Eyes Without a Face: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 6 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) is a masterful surgeon, one of the most skilled and respected experts in his field. At a medical convention, he lectures on the advances in skin grafting made possible by X-rays. The science isn’t perfect or even refined at this point, but he has faith that he can make the concept feasible. At the same time he address the crowd, the body of his young daughter Christiane (Edith Scob) is being dumped into the cold waters of a reservoir. The police soon discover the body and Genessier is called down to identify the body, which he confirms is that of his beloved Christiane. But she is not dead, instead she lives at her father’s isolated estate, though she isn’t unharmed or unaffected. Her brush with disaster impacted her on a grand scale, as she was left with a skinless face. This buries her father in guilt, so he pushes ahead with his skin graft work, even though the odds are against him. He is somewhat responsible for her condition, but the real culprit was a car accident, not his own direct actions. In order to obtain new skin for his work, he sends out Louise (Alida Valli), who serves as his all around assistant. Louise seeks out young woman, kidnaps them, and delivers them to serve as lab rats. But will Genessier’s plan work, or will he be found out first?

This is a movie film fans dream could be released as part of The Criterion Collection, but this is no dream, so no need to pinch yourself. A film that has been acclaimed to the hilt, but hard to track down in a decent version has been given the red carpet treatment by Criterion, a label that knows how to take care of the cinematic greats. Eyes Without a Face is a horror movie at its base, a film that disturbs as we watch and continues to do so after the credits, but this is a deeper, more complex project than most horror movies out there. In fact, I’d argue that the complexities here rival most movies in any genre, not just horror cinema. Georges Franju crafts a razor sharp picture here, one that refuses to take sides on the horrific content, which of course, makes the experience all the more uncomfortable. I’ve seen the film with several groups before and without fail, a lot of the viewers found it to be hard to sit through. Not because it was bad or uninvoling, but because there was no moral compass, except that of the audience itself. The film’s reputation as a shocker might mislead some however, as Eyes Without a Face isn’t a bloodbath, although some scenes do contain some graphic images. But if you like airtight cinema that isn’t soon forgotten, Eyes Without a Face isn’t just a must see, it is a must own release.

Video: How does it look?

Eyes Without a Face is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. I knew this would look good, but it is even better than expected, some terrific work here indeed. I wouldn’t say this is a pristine, reference level treatment, but it is the best I’ve ever seen the flick look on home video, so I am most pleased. The print looks very clean, with minimal debris and other problems, so the image is allowed to shine and that it does. The black & white looks great and shows more sharpness than expected, which is always good news. Another great looking transfer from Criterion, who know how to handle these wonderful pictures.

Audio: How does it sound?

The original French soundtrack is preserved here, via a clean mono track that isn’t memorable, but doesn’t disappoint. There just isn’t much to discuss here, as the included mono option is good, but won’t turn any heads, of course. The film could benefit from added presence to enhance tension, but this mono track is still solid. I heard no hiss or distortion of any kind, which is good news with a flick of this age, to be sure. No errors in terms of dialogue either, which is crucial and all, since this is a movie dominated by dialogue, to be sure. Not much else to report to be honest, although optional English subtitles were included, should you need them.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The best of the supplements here is Blood of the Beasts, Franju’s documentary short on slaugherhouses that is sure to repulse. This is a twisted ride from start to finish and again, Franju never passes judgement in his approach. This could have sold well as a solo release, but when offered in the same package with Eyes Without a Face, you can’t help but feel like you’re getting one hell of a deal. But that’s not all, as we also have archival interviews with Franju, an excerpt from a documentary with the film’s writers, a selection of rare still photos & promotional materials, and two of the film’s theatrical trailers.

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