mix of styles results in a cinematic alchemy that was wholly unique at its time and remains to this day difficult to categorize.  Franju himself preferred to call it “an anguish film,” stressing that its focus on medical verisimilitude, its ambiguous approach to morality, and its psychological tug of war create “a quieter mood than horror, something more subjacent, more internal, more penetrating.  It’s horror in homeopathic doses.”

Most markedly in contrast to the typical thriller or horror film is Franju’s backgrounding of both the murders themselves and the police’s subsequent investigation.  Discounting Génessier’s and Louise’s own unfortunate fates at the film’s end, there are only two murders, neither of which is depicted on screen.  The first precedes the events of the film, which opens with Louise nervously disposing of the first victim’s body, and the second occurs off camera.  Additionally, neither death is actually a “murder” in the true sense of the word.  The first victim dies from complications resulting from an unsuccessful attempt at a heterograft for Christiane.  Edna (Juliette Mayniel), the second victim, survives the operation but later falls to her death from an open window while attempting to escape Génessier’s villa.  Génessier, who acts out of guilt for having caused the accident which injured Christiane, in fact expresses remorse and anguish over the lengths to which he must go in order to restore his daughter’s face — “I’ve done so much wrong to perform this miracle” — making it difficult to reduce his actions to those of a violent sociopath.  Tellingly, when the film was first released in America (in its abridged and redubbed form as The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus), a brief scene of Dr. Génessier tending to a sickly young boy was omitted; though possibly cut for being superfluous to the primary narrative, its omission is more likely due to censors’ unease with the villainous doctor being depicted in a sympathetic light.

Whereas almost all of the violence which surrounds Génessier can be considered incidental, a regrettable ancillary to his arguably noble, if misguided, goal of atoning for and reversing the harm inflicted upon his daughter, it is Christiane who commits the most decisive and pointedly violent actions in the film.  Though the second heterograft initially appears to be a success, Christiane’s body begins to reject its new face, depicted in a blunt, bravura sequence of still frames which document the rapid deterioration of Christiane’s counterfeit countenance.  The clinical sobriety of the images — harshly lit closeups which resemble mug shots — is matched by Génessier’s dry and detached voiceover in which he recites medical jargon with all the warmth and candor of a lab report.  The scene works narratively as a tight condensation of time and action, but also thematically, as it reduces Christiane to a specimen, an object of study whose own emotional stake is overlooked in favor of statistics.  Génessier presses on with his research, but the false promise of the short lived heterograft is Christiane’s breaking point and the third act of the film sees her reclaiming control of her destiny and breaking the cycle of violence and suffering initiated by her father’s actions.

Génessier’s third victim is actually a plant sent to his clinic by the police to assuage the suspicions of Christiane’s grieving fiancé Jacques (François Guérin).  Believing that Christiane is still alive, Jacques visits the officers investigating the disappearances of Christiane and Génessier’s two victims.  The officers assure Jacques that all of their evidence only points down dead ends, but one detail sticks out: the description of a person with whom Edna was seen — a handsome woman wearing a pearl choker — matches that of Louise, who wears the necklace at all times to conceal the scar from the reconstructive surgery Génessier performed on her own damaged face several years prior.  The police agree to send a girl, Paulette (Béatrice Altariba), to Génessier’s clinic as bait.  Génessier bites, but is wise enough to do so only after she has been discharged from the clinic, sending Louise to pick her up as she walks to catch the Paris-bound bus.

The police come to question Génessier about Paulette, but leave satisfied when his secretary tenders proof of Paulette’s discharge.  Meanwhile, in a hidden laboratory beneath her father’s clinic, Christiane capitalizes on the diversion, using a scalpel to cut Paulette free from the operating table, allowing her to escape the villa more successfully than her predecessors.  Christiane later turns the blade fatally upon Louise, plunging it into her neck and reopening the wounds which Génessier had gone to such great lengths to repair.  As the life drains from Louise’s body, Christiane moves into the adjacent kennel, where she frees the caged dogs on which Génessier has practiced his heterograft technique.  Finally, she releases the white doves which encircle her in the film’s haunting final image, that of Christiane stepping past the dead body of her father, mauled by his dogs, and into the darkness — and uncertainty — of the forest.

Franju himself has indicated that the image of the doves around and upon Christiane is representative of her madness, and Stefanos Geroulanos writing about the film has likened her sudden and swift retaliatory assault to the transformation of “a figure of pain haunting the rational father’s circumstance” into an unbridled “fury at his failure.”  There is, however, a deeper current of association between Christiane and the doves which hints at a greater overarching theme in the film, that of the inefficacy of manmade institutions and the threat of technology.  From the doves perched upon her hand in a portrait commissioned before her accident to those confined to a cage in the corner of her bedroom, Christiane is aligned visually with the elegant birds well before the film’s denouement — indeed, from her very first appearance on screen and throughout the ensuing drama.  Christiane is herself a caged bird, a creature of purity and innocence who has had those very attributes stolen by forces beyond her control, forces which, significantly, represent technology and man’s efforts to overcome his limitations within the natural order: the automobile and medical science.

It may seem curious and perhaps contradictory to associate Christiane — who is responsible for no less than half of the deaths in the film and, pointedly, for those which were motivated and intentional — with purity and innocence, but through her homology with the doves and scenes implying a sympathetic and compassionate relationship with the dogs mistreated by her father, it becomes clear that Christiane and Génessier represent the binary relationship of nature versus science and, by extension, innocence versus knowledge.  What makes the juxtaposition particularly subtle and affecting is that Brasseur’s excellent performance as Génessier is never pitched toward the histrionic extremes of a Doctor Frankenstein.  Still, that prototypical mad scientist’s proclamation that, “Now I know what it feels like to be God,” is clearly echoed throughout Eyes Without a Face.

Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn, a general practitioner who wrote extensively throughout the 1970s and 1980s about abuses and injustices in the medical profession, was openly critical of what he saw as a God complex inherent in the practice.  In Male Practice: How Doctors Manipulate Women, he wrote that, “During eight to ten years of medical education and training, doctors are taught how to make you believe they are God,” and that many fall victim to the hubristic belief that they are superior to the natural law.  He continued, “I’ve seen a lot of surgery performed because surgeons believe that God blundered mightily when He created the human physique.  You’re supposed to regard it as providential that they’re around to repair God’s mistakes.”  Dr. Frankenstein made explicit that his goals were not mere reanimation, but animation of the inanimate; his wish was not to fix God’s mistakes but to replace God himself.  Génessier’s aims are, by comparison, more modest and more conceivable.  When he rhetorically asks, “Is not the greatest of man’s new hopes that of physical rejuvenation?” it is easy to picture a dedicated man of science and compassion who wishes to salve rather than inflict the pain of loss.  He wishes not to fix God’s mistakes — Génessier’s own actions are the provenance of his family’s misfortune — but he does nonetheless spite His will.

To everyone besides Génessier and Louise, Christiane is literally dead; after the body of his first victim was discovered, Génessier erroneously identified it as Christiane’s to deflect attention (and suspicion) from his own (presumed) missing daughter.  To Christiane herself, she is figuratively dead, dispossessed of both a face and an identity, in a kind of purgatory between existence and nonexistence.  In this regard, Génessier’s attempts to restore his daughter’s face are akin to Jesus’s raising of Lazarus from the dead.  The religious overtones are subtly enforced by the careful choice of words by Franju and his screenwriters: Génessier refers to the short lived success of the second surgery as a “miracle,” and Louise assures Génessier that Christiane “is happy this time.  She has faith.”  Unlike Lazarus, however, whose resurrection is public, Christiane’s rejuvenation is a private affair, and a return to public life for her would entail a rebirth rather than a restoration.  This is not a simple matter of semantics; the subtle yet profound tension between the two is evident in the vague contradiction in Génessier’s assertion that with her reconstituted face, Christiane “can start life all over again.”  It is impossible for Christiane to simply embark upon a new life, but neither can she pick up where she left off.  With or without her face, she is damned to perdition.

One of the first and most noteworthy works of art to express caution and skepticism about the increasing prowess of the medical profession was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birth-Mark.”  The short story, first published in 1846, concerns Aylmer, a successful doctor who becomes obsessed by a small birthmark on his young wife’s cheek.  Because Georgiana is otherwise beautiful, having come “so nearly perfect from the hand of Nature,” Aylmer fixates upon and is repulsed by the blemish, “the visible mark of earthly imperfection.”  Hawthorne, who distrusted organized religion but whose writings often contained a spiritual element, continued: “It was the fatal flaw of humanity, which Nature, in one shape or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her productions, either to imply they are temporary and finite, or that their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain.”  Aylmer convinces Georgiana to submit to the surgical removal of the birthmark, and her anguished exhortation to her husband — “While this hateful mark makes me the object of your horror and disgust, life is a burthen which I would fling down with joy,” — neatly encapsulates Christiane’s unspoken torment.

Hawthorne, like his Transcendentalist brethren Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, believed strongly in the inherent purity and rightness of Nature and “The Birth-Mark” cautions mankind against presuming superiority over Her grand design.  To apply the Judeo-Christian terminology we have utilized thus far (and which Hawthorne cunningly avoids in favor of broader spiritual terms), Aylmer’s folly — like Génessier’s — is his eagerness to step into God’s shoes.  The operation to remove her birthmark costs Georgiana her life, a fate foreshadowed by a dream of Aylmer’s in which he discovers the crimson trail of Georgiana’s hand-shaped blemish reaches all the way down into her heart.  The imagery is evocative in several interconnected ways.  First, in that our imperfections are in fact the “handprint” of God/Nature; second, that these variegated idiosyncrasies which offend our myopic sense of untarnished, symmetrical beauty are, as it were, “at the heart” of what makes us human; and third, that mankind is unable to comprehend the vastness of God’s/Nature’s design just as Aylmer is unable to view the subdermal infrastructure of Georgiana’s birthmark, a totality which comprises a greater and more holistic harmony than the superficial accord which he believes it to have besmirched.

Elsewhere in his piece on Eyes Without a Face, Geroulanos also draws attention to the face as evidence of God’s hand.  Citing works by Emmanuel Levinas, Roland Barthes, and Henri de Lubac, who declared that the human face is “illuminated by a divine ray,” Geroulanos writes that man’s visage is “an imprint of God,” and a “transparent guarantee” of “God’s grace.”  In no uncertain terms, then, he aligns Eyes Without a Face with one of “The Birth-Mark”’s central conceits.  More significantly, however, his central thesis — that Eyes Without a Face is a metaphor for France’s own post-war reconstruction — indirectly illuminates a particularly relevant subtext of Hawthorne’s work: that of moral relativity.  Eugenics, the lynchpin of the Nazi ideology, is an extreme example of not only science’s attempt to rewrite the laws of nature, but also of the puerile notion that man, in his imperfection, could conceive of or create something of universally accepted perfection.

Génessier is of course miles removed from a Josef Mengele — he does not set out to exterminate, nor is there any flawed hierarchical social ideology fueling his research and experimentation.  Films such as the Adolf Hitler psuedo-biopic Max and the recent Heinrich Himmler documentary The Decent One attempt to humanize the inhuman by respectively contextualizing and contradicting the generally accepted portraits of unfettered evil.  What makes Eyes Without a Face chilling, beyond Franju and cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan’s masterful control of tone, is that Génessier needs no such qualifiers; motivated by grief and guilt, he is inherently sympathetic, despite the audience’s reluctance to concede so.  Though one cannot condone his actions, we regret them more than we are appalled by them.  We recognize, through Génessier, how easily good intentions can spawn deplorable actions and how unlikely it is that humankind, in its nearsightedness, can gird itself from such lamentable outcomes.

Social Darwinism and Nietzsche’s proverbial übermensch represent lofty ideals to which mankind can strive, but the eugenically inclined doctrines of Nazi Germany perverted their tenets into something more sinister.  Génessier’s actions are clearly not on par with those of the individuals who perpetrated the Holocaust, but in both cases the biased preference for one form of beauty over another results in a flagrant and profligate disregard for the rights and well-being of a subset of humanity unfairly targeted for attributes beyond their control.  Génessier may have not set out to kill, but neither does he abandon his charge once the severity of its consequences becomes clear.  The unflagging precision with which he continues to realize his machinations despite escalating risk and casualty is itself an indictment of the insistent march of technological progress.

Franju preferred collaborative pursuits to iconoclasm, but remained nonetheless distrusting of social institutions, a perspective evident in Eyes Without a Face’s depictions of law enforcement and medicine.  The police get off relatively easily; they are well meaning but ineffectual, unable to breach the surface of the mystery in front of them.  Equilibrium is not restored by their feeble efforts, but rather through the release of Christiane’s elemental fury and the triumph of nature over science.  Her actions are an expression of madness, to use Franju’s own term, insofar as they are both extreme and contrary to her own interests, but they do represent something greater and farther reaching.  Her rebellion may not help her as an individual, but it does benefit the demographics with which she has identified herself: a woman, a victim, and an entity considered subhuman in the eyes of progress.

It is in fact the latter’s uprising, in the form of the dogs’ attack on their master, which strikes the final blow upon Génessier, stripping him of his own humanity by taking away both his life and his visage.  It’s a haunting image in any context, but acquires an added resonance in the France of 1960, which was still attempting to resuscitate its own identity following the German occupation of World War II while simultaneously fighting a losing battle against the escalating Algerian insurgency.  Eyes Without a Face’s skepticism that the tools of modernity could be used to repair that which they themselves had vandalized was thus endemic to its time and place, but remains relevant more than half a century later.  Whether it be pharmaceuticals with side effects worse than the symptoms they treat, the moral dilemma of sacrificing one life to save another, or even the broad pro-vs-con debates that surround our increasing reliance on connective mobile technology, the questions raised by Eyes Without a Face of moral relativity in technological imperatives are as hard to answer now as ever before.  Incidentally, many of these ethical concerns were reintroduced to public debate in 2005 following the first successful face transplant.  (In an eerie example of life imitating art, the recipient was a French woman whose face had been mauled by her black labrador retriever.)

Franju would frequently revisit the motif of masked or faceless crusaders, most notably in two films written by Jacques Champreux: his adaptation of Louis Feuillade’s Judex and his final feature Nuits Rouges.  None, however, had quite the bone-chilling and visceral impact of Eyes Without a Face.  Much credit must be given to Édith Scob, whose quiet, confident performance and absent, aloof beauty elevate an already exemplary film.  More haunting than the imagery, however, is the metaphor, the idea that we are all faceless in technology’s gaze.  Adam and Eve were warned not to eat the apple, but we are systematically taught to put our faith in progress.  Often, we are so enraptured by modernity that we are blinded to its potential perils.  If we are frightened by Dr. Génessier, it is not because we may confront him, but because we may become him.

One response to “Pale Gaze: the Postwar Medical Horror of EYES WITHOUT A FACE

  1. Pingback: The 20 Best Horror Movies of All Time·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s