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October 15, 2005

Two "Without a Face"

Eyes Without a Face
Les Yeux sans Visage
Georges Franju - 1959
Criterion Region 1 DVD

Fiend Without a Face
Arthur Crabtree - 1958
Criterion Region 1 DVD

I'm back in Holloween mode today. I live only a couple of blocks from the main Miami Beach branch of the Miami-Dade Public Library, and have been trying to take advantage of viewing the Criterion DVDs in their collection. It has been close to thirty years since I saw Eyes Without a Face, and figured that while I was at it, I would check out the film with the similar title.

Probably more people have heard Billy Idol's song than have, or will, see this film. Georges Franju is a filmmaker one could read about but was rarely shown even in revival houses. Even when I lived in New York City, I had an easier time seeing Judex, which I saw twice. Aside from seeing Eyes once theatrically, I saw a special screening of Thomas the Imposter. Even now, his films have yet to be available on DVD in France. One would assume greater care and attention would be given to the co-founder of the Cinematheque Francaise.

I had to wonder if Alfred Hitchcock had seen the film prior to Psycho, due primarily to the script contributions of Boileau and Narcejac. I also had to wonder how a younger audience that grew up watching more graphic horror would judge Eyes. It seemed odd to think that a film considered too horrifying for film audiences shows so much less than the typical episode of Nip/Tuck on basic cable. What makes Eyes Without a Face a film worth seeing again is watching Edith Scob wearing her mask, a smooth, doll-like face without lines or expression, trapped in the cliche that beauty is literally only skin deep.

The DVD also includes Franju's documentary about Paris slaughterhouses, Blood of the Beasts. I still remain an unapologetic carnivore, but for vegans or members of P.E.T.A this film may seem like Resnais' Night and Fog, with disturbing frankness rendered in artistic imagery. The DVD contains two interviews with Franju discussing Eyes, and interviews with Boileau and Narcejac where they explain their history of collaboration and working style. Criterion even included that American trailer from 1962 when Eyes Without a Face was released as Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus. At the time, United Artists paired the film with The Manster (half-man, half-monster!). With both films available on DVD, one could recreate this double feature, but it may be like pairing a fine, Parisian meal with a bottle of Sprite.

I tried watching Fiend Without a Face a couple of times on television without success. Invisible creatures killing farmers and soldiers didn't hold my attention. I watched the film with a commentary track conducted by a writer, Tom Weaver, with executive producer Richard Gordon. It was through the commentary that I was clued in to wait for the last fifteen minutes which were said to have appalled censors and film critics. The fiends, when they finally materialize, are big brains with spinal column tails, antennas, and feelers. The stop motion photography looks a little primitive, even compared to special effects of that time. Still, there is a thrill watching these creatures fly in the air, crawl on trees, and terrorize Marshall Thompson and company. Reportedly, the shots of the creatures oozing blood and other sticky matter following gun shots and axings set a new standard for gore in movies. I guess paving the way for the future of horror films is a good enough criteria for Criterion.

Posted by peter at October 15, 2005 03:28 PM