Eyes Without a Face? I can do that!
“I’m all out of hope
One more bad break could bring a fall
When I’m far from home
Don’t call me on the phone
To tell me you’re alone.”– Billy Idol, ” Eyes Without a Face
Oh wait… Not the “Eyes Without a Face” by Billy Idol. The Void has assigned me the 1960 French film Les yeux sans visage, or Eyes Without a Face. I did not know much about this film before pressing play. Sometimes that is a good thing. You can find my last piece here.
Merry Go Round of a Beginning
The film opens with passing scenery at night, lit by a car’s headlights. The music …the music feels like we have stepped foot onto a merry go round. As the film progresses, we realize he have. It is that whole thing about the definition of insanity, repeating the same action over and over hoping for a different result.
As the opening credits roll, the music and the bare trees with skeleton like branches reaching towards you give you very conflicting thoughts.
We now see Louise (Alida Valli) driving and sitting so close to the steering wheel, her knees have to be pushing against her chest. Her eyes give the appearance that she is running on auto pilot. Despite there being rain on her windshield she doesn’t turn on the very visible wipers, but opts instead to use her hand to wipe at the inside of the windshield; she is going to regret that the next time she is driving into the sun. If it is the windows fogging up on the inside, she might want to consider moving her seat back. I mean I am short, but this is ridiculous.
Louise continues to drive with urgency on this rural road with no lights. She uses her rearview mirror to check in on the slumped figure in her back seat, face obscured by a hat and scarf. Suddenly bright lights appear behind her, and starts flashing. Louise pulls over to the side of the road, letting the impatient prick pass her before heading on her way. The camera focuses on the figure in the back, and as the car begins to drive again, the figure slumps to the side.
Damn….oh wait I mean dam. Louise pulls her car in a grassy area beside the rapidly running water. Her shiny black vinyl rain coat is amazing, and quickly paints her as a would-be villain. She looks around before quickly opening the back door and wrestling the dead passenger from her back seat, dragging her down a hill and throwing her into the water. Personally, where she is parked, and the angle of the river bank, I would have just pulled her out of the car turned her so she was parallel with the river and given her a good push. But then again, I am American, not French, and we do have the tendency to go with the quickest path possible.
Doctor Genessier: You Can Tell How Someone Is By Their Parking
We are now at a conference when a phone call arrives for Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) who is giving a lecture about tissue rejuvenation to an audience of mostly middle aged and elderly white women, a few men and one young man of color. Way to be progressive, France….I guess…
The Doctor goes on to explain for the current procedure to work, you have to use so much radiation, the it will evaporate the patient’s blood. The Doctor leaves the stage and is informed he got a call that he needs to go to the morgue immediately. Some of the rich elderly women interrupt the Doctor as he is leaving, to sing his praises. He quickly shuts them down as he exits the room. The women comment how much he has changed since his daughter has gone missing.
We are now at the morgue where a Detective Parot and the coroner are discussing how Genessier’s daughter had open facial wounds when she went missing from the clinic where she was being treated after a car accident. The woman that they pulled from the river had similar wounds to her face. But the detective also points out that the body could be that of another woman who is missing that fits the same description, and that he has also called this woman’s father down to see if he could identify the body they have recovered.
The men discuss how the body recovered was naked, except for a man’s coat. The coroner also remarks that the wound on the victim’s face had no jagged edges, almost like it had been cut with a scalpel. Just then, Genessier pulls up and does the most awkward parking job ever. This has to be done to prove what a dick this guy turns out to be.
Genessier meets with the coroner and the detective. They explain that a body was found in the river and they match his daughter’s description due to the massive injuries to the face, “Only the eyes were intact.” Genessier identifies the body as his doctor Christiane. They are informed the other father is there, and the coroner asks that he be told the body is not that of his daughter.
As Genessier is leaving the morgue he is approached by this distraught father. He asks if Genessier is absolutely sure that it is Christiane that they found, and explains that his daughter has been missing for ten days. Genessier looks completely annoyed and as he walks way from the man he says, “How odd I should have to comfort you.” I get that you have had something horrible happen. You are both fathers, and you are a doctor. Show some compassion! He gets into his asshat of a park job car and leaves the man, crying alone on the sidewalk.
We hear the merry go round music again, and Louise is following two young women. The women meet a man on the sidewalk, as one woman leaves with the man, and Louise continues to follow the other woman, Edna.
We find ourselves at a Cemetery, at the funeral of Christiane. Two observers remark how Genessier is not the same since the death of his wife 4 years prior and Christiane’s accident. The mourners are in a line, paying their respects outside the family crypt. The two observers remark who is standing next to Genessier. There is Christiane’s Fiance, Jacques, who also works with Genessier, and LOUISE! The man says she is Genessier’s secretary.
Louise and Genessier
Everyone leaves, except Genessier and Louise. Genessier starts to take the floral arrangements into the crypt, and Louise starts to break down, stating she “can’t take this anymore.” He grabs her by the arms before shaking and then slapping her. He tells Louise to “shut up”, and Louise quickly exits the crypt. She has gotten some good distance from Genessier when she slows down, allowing him to catch up, gently squeeze her arm and then take his place in front of her as they walk to the car. If this doesn’t say something about their dynamic, I don’t know what would.
The two of them drive past the hospital, following signs to Genessier’s home. He lets Louise out at the front door, and then pulls up to the garage. As he gets out to open the garage doors, all you can hear are birds chirping. He opens the doors, and the noise causes multiple dogs to begin barking from somewhere in the garage. When Genessier exits the car, he looks annoyed and exhausted as he walks into the house. He slowly walks up the stairs and then enters a door and starts up a hidden staircase. As he goes up the stairs he stops as he hears music coming from behind a closed door.
Christiane and the Mask
Genessier enters a room with a young woman laying face down on her bed. He walks over to the bed and turns off the radio then picks up a paper: Christiane’s death notice. He asks the woman where she got the paper and chastises her for going through his things, but then tries to acknowledge how confusing it must be to see her name on the notice, and since the woman died after the surgery, they had to get rid of the body, but needed to cover their tracks by pretending the body was that of Christiane. The woman on the bed is Christiane and the lying asshole made that grieving father suffer even longer. This proves people who park like assholes are in fact ASSHOLES!
Christiane tells Genessier that she is losing hope and this is a major blow to his ego. He leaves as Louise enters with Christiane’s mask. Louise tells her to have faith and trust her father. Christiane says that is hard to do, since he is the one who caused the car accident and he should have just let her die.
I want to talk about this mask for a minute. I first thought this was not a mask, but make- up to make it look like a mask, but later, when Christiane talks, you can tell this is a very thin mask. It is extremely realistic, if a little creepy. This is something she could have used to have somewhat of a normal life, instead of her father taking innocent lives to ‘cure’ her.
Christiane makes her way to other rooms in the house, and eventually calls Jacques. She does not answer him when he asks who it is, and when he hangs up, her eyes tell you all you need to know.
The Dastardly Duo Strikes Again
Well here comes the merry go round music again. We see Edna in line for a movie, and Louise walks past her, stops and returns to talk to her. She tell Edna her friend did not show up and she was wondering if she would like the extra ticket. After some coaxing, Edna agrees and follows her into the theater. We then see the two meeting for coffee. Louise tells Edna she has found her a place to stay and would like to show it to her. While they are driving in Louise’s car, Edna remarks that this place seems pretty far away, and Louise assures her that she took the long way, to avoid traffic and it is only a 20 minute train ride to Paris.
They arrive at Genessier’s house and the air is full of the sounds of barking dogs. Edna asks how many there are and Louise tells her they are only here to protect them. They go inside and Louise introduces her to Genessier who offers her some wine. She declines and tells them she can’t stay long. He tells her that she has time and he will show her the room after they have wine. When Edna turns to talk to Louise we see Genessier putting something on a rag. As he walks towards the two women, as Edna tells Louise she doesn’t think this is going to work and she is meeting a friend tomorrow to look at other places. Genessier starts to pour some wine and then, when Edna turns her attention back to Louise, Genessier put the rag over Edna’s face, knocking her out.
The Dastardly Duo picks up Edna and carries her out of the room, as Christiane watches from the stairs. They carry the body into the garage and then through a secret door. Christiane sneaks into the garage and hides behind the car, as the duo come back into the garage and Genessier tells Louise he will do the procedure after dinner and tells her wants to remove the face in one piece. The two of them return to the main house.
Christiane goes into the operating room, where Edna has been stripped and is on the operating table. Christiane looks at her, but is distracted by the barking dogs. She goes through another door, and there are multiple cages of dogs, lined up in two rows. Christiane goes to each cage, showing them all affection, before going back into the operating room. She looks at herself in the only mirror that is not covered in the house. She takes off her mask and walks back Edna, just as she is starting to wake, when we see Christiane’s real face for the first time.
We now see Genessier starting the procedure of removing Edna’s face for Christiane, who is prepped and waiting on a table next to them. When Genessier starts to cut, he is nervous and sweating like a pig. As he runs the scalpel along the line he drew, the blackest blood ever begins to ooze. I know this is a black and white film, but this is some black blood. The special effects are very impressive as Genessier slowly separates the skin of Edna’s face from the muscles underneath.
Now we see a dog catcher bringing a German Shepard to Genessier, and him being abusive to the dogs as he puts this new victim in its cage. He treats some of the other dogs with the same abuse. Boy, this guy keep racking up points in the biggest dickhead category.
Louise meets Genessier in the operating room and tells him that Christiane is healing wonderfully. She is eating, happy and has hope. He tells her that he is worried, but if this procedure succeeds it would be priceless. Indicating that this is not for his daughter at all, but for his own notoriety. Louise asks what she should do about Edna and he tells her to give Edna some food and he will figure it out later.
Edna is laying in a cell, bandages covering her face. She pretends to sleep as Louise enters the room. When Louise turns her back, Edna hits her over the head with a bottle, knocking her out. Edna escapes to the garage, but before she can go out the garage doors, she sees lights approaching. She enters the main house as Genessier enters the garage and meets Louise who tells him of the escape. They quickly follow into the house and up the stairs. Edna has found the back staircase, and with Genessier hot on her heels, she enters a room. We hear her scream and as Genessier enters, he sees a window open and Edna dead on the sidewalk below.
We now see Louise and Genessier back at the cemetery, with him carrying Edna over his shoulder. He lays her down, picks up a pick axe and enters the crypt. I am confused about this part…we see him hitting the floor with the pickaxe, but then we see him opening a door in the floor. Was it sealed? Anyway, we see Genessier throw the body into the hole and return home.
We are now at the police station where Detective Parot is speaking with Edna’s friend we saw her with earlier. She is reporting her missing. He asks her if she can give any information about this woman Edna said she was meeting. She tells him that the woman always wears a pearl choker. She leaves and a young detective who is interviewing another woman, walks over to Parot’s desk. He shows this young detective Edna’s picture and tells him that another blue-eyed girl has gone missing. The young detective asks what he should do with the blue-eyed girl he has at his desk, who has been brought in for shoplifting. Parot tells him to let her off with a warning, but to make sure to get her address.
Christiane’s Tragedy Continues
Sitting around the dining room table, Louise and Genessier are talking of how happy they are with how Christiane is healing. Her father tells her she will need to take a long trip and pick a new name before they can reintroduce her to the world. She asks him about Jacques, and he says it could be a problem, but he is sure he will be happy. He tells her to smile, and when she does, he snaps, “Not too much!” which wipes any job off her face. The conversation is interrupted by a phone call. Genessier tells Louise he needs her to leave with him, and when he leans down to kiss Christiane goodbye, he notices that upon closer inspection, there are signs that she is rejecting her new face.
Next is a montage of Christiane’s deteriorating face. The last picture is on day 20. We now see Louise entering Christiane’s room, with her mask. Christiane is on the floor. She tries to comfort her and tells her not to give up hope. She says that her father fixed her. We learned earlier that the reason she wears the pearl choker is to cover a scar on her neck. We are now following Christine around the house.
Once again she makes her way to the phone and calls Jacques, but this time she says his name. Louise catches her and asks who she is speaking to. Christiane lies and says no one, leading to her breaking down and telling Louise she is so tired of feeling rubber where her face should be. She begs Louise to get one of the shots her father keeps for the dogs when his experiments go wrong, and kill her. She continues to beg until she passes out.
Here comes the merry go round again as we see Louise on the prowl.
Jacques has made his way to the police station and is talking to Detective Parot. He tells the inspector that he has suspicions that Christiane is not dead since Genessier is the only one who was able to see her body. The Detective tell him that he is chasing down a lot of missing person cases of blue-eyed girls missing, and the only lead he has is a pearl choker. Jacques looks at him and tells him that reminds him of someone.
Paulette as bait
The next thing we see is them bringing back in the shoplifter from earlier, Paulette. The young detective is now telling her she will have to go to trial for the charges, but Parot steps in and tells her he can get this dropped if she will help them out with something. She says as long as it is nothing too hard. He tells her they need her to lighten her hair, which she is not happy about, and check into Genessier’s hospital with the complaint of migraines. Parot calls Jacques and tells him that Paulette will be coming in and to watch out for her.
Paulette is all checked into the hospital, and Genessier and Jacques come to speak to her. Genessier orders some tests and Paulette shows concern that they will shave her head. Ganessier looks at her and says “That would be a shame.” Yuck!
Paulette is brought in to have her test, and Genessier joins her in the room and asks the nurse to bring in the results to him when she is done. He goes to his office and sits at his desk and starts to fall asleep. The nurse brings in the file and he says that Paulette shows no signs of anything and she can be released.
Paulette walks down the hallway to the nurse’s station where she asks to use the phone. She calls her mom and tells her that she will be home tonight. The nurse then gives her direction to the bus stop and she leaves the hospital. As she exits to the road, we hear the merry go round music, and guess who pulls up and offers her a ride?! I will give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.
The Final Act and Justice Served
Jacques calls the Detective and tells him that they discharged Paulette and Parot says he will make sure she makes it home. Well, of course she didn’t because we now see her on the operating table. Louise comes in and whispers to Genessier. He turns and looks to the other side of the room and then leaves. Christiane is sitting on the opposite side of the room.
Genessier returns to the hospital to find both detectives there, asking about Paulette’s whereabouts. The nurse says she remembers letting the girl make a phone call and giving her directions to the bus and then she left. Genessier tells the detectives she is not responsible for people once they walk out the front door. Jacques pokes his head in the door as the detectives are leaving and apologizes for wasting their time.
Back in the operating room, Paulette wakes up and starts to struggle. Christiane makes her way over to her and picks up a scalpel. Paulette starts to scream, but Christiane uses the scalpel to cut the strap holding Paulette in place. Just then Louise enters the room, and Christiane turns and stabs her in the neck, between the strands of pearls in her choker. Louise moves back to hit the wall, begins to cry as she slides down the wall, with tears running down her face until she slumps over.
Paulette escapes past Christiane as she enters the room with the dogs. She goes from cage to cage, releasing all the dogs. Walking home from the hospital, Genessier hears the dogs making a commotion, and he opens a side door. When he does, all the dogs come running out, attacking and killing him. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
The last creatures that Christiane releases are the doves. With a dove perched on her hand, she walks past her father’s body, with no acknowledgement of him and walks into the dark forest ahead.
Trivia from the Film
The movie was panned by both US and French Critics.
The first release of the film in the US was heavily edited and called “The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus”. Who the hell is Dr. Faustus?
The director, Georges Franju didn’t consider this a horror film.
John Carpenter used the mask in the film as an inspiration for Michael Myers’ mask in Halloween.
I liked the film, but like the director, I do not consider the film a horror film. It is a drama about men with God Complexes… which I guess is horror when you think about it.
I have nothing but sympathy for Christiane. Her father is using her misfortune for his own scientific gains. On the other hand I have nothing but contempt for Genessier. He is a miserable man, who only sees women as tools to get him what he wants. And he is a really shitty parker. I know some of you think I need to let it go, but I now have a mental image I will use when I see a car where the owner obviously doesn’t know how to park. While I am not a big fan of Louise, I understand her feeling of her owing this man, and she will do whatever she can to repay him. I think because of this gratitude she feels, she thinks she loves him.
Again, I liked the movie, but not what I expected.
So let’s see what the Void has for me next. Until next time….
The Void’s Conclusion
Thank you so much for your amazing and funny summarization and commentary, I am glad you liked the movie! It’s defintely disturbing enough to be considered classic horror in my eyes, much like the tragedy of Phantom of the Opera. French horror is a whole other beast though, that this only scrapes the surface.
Next week, the Mother of the Void will provide commentary on the 1932’s The Old Dark House, another flick starring the fabulous Boris Karloff. Meanwhile, check out The Void of Celluloid’s 31 Days of Horror, with Week Three’s installment coming out Friday.