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?
Presented in a 1.66:1 AVC HD transfer, Eyes Without a Face looks good and long time readers of this site will know that one of my absolute favorite things is seeing black and white on an HDTV screen. There’s something so…eerie about it. It’s like two worlds are colliding, the old with the new. Anyone lost and/or confused yet? Having said that, the standard DVD version looked very good, but Criterion – always willing to go the extra mile – has done a bang up job here. Contrast and black levels are rock solid, making for a fantastic image. Granted you’ll get a little bit of window-boxing on your TV, but it’s not all bad. A bit of dirt and debris has been cleaned up from the previous release, making way for an outstanding transfer. Top notch indeed.
Audio: How does it sound?
Like the standard DVD, the original French mono track is here, though this has been restored and now it’s an uncompressed mono track. While there are some differences between this and the previous soundtrack, they’re pretty minute and you’d have to do an A/B comparison to really see what’s different. Granted I applaud Criterion for their efforts here, but here just isn’t much to discuss. 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. Not much else to report to be honest, although optional English subtitles were included, should you need them.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Blood of the Beasts – The documentary was present on the standard DVD, but this too has been digitally re-mastered and it’s an interesting look at the slaughterhouses of Paris.
Archived Interviews with Franju – Also present on the standard DVD, this is as the title suggests: an archived interview with Franju on the genre of horror and the making of Blood of the Beasts.
New Interview with Edith Scob – The only new supplement on the Blu-ray this new interview with Edith Scob is a bit on the dry side, but certainly worth a listen.
Excerpts from Le grand-peres du crime – Ported over from the standard DVD, this 1985 documentary about the film is worth a watch, with some information about writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac.
Trailers – Various trailers for the film.
Booklet – An essay by Patrick McGrath and film historian David Kalat on the film.