What better way to quickly dispel the saccharine cheer of the holidays than to spend a few hours in a dark theater with one of the greatest and most-quoted horror films of all time: Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face).
Directed by George Franju, the 1959 film (along with Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, which was released just one year later) practically defined the splatter-gore horror film. But unlike so many of its schlock-'n'-awe successors, Franju saw the horror film as a vehicle for poetical, political and philosophical inquiry and used gore to as a means to far greater ends than disgust and repulsion.
Based on a novel by Jean Redon, Les Yeux tells the tale of Dr. Gnessier, a madman bent on performing the ultimate plastic surgery on his daughter, Christiane, after a near-fatal car crash that destroyed her face. But a full facial skin graft requires donors, and Gnessier is more than willing to sacrifice as many young women as it takes to undo his daughter's horror.
While those who watch CSI with any regularity will hardly be shocked, the flesh-raising face removal scene reportedly caused seven critics to faint when it was first screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival.
Gorgeously filmed in a shadowy style that makes the viewers feel as though they're watching the film through a mask, Franju puts the science-vs.-nature themes of Frankenstein in a French new-wave lab coat and horrifies in a way that contemporary horror directors could scarcely fathom.
-- Noel Black
capsule Les Yeux Sans Visage
Starz FilmCenter at the Tivoli 900 Auraria Parkway, Denver
Dec. 26-Jan. 21
Call 303/820-FILM or go to www.starzfilmcenter.com for directions and times