This picture has the look and feel of an American made Forties or Fifties horror flick but it's actually a French film made in 1960 and directed by Georges Franju. I don't know what single word might best describe it, but the one that immediately comes to mind is creepy. Everything about the picture tends to horrify the viewer, established with the opening scene as we see the images of passing skeletal trees against a sky of night time darkness. We learn that a middle aged woman (Alida Valli) is on her way to dispose of a body in a nearby river, another failed experiment at the hands of a gifted surgeon named Genessier (Pierre Brasseur). From there, things take an even more frightening turn, as the story explores Genessier's obsession to restore the face of his daughter, horribly disfigured in a car crash for which he was responsible.
The story uses some of that pseudo-scientific babble I love to come across in these types of films, that stuff about a 'heterograft', whereby radiation is a requirement to biologically modify a host body to receive a donor transplant. Because radiation is too intense in the required dosage, exsanguination is deemed the next best available strategy for the type of procedure explained by Professor Genessier to his attentive audience. Funny, but none of that was going on when the good professor got down to the real nitty gritty of his work on daughter Christiane (Edith Scob).
You know, it's hard to describe, but there was something of an ethereal beauty in both the masked and newly engineered face of Christiane following the operation. Didn't you think for a moment that the new face of Christiane would be that of victim Edna Gruber (Juliette Mayniel)? Instead, you had this beautiful face appear, rather astonishingly to convey success for the questionable transplant operation. It's best described by the professor - "There's something angelic about you now" in a cautious appraisal of his daughter's beauty. However things take a disastrous turn as the operation proves fruitless; the girl's body rejects the new face and the mask is required once again.
But you know what I found to be truly outrageous? What was with that police scheme to insert Paulette Merodon (Beatrice Altariba) into the professor's den of horror? There didn't seem to be any control in place to monitor the girl's movements, and she could have been another goner in the doctor's twisted scheme of things.
Well I don't know if modern day viewers of a young age would be affected by the story as much as I was. I think the real terror for them would be watching Christiane use that ancient contraption known as a dial telephone. And then, as if to totally confuse the present day techie, boyfriend Jacques has to answer the phone without benefit of caller ID. Oh, the horror!
Well in any event, I thought this film was a genuine creepfest, heartily recommended to genre fans, particularly as I mentioned earlier, to fans of classic horror films of the Forties and Fifties where the mad scientist reigns. In iconic fashion, the evil doctor gets his in the end here, as we learn the answer to that age old question - who let the dogs out?
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