October 26, 1962 [Les yeux sans visage/Eyes Without a Face/The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus]

Georges Franju’s Les yeux sans visage finally comes for a little visit--censored, as The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, sounding more comfortably like a B-movie--like The Head That Wouldn’t Die--with its oddly similar plot, both movies founded upon bad driving and psychotic regret--but, while the more ghastly surgical scenes I'd heard about are missing from the American version, the eyes without a face remain, the disfigured girl behind an impassive white mask, in constant anguish--mental for her, physical for any other woman her surgeon-father lures to his clinic, where in atonement he can peel off their faces to graft onto his daughter’s. And the movie rubs our noses in this fact: It opens with a long scene in a car, the respected doctor’s stone-faced assistant--her demeanor also a mask (although one fears what lies beneath her cool exterior), driving in the dark, the meager headlights vomiting little splashes of light on the road and trees, the leaning body in the back seat to be disposed of--to make room for the next beautiful woman.

Tod Browning died earlier this month--the Halloween season--and his funeral procession is followed by the faceless girl’s eyes, like Lugosi’s--but filled with only sorrow, no ghoulish glee. And the old vampire’s accent whispers in my ear as Franju’s mad doctor is killed by his dogs, the chloroform whiff of calm science in the chilly European air as elusive as Mengele, while muffled bells toll Browning to sleep and the masked girl slips away into the unresolved mist.


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