The Eyes Have It

DATELINE:  MOVIE MASHUP!

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Re-discovered movies sometimes show how miscast our eyeball test can be. Cast your eyes on this chilling movie about serial killing in the name of medical science.

Eyes Without a Face was made in France fifty-four years ago.

It was thought to be a cheap horror exploitation film in an age when Last Year at Marienbad and Truffaut trifles of New Wave Cinema vaulted the French movie-making into the forefront of art.

Yet, in retrospect, this gem belongs up there with Diabolique in the Hitchcock mold. It is at the least in the Pedro Almodovar mode of movie making. Indeed, Almodovar must have had this picture in mind when he went about with his The Skin I Live In.

Both films deal with the horrors of plastic surgery. The difference is that Eyes without a Face uses face transplants as a far-fetched plot device. Fifty years later it is sentient beyond medical science.

The horror is squeamish as a doctor keeps trying to find the right face for his disfigured daughter. He sends his mad assistant (Alida Valli) out to stalk down a litany of girls who end up dead and missing their faces, discovered floating down the river.

The movie is effectively creepy.

Organ rejection is such a problem in the old days that radiation and blood transfusions just can’t cut it in the post-operative world. Edith Scob is the daughter wearing a stunning facemask like the Phantom of the Opera, leaving only her eyes to act up. It is tour de force stuff.

Alida Valli is the big star here, looking like she was about to lose the beauty she exhibited in movies like The Paradine Case and The Third Man.

She wears a leather trench coat (as she did for Carol Reed a decade earlier) with aplomb and stalks young girls. It is a role to savor, but seemed to be on the side of Baby Jane and other aging actresses taking on horror to keep their name on the marquee.

Eyes Without a Face is brilliant in its composition. Its sets and settings are murky and striking at the same time. Winter in France is seldom a backdrop, but this black and white gem deserves its reconsideration.

Understated direction is right on the mark by Georges Franju.

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