Disc Jockey: The French horror ‘Eyes Without a Face’ goes high-def
‘Eyes Without a Face’
The Criterion Collection
Quick: What was the last popular horror film rated PG? Somewhere during the late 1960s and the definitive death of the censorious Production Code, horror moved from atmosphere and subtle scares to gore. Still, even something like “Cannibal Holocaust” has a strong contender in the gross-out department in “Eyes Without a Face,” a 1960 chiller from France newly transferred to Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection.
Granted, it’s really just one segment that terrifies. A young woman (Edith Scob) was in a car accident that has left her face grotesquely scarred. As luck would have it, her father (Pierre Brasseur) is a mad scientist. His mission? To kidnap pretty young women and switch faces. The sequence in question is a surgical procedure so real it almost looks like a documentary; in fact, director Georges Franju had once made “Blood of the Beasts,” a clinical, graphic and oddly beautiful slaughterhouse doc.
That description also fits “Eyes.” The sterile grisliness of its centerpiece only emphasizes how dreamy and oddly moving the rest of the film is. (Although the scenes of Brasseur’s assistant, played by “The Third Man”’s Alida Valli, preying on and capturing girls is met with a disarmingly jaunty score, courtesy “Doctor Zhivago”’s Maurice Jarre.) There’s a surreal, melancholic poetry to the images, none more than Scob herself, who spends the film wearing an unnerving plain white mask that only emphasizes her sadness. It’s the rare horror that’s as creepy as it is moving.
‘Night Tide’ (Kino)
October is traditionally the month for horror titles making the shift to high-def, if they haven’t already. By now most of the heavyweights have gone Blu. But there’s always obscurities worth rediscovering. The filmmaker Curtis Harrington — who later made such eccentric, cheerfully titled genre entries as “Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?” and “How Awful About Allan” — debuted with this spooky low budget 1961 production that also marked Dennis Hopper’s starring debut.
Hopper plays a sailor on leave on who falls for a girl — who he comes to believe is some kind of sea creature. His fear is obviously borne out of a sexual hangup, although what kind is only tantalizingly hinted at. (But take a good guess.) It’s an internalized, psychologically horror, but also one of creepily depopulated L.A. beachfront imagery that at all times feels like a waking dream.
America liked Guillermo del Toro’s giant robots-vs.-giant monsters melee, but the rest of the world LOVED it, which is why a sequel is underway anyway. Here’s your chance to get on the wagon, especially now that, without 3-D glasses, you have a better chance of actually seeing the smackdowns.
Just in time for Halloween comes the scariest movie you’ll revisit all month: Richard Curtis’ mash-up of several gruesome rom-coms into one shameless epic, complete with an entire half-hour of stammering men rushing to awkwardly proclaim their love.
In 1999, Hollywood tried to poison the name of Shirley Jackson’s haunted house story with a Liam Neeson-starring monstrosity. Good thing there was already a terrific — and terrifying — film version from 1963, which is finally out on high-def.