Eyes Without a Face  

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Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux sans Visage) is a 1960 French film directed by Georges Franju and co-written by the duo Boileau-Narcejac. It starred Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli and Édith Scob. The music was composed by Maurice Jarre. The film is based on a novel by Jean Redon.

A brilliant surgeon, Dr. Génessier, helped by his assistant Louise, kidnaps young women. He removes the skin from their faces and tries to transplant it onto his daughter Christiane, whose face has been disfigured in a car crash. All the experiments fail, and the victims die, but Génessier keeps trying while Christiane becomes more unbalanced.


At night just outside Paris, a woman drives along a riverbank and dumps a corpse in the river. After the body is recovered, Dr. Génessier identifies the remains as those of his missing daughter, Christiane Génessier, whose face was horribly disfigured in an automobile accident that occurred before her disappearance, for which he was responsible. Dr. Génessier lives in a large mansion, which is adjacent to his clinic, with numerous caged German Shepherds and other large dogs.

Following Christiane's funeral, Dr. Génessier and his assistant Louise, the woman who had disposed of the dead body earlier, return home where the real Christiane is hidden (it is explained that Louise is deathlessly loyal to Génessier because he repaired her own badly damaged face, leaving only a barely noticeable scar she covers with a pearl choker). The body belonged to a young woman who died following Dr. Génessier's unsuccessful attempt to graft her face onto his daughter's. Dr. Génessier promises to restore Christiane's face and insists that she wear a mask to cover her disfigurement. After her father leaves the room, Christiane calls her fiancé Jacques Vernon, who works with Dr. Génessier at his clinic, but hangs up without saying a word.

Louise lures a young Swiss girl named Edna Grüber to Génessier's home. Génessier chloroforms Edna and takes her to his secret laboratory. Christiane secretly watches her father and Louise carry Edna to the lab, and then goes to tenderly caress the dogs her father keeps caged, who eagerly accept her love, and are unaffected by her appearance.

Dr. Génessier performs heterograft surgery, removing Edna's face. The doctor successfully grafts the skin onto his daughter's face and holds the heavily bandaged and faceless Edna against her will. Edna escapes, but falls to her death from an upstairs window. After disposing of Edna's corpse, Génessier notices flaws on Christiane's face. Her face grows worse within days; the new tissue is being rejected and she must resort to wearing her mask again. Christiane again phones Jacques and this time says his name, but the phone call is interrupted by Louise.

Jacques reports the call to the police, who have been investigating the disappearance of several young women with blue eyes and similar facial characteristics. The police have gained a lead concerning a woman who wears a pearl choker, whom Jacques recognizes as Louise. Inspector Parot, an officer investigating Edna's disappearance, coerces a young woman named Paulette Mérodon (recently arrested for shoplifting) to help investigate by checking herself into Génessier's clinic. After being declared healthy, Paulette leaves for Paris and is promptly picked up by Louise, who delivers her to Dr. Génessier. Génessier is about to begin surgery on Paulette when Louise informs him that the police want to see him.

While the doctor talks with the police, Christiane, who has long been disenchanted with her father's experiments, and has been slowly losing her sanity from guilt and isolation, frees Paulette and stabs Louise in the neck. She also frees the dogs and doves that her father uses for experiments. Dr. Génessier dismisses the police (who readily accept his explanations) and returns to his lab, where an abandoned German Shepherd he'd only recently obtained for his experiments attacks him, inciting the other dogs to follow suit—maddened by pain and confinement, they maul him to death, disfiguring his face in the process. Christiane, unmoved by her father's death, walks slowly into the woods outside Génessier's house with one of the freed doves on her hand.


The film has influenced a handful of European films since its release. Spanish director Jesús Franco created films throughout his career that were influenced by the film. Franco's first was the Spanish and French co-production of Gritos en la noche (1962). Franco's variation of the film concerns the efforts of a mad surgeon, Dr. Orloff, to reconstruct the face of his disfigured daughter Melissa. Inspector Edgar Tanner investigates Orlof using his girlfriend, Wanda Bronsky, as an undercover spy. Franco followed with several sequels to Gritos en la noche. He made one more film strongly influenced by the Franju film, Faceless (1988). Faceless has a similar plot involving beautiful women who are abducted by Dr. Flamand's (Helmut Berger) female assistant and kept hostage. The doctor uses the skin of the women to perform plastic surgery on his disfigured sister, but the experiments leave the victims mutilated and dead. The Italian film Atom Age Vampire (1961) was also influenced by Eyes Without a Face with a doctor attempting to take the faces of other women to repair his daughter's face. These homages are seen in the plot line of a police lieutenant who is investigating the circumstances behind the death of a young girl whose body has scars around the eyes. The lieutenant's investigation eventually leads him to a plastic surgery clinic, a similar plot motivation to Eyes Without a Face. The British film Corruption (1968) adds a variation to the theme: A surgeon tries to restore his fiancee's beauty by repeatedly treating her with extracted fluids from the pituitary gland of female victims.

The film also influenced American film productions. John Carpenter has suggested that the film inspired the idea of a featureless mask for the Michael Myers character in the slasher film series Halloween. Carpenter recalls that the film crew "didn't have any money to make a mask. It was originally written the way you see it, in other words, it's a pale mask with human features, almost featureless. I don't know why I wrote that down, why Debra [Hill] and I decided on that, maybe it was because of an old movie called Eyes Without a Face".

DVD film reviews have suggested the film influenced director John Woo; critics have compared the graphic detail of the face transplant scene in Woo's action film Face/Off (1997) to the face transplant scene in Eyes Without a Face and noted the similarity. Another resemblance is Woo's trademark use of white doves in his films that is similar to the character Christiane's dove-laden escape in the film's finale.

In 2001, on the television program VH1 Storytellers, singer Billy Idol cited the film as giving him the idea for his song Eyes Without a Face. The song, which has the film's original French title ("Les Yeux Sans Visage") as the recurring background chorus, however, takes the idea of the film's father relationship and outlook toward his daughter and recasts it describing the deteriorated relationship between the narrator and his lover. The song would become Idol's first top-ten hit in the U.S.

See also

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