Rescue Me: Eyes Without A Face

Georges Franju's wild and disturbing expressionist horror has become, over recent years, a legend unto itself. A masterfully nasty semi-fairytale, it deals with a surgeon's obsession to restore his daughter's horrifyingly disfigured face to its former beauty after a car crash by getting his assistant Louise to kidnap pretty young girls, surgically removing their faces and grafting them onto his daughter's. The experiments keep failing, the unwilling donors all die, but still he keeps trying…

The film's influence and cult reputation among film buffs and horror aficionados has only grown over the years, and the legacy of influences it has left in its wake – from the dark, dank medical horrors of films like Dead Ringers and Cronenberg's work in general, to such boombastic fare as Face/Off - are numerous and impressive.

It achieves the extraordinary balancing act of being both repulsive and lyrical. Like a twisted Phantom of the Opera for age of the medicinal technological breakthrough, there's a real sense of tragedy and the gothic running throughout. The barking, howling hounds kept locked in cages near the laboratory are straight out of any classic RKO or Universal horror picture, the mad surgeon-scientist who's brilliance is being overtaken by obsession is disturbingly familiar both within the conventions of cinema and horror fiction in general and in the unshakable caution and distrust of the medical profession in our own lives. And yet, nothing feels recycled - a uniqueness to the proceedings and the atmosphere is prevalent and uncomfortably unforgettable.

The highlights including an unflinching and startlingly gruesome look at one of the doctor's operations which is most certainly not for the squeamish (still garnering the film an '18' certificate to this day, despite being in black-and-white), a day-by-day journal of his daughter's deterioration after the operation, shown through a series of portrait shots as her new face begins to peel and shrivel, and the grisly irony of the film's denouement.

The cast features Pierre Brasseur as the mad doctor Doctor Génessier, Edith Scob is both delicate and silently sympathetic as his masked daughter to hide her ravaged features, while Alida Valli (from The Third Man) plays the doctor's assistant, luring beautiful young victims back to the mansion, the stark, evocative high-contrast camerawork is the craft of German photographer/director/writer Eugen Schüfftan and the jaunty fairground-style score is by the incomparable Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia).

So why hasn't it yet appeared anywhere?

It took over 35 years for the film to show up uncut in this country (with the possible exception of television screenings), having had over three minutes removed for its original cinema release. The British Film Institute mercifully repaired the damage (ahem) in 1995 with an uncut and restored cinema re-release. It was then unleashed on video under the BFI's “Connoisseur Video” label in a subtitled print of decent quality (which is still available). However, their snail-like release schedule means we probably won't be seeing it any time soon on DVD.

In the United States, Kino Video own the title for release on VHS but not DVD. Whether this means the rights are out there somewhere, or that Kino have licensed them to another company is uncertain. In any case, Kino are starting to work with The Criterion Collection (the first collaboration being The Tin Drum, which will appear in the future), so one can hope a disc will turn up from them.

There is no sign of a native French release, nor (according to my research) anywhere else in the world, although I hope I'm wrong.

Sadly, it's looks like it's going to be a simple test of patience for this cult nightmare to be released onto DVD – given its stature and following I can say with some fair certainty it's a question of “when” rather than “if”, but “when” certainly does remain the question.

Do you have any film suggestions for this column? Please e-mail them to me at narshty@yahoo.co.uk

Last updated: 19/04/2018 17:42:24

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