(1960, French) *****
“The future is something we should have started long ago.”
Though I’d never heard of it before two weeks ago, Les Yeux Sans Visage is one of the most influential and critically acclaimed films in horror history. Jordan is obviously better equipped to discuss the 1920’s German expressionist and surrealist influences so I’ll stick to the basics. I will say that this film had me spellbound from the very first second and never let go.
Professor Genessier is a prominent plastic surgeon obsessed with restoring his daughter’s beauty after she was disfigured in a car crash that he caused. Assisted by Louise, his loyal nurse, he resorts to kidnapping women and grafting their faces onto Christiane’s. To throw the police off their trail, Genassier fakes her death.
Christiane is aware of the crimes being committed on her behalf and therefore shares the blame. This is something she struggles with throughout the film as both the victim and the monster. Despite her passive involvement in the crimes, it’s difficult not to sympathize with her after she reads her own name in the obituaries. Until she can start life over with a new face and identity, she is forced to spend her days alone in the house. In one of the more touching scenes, struggling with loneliness and boredom, Christiane phones her boyfriend (or ex-boyfriend at this point) just to hear his voice.
One of the many chilling aspects of the film is Pierre Brasseur’s cold, detached portrayal of Professor Genessier. Because of his confident and matter-of-fact demeanor, it’s easy to forget that his actions are nothing short of horrific. If a scene where he removes the face of one of the poor victims is able to shock me during a horror movie-watching competition in 2007, I cannot even conceive of the 1960 audience reaction.
It’s impossible for me to do this movie justice so I’ll stop trying.
John Carpenter used Christiane’s expressionless white mask as a template for Michael Myers.
* I’m proud to report that I solved one of life’s great mysteries! Les Yeux San Visage! That’s what they’re singing in the chorus of Billy Idol’s Eyes Without a Face! Next week I’ll try to have the meaning of life and the origin of the universe figured out for y’all.