Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: The Criterion Edition of 'Eyes without a Face'


France is renowned for its excellent filmmakers, but it isn’t known for its horror films. When considering the very best horror films, only a couple from France will likely come to mind, and one of those will most certainly be Georges Franju’s Eyes without a Face. This grim tale of murder, megalomania, and face transplants has enough classic horror trappings to entrap classic horror fans (a mad doctor, extreme grisliness, Gothic imagery) and enough elegance and intelligence to place it as a specimen of early sixties French cinema.

In America, Eyes without a Face wasn’t treated with the respect it deserved: edited, dubbed, retitled The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, and coupled with a cheapie called The Manster as a double feature for the matinee crowd. In 2004, Eyes without a Face finally received the stateside respect it deserved when the Criterion Collection released it restored and in its unadulterated form on DVD. Nine years later, that restoration literally pales next to Criterion’s most recent Blu-ray restoration. I tested the previous disc against the new one, and that 2004 DVD looks washed out compared to the high-contrast Blu-ray restoration. The blacks are much richer, which is important for a film in which darkness play such a key role. It’s hard to believe that this beautiful film will ever look more beautiful.

The extras have mostly been shuttled over from the old DVD, but the most significant one—Franju’s disturbingly chilly 1949 short documentary on slaughterhouses Blood of the Beasts—has been given the same high-def treatment as Eyes without a Face. That’s a true rarity for a bonus, though it does show its age more than the pristine feature film. The one new bonus to go along with the other previously released ones (archival interviews with Franju, the Eyes without a Face-centric parts of a 1985 documentary about the guys who wrote it) is an interesting 8-minute interview with star Edith Scob (who still makes experimental films…check out 2012’s Holy Motors!). The one extra that did not make the transition from DVD to Blu-ray is a photo gallery, though many of those pictures appear in the Scob interview.

Get Criterion’s new Eyes without a Face Blu-ray at Amazon.com here :

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