Fame. Fortune. Isolation. Obsession. These are themes that in the modern age most of us are quick to label as clichés, yet when explored with appropriate execution we can be reminded of how deeply engrossing they can be in cinema. Sometimes the best reminder for this would be to reach back in time and head overseas with your selection. To call Eyes Without A Face – the devastating dive into the macabre of the mind – an extremely influential film on the horror genre in the six decades since its release, would only be scraping at the surface of its importance. What French filmmaker, Georges Franju, accomplishes here is a rare feat not only in horror, but across the entire ground of psychological exploration in film.
The silence inside the walls of Doctor Genessier’s mansion creates an escalating palpability that is unrivaled in like-minded films. It is possible to see a loving, caring man inside the physician’s eyes, but that very humanity is slowly being buried away, likely never to see the light of day again. Through Franju’s atmospheric images and Pierre Brasseur’s stoic gaze, a portrait of madness is carefully painted on a canvas mounted squarely in a private operating room. The love of one’s offspring can in fact be so overwhelmingly great that, when encountered with tragic circumstances of disfigurement, could lead a parent into a downward spiral of obsession for restoration. With all the necessary resources at hand, Genessier and his faithful assistant, Louise, go to unspeakable lengths to recreate his daughter’s once-beautiful face.
This should be mandatory viewing for anyone even thinking about constructing a horror film, or really any kind of thriller. Those who have clearly taken its advisement — without simply tracing or mimicking the source material — have been the most successful in a genre where redundant potholes and silly horror tropes are, arguably, the easiest things to fall victim to. It is clear to see the influence this film has had on certain works from the likes of John Carpenter, Pedro Almodovar, Guillermo Del Toro, and countless others. When thinking of the best moments from the most effective films from these auteurs, it is those that practice the stretches of silence, atmospheric caution, and internal struggles that come to mind first. Franju’s film offers a 90-minute clinic in displaying just how enduring and monumental the genre can be. It would be difficult to leave this off the Mount Rushmore of horror standards.