Film Review: Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Also known as: Les yeux sans visage (original title), House of Dr. Rasanoff (alternate title), The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus (US dubbed version)
Release Date: January 11th, 1960 (France)
Directed by: Georges Franju
Written by: Georges Franju, Jean Redon, Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Claude Sautet
Based on: Les yeux sans visage by Jean Redon
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Édith Scob, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel

Champs-Élysées Productions, Lux Film, Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France, 84 Minutes

Review:

“My face frightens me. My mask frightens me even more.” – Christiane Génessier

Eyes Without a Face isn’t what I would call a scary horror film, as much as I’d call it a chilling one.

It’s sad, it’s tragic, it has great atmosphere, solid cinematography and incredible performances and all that is really just the tip of the iceberg.

There is something deep and introspective in this motion picture. It’s unsettling but it’s somehow sweet in a very twisted way. Yet that sweetness comes naturally and while you should hate the antagonists of this film, you understand that the horrible things they do is out of love. That doesn’t excuse their horrible acts but for a horror film released in 1960, it makes you sympathize with evil, which wasn’t too common back then.

That being said, it’s still great to see the bad guys get their comeuppance in the end, especially since it comes at the hands of the one they loved most.

The story revolves around a surgeon and his daughter, who has had her face completely destroyed. In an effort to restore his daughter’s beauty, he has his female assistant lure in young girls only to abduct them and steal their face. A lot of the scenes are terrifying, as all the girls seem sweet and innocent, as you know that they are being pulled into something horrible.

What makes things more difficult, is that the disfigured daughter, Christiane, is also a sweet girl who exists within very tragic circumstances. She becomes aware of what’s happening and it’s a sad realization and hard to watch unfold on the screen. But Christiane’s face is obscured by an almost faceless mask for most of the film. Édith Scob was able to convey Christiane’s emotions quite well though, considering that all she had to work with were her eyes and body language.

The surgeon’s assistant is played by Alida Valli, who you will recognize from the original Suspiria, as well as the near perfect film-noir The Third Man. Valli gives a stupendous performance here as she uses her charm to trap the young girls and deliver them to the mad surgeon.

The film also has an incredibly effective and very unique score done by Maurice Jarre. It has a real contrast to the tone we see on screen, as the music is lighthearted and almost comical in certain moments. I think that it was used to make things purposely disjointed and more unsettling in specific scenes. It may seem out of place and strange at first glance but by the end of the film, it works amazingly well.

There are also a lot of really stellar shots in the film. The scene where we get a bit of the face reveal of Christiane, when she comes face to face with one of her father’s victims is incredibly powerful and creepy. Also, the scene of Christiane walking outside, after releasing the savage German Shepherds and caged doves is beautiful.

Eyes Without a Face is more of an experience than a movie. It probably won’t resonate with modern audiences as well as it did with people in 1960 but if you love a film with an interesting atmosphere and something with real emotional depth to it, then you’ll probably dig this picture.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: it’s pretty unique but I like watching this with 1962’s Carnival of Souls.

Film Review: The Third Man (1949)

Release Date: September 2nd, 1949 (UK)
Directed by: Carol Reed
Written by: Graham Greene
Music by: Anton Karas
Cast: Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli (credited as Valli), Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, Robert Brown

London Films, British Lion Film Corporation, Selznick Releasing Organization, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.” – Harry Lime

It is sad to say that I really didn’t know much about The Third Man until a friend recently told me about it. Having now watched it, I remember seeing a trailer for it long ago and I had the intention of seeing it but never did. I clearly remembered the visual of the Wiener Riesenrad, Vienna’s famous giant Ferris wheel.

That being said, the visuals throughout the entire film are captivating and mesmerizing. The picture captures the film-noir aesthetic and emphasizes a high contrast. Between the streets of post-War Vienna, the famous landmarks and the cavernous and ominous sewer system, the director and cinematographer turned Vienna into the main character of the picture. There is just a mysterious allure that draws you in and doesn’t release you until the film fades to black after 108 minutes.

The film re-teams the duo of Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles, who first worked together on CBS Radio’s The American School of the Air and would be most known for staring together in Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane. The two would go on to have a great working relationship in several films. Both men are studious actors who have both reached legendary status and for good reason. Their ability to play off of one another is magnificent and each brings out the best in the other. This film showcases what the duo can do when put together. Not to say that both men weren’t great on their own.

The cast also features Alida Valli (credited as just Valli). She was a great Italian actress who was in more than a hundred films. I grew to appreciate her work in films like Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Inferno. She was also featured in a lot of giallo pictures by Mario Bava and Argento, as well as Italian horror films throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

There is also the appearance of Bernard Lee as a British police sergeant. He is probably best known as the original version of M in the James Bond franchise.

The Third Man is written by accomplished novelist Graham Greene and directed by auteur Carol Reed, who would later win an Oscar for Oliver! and who also directed the classics Odd Man Out and The Fallen Idol. This is probably Reed’s best work however, even though it didn’t capture the Academy Award for Best Director. It did win for Best Cinematography, however, which went to Robert Krasker, whose work can also be seen in Odd Man Out, as well as Brief Encounter and Another Man’s Poison.

As the story beings, we learn that the main character, a novelist named Holly Martins (Cotton), has arrived in Vienna at the invitation of his dear friend Harry Lime (Welles). However, we soon discover that Lime has died. As the plot rolls on, Martins comes to learn that Lime may be alive, probably faked his own death and there is a big mystery that needs to be solved.

The film’s plot is very layered but it plays out like a standard noir plot structure, even though it doesn’t follow the traditional subject matter of a noir and is missing some key elements. While Valli is quite the beautiful accompaniment to the men in the film, she isn’t a traditional femme fatale and the film breaks from the noir norm in other aspects too. However, The Third Man still encompasses the noir style and spirit but it is the product of a natural evolution within the genre and thus, isn’t a stale or derivative picture by any means. It is very much its own thing while giving a proper nod to its inspirations.

From a musical standpoint, the picture utilizes zither music. It really sets the narrative in the proper time and place and gives the movie a sense of authenticity and a sort of exotic charm.

The Third Man is a masterpiece. While not quite Citizen Kane, it is just about perfect in every way. Being a Welles fan, I wish he was in it a bit more but the scenes we get are of the highest quality. Plus, the big crescendo, as Welles’ Harry Lime runs through the labyrinth of Vienna’s sewers in an effort to escape a massive police force, is probably my favorite motion picture moment that involves Welles. It is a stupendous climax that has great suspense and looks stunning on the screen.

Films don’t get much better than this and The Third Man completely encapsulates the term “movie magic”. It isn’t often that a film feels like a living, breathing intelligent being of its own. The Third Man is one of these motion pictures. It is truly exceptional and may be in my personal top twenty of all-time.

Film Review: Lisa and the Devil (1973)

Release Date: May 9th, 1973 (France)
Directed by: Mario Bava (as Mickey Lion), Alfredo Leone (English version scenes)
Written by: Alberto Cittini, Giorgio Maulini, Romano Migliorini, Roberto Natale, Francesca Rusishka, Mario Bava, Alfredo Leone
Music by: Carlo Savina
Cast: Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina, Alessio Orano, Alida Valli

Euro America Produzioni, Cinematografiche, Leone International, Roxy Film, Tecisa, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I prefer ghosts to vampires, though. They’re so much more human; they have a tradition to live up to. Somehow they manage to keep all the horror in without spilling any blood.” – Sophia Lehar

I’m a pretty big fan of Mario Bava’s work. Some of it is brilliant but some of it misses the mark. Unfortunately, Lisa and the Devil is one of the films that fits in with the latter.

I checked it out because I also love Telly Savalas and Alida Valli, due to her work with Dario Argento, most notably Suspiria and Inferno. Also, the premise sounded really cool.

The story is about an American woman who is sightseeing in Spain. She sees a fresco that features the Devil. She then bumps into a man that looks exactly like the Devil from the painting. She tries to avoid him but he keeps popping up. Eventually, after losing her tour group, she takes a ride from some aristocrats who break down in front of a Spanish mansion in the country. The mansion’s butler is none other than the man the American woman kept seeing. Stranded at the mansion, things get interesting.

Well, things should have gotten interesting but they really don’t.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it is so surreal that it is hard to follow. It is also disjointed and takes rapid twists and turns that don’t really do anything other than complicate the narrative. To be completely honest, I have no idea what the hell was happening in this picture from the midpoint on. The American edit of the film is even more confusing, from what I’ve heard, as it had major changes that complicated it further, as it tried to mimic The Exorcist and ultimately got critically torn apart for blatantly ripping off that superior film.

The positives of this film are too scant to really redeem it in any way.

Telly Savalas is cool as the Devil character but he just isn’t explored enough.

Also, the cinematography and use of colors was cool but it didn’t save the cheap looking sets and poor overall design of them. The mansion comes off as just pieces of ornately painted flat walls, which it probably was.

Lisa and the Devil was most likely a failure because it had too many chefs in the kitchen and Bava went too far over the top and needed to reel it in a bit.

Film Review: Inferno (1980)

Release Date: February 7th, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Based on: Suspiria de Profundis by Thomas De Quincey
Music by: Keith Emerson
Cast: Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, Alida Valli

Produzioni Intersound, 20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

“There are mysterious parts in that book, but the only true mystery is that our very lives are governed by dead people.” – Kazanian

For those that don’t know, Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria was actually the first part in what would become a trilogy of films. The second chapter in The Mother of Tears Trilogy is this picture, Inferno.

While this is not the masterpiece that Suspiria is, it is still a stellar companion piece that recaptures the beauty and dread of the first picture. It employs colorful tones and stark contrasts. It uses shadows and highlights superbly and is actually a bit more refined in this regard than its predecessor. Some of that might also have to do with Argento hiring his mentor and giallo master Mario Bava to create some of the optical effects, as well as matte paintings and some direction on trickier shots.

Additionally, Argento suffered a severe case of hepatitis while filming Inferno. He had to shoot some scenes while bedridden and then had to take some time off, as the illness got worse. Mario Bava stepped in to shoot some of the second unit material until production could commence. Also, Lamberto Bava, Mario’s son, was the film’s assistant director. So despite Argento’s health issues, the film was in capable hands and brought together three of the best Italian horror maestros.

Inferno is quintessentially a giallo in its visual style. While it isn’t a proto-slasher flick in the way earlier giallo’s were, it still employs the essence of one while there is much more going on than just a sole slasher cutting up victims in the night.

While shot mostly in Rome, the bulk of the film takes place in New York City. We find out that the evil witch from Suspiria was one of three sisters. This film deals with the sister that lives in New York. However, we also get to see evil forces at work in Rome and the appearance of a mesmerizing young woman that one can assume is the third sister. The third and final film in this series (The Mother of Tears) deals with the last sister and takes place in Rome.

If you are a fan of Suspiria, you should definitely like this film.

The narrative in this chapter isn’t focused on just one primary character like its predecessor. Inferno follows different people, in different cities, as they come to face the looming and growing danger. You kind of aren’t sure who you should be focused on until the film is rolling for quite awhile. There is the sister in New York, the girlfriend in Rome and the brother who travels across the Atlantic from Rome to New York. There are also other characters and you are never quite sure who might know more than they are leading on.

Suspiria was pretty straightforward with a lot of mystery and suspense. Inferno may initially seem a bit disjointed but its mystery has more layers and the suspense is still very effective. This picture enriches the mythos of the trilogy where Suspiria simply told its own singular story.

Inferno is a damn good movie. It is not Argento’s best but it still displays the exceptional work of an auteur with near perfect execution while still at the top of his game. Despite Argento’s health situation, he turned out an incredible motion picture that is just as enchanting and nightmarish as his magnum opus, Suspiria.

Film Review: Suspiria (1977)

Release Date: February 1st, 1977 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Based on: Suspiria de Profundis by Thomas De Quincey
Music by: Goblin, Dario Argneto
Cast: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett, Barbara Magnolfi

Seda Spettacoli, Produzioni Atlas Consorziate, International Classics, 98 Minutes

suspiriaReview:

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Dario Argento’s fantastic picture Suspiria. While I have seen the film many times and this website’s name Cinespiria is even inspired by the film, I had to watch it again, on its anniversary. Frankly, it isn’t a film that I could ever get tired of and it lead me down the path of exploring Italian horror as well as the colorful and suspenseful giallo genre.

While not exactly a giallo picture, Suspiria has strong giallo elements, especially in its visual style and with the inclusion of what seems like a slasher-like serial killer during two key parts of the film. Directors Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci were the maestros of giallo. Argento’s Suspiria just fits in so well with the classics of that genre, despite the added elements of supernatural horror and witchcraft.

Even if, for some strange reason, someone doesn’t like this movie, its gorgeous color palate and mesmerizing surreal world has to be appreciated. Suspiria plays like a sinister dream with shocking and horrifying twists and turns as it builds suspense in a way that very few films can. It is a vibrant and haunting fairy tale that somehow manages to be a perfect balance of horror and beauty.

One could argue that Suspiria is a film that values style over substance but the substance is still very good. The story plays out nicely and it is well-paced. The movie is only 98 minutes but it feels like so much happens in that time. Some sequences seem to be drawn out but ultimately, it serves the film greatly, as the suspense reaches fairly extreme levels.

Suspiria, in a nutshell, is the story of an American girl who travels to a professional dance school outside of Munich, Germany. While there, she has very weird experiences and slowly discovers that the school is a front for a coven of sinister witches.

Jessica Harper is the perfect lead for this movie. She was beautiful yet intelligent and had a real charm to her. She was an innocent girl introduced to a horrifying reality but despite her overwhelming fear, was able to come off as a strong and tough female, in a time when that was rare in film. She was the precursor to the American scream queens that would dominate horror pictures once Jamie Lee Curtis appeared a year later in Halloween.

Eva Axén, who played the first victim in the film, had a classic old world beauty to her and regardless of her short screen time, really hit it out of the park, as she was brutally murdered on the rooftop of an opulent apartment complex.

The other young girls in the film were standard fare: nothing special, nothing extraordinary.

The two actresses that really nailed their roles were Alida Valli as the domineering Miss Tanner and Joan Bennett as the dance school’s assistant director Madame Blanc. Both women did a fine job of conveying their roles as leaders of the school while slowly evolving into suspicious characters and later, sinister witches.

Suspiria benefits from some of the most amazing cinematography ever captured on film. Every frame was captured with anamorphic lenses while sets were decorated with vivid primary and secondary colors. All of this care to color and atmosphere were enhanced by the use of imbibition Technicolor prints. This old school style was used to magnify the nightmarish visual tone of the picture. In fact, Suspiria is one of the last films to be processed in Technicolor. The amazing visuals of the film also owe a lot to the meticulous set design and architecture.

To coincide with the hypnotic visual tone of the film, the score by Goblin was equally impressive and responsible for creating this dark yet colorful nightmare. While the songs that Goblin used had been produced before the film, Argento did a great job of including them in just the right places. The sound of the film is just as surreal and haunting as the sights.

Suspiria is near perfection. It is an incredibly visceral experience and in many ways, quite unsettling. It is also pristine in its presentation. My biggest regret, is that I haven’t seen this motion picture on the big screen. This is one of those bucket list movies that I must see in a theater.

Unfortunately, the film is being remade. To me, that seems like cinematic sacrilege. But maybe it will come and go, unnoticed like that awful Black Christmas remake.