Apr 15, 2013


Jesús "Jess" Franco was indubitably one of the most uniquely untalented and artistically inept auteur filmmakers who ever lived as a sort of ‘Spanish Ed Wood’ with stunted artistic pretensions and a wealth of passion, albeit more prolific and prone to pornography, yet the strikingly unsophisticated filmmaker did direct a semi-decent film or two during his admittedly long and eventful lifetime and his totally tasteless cinematic work Faceless (1987) aka Les prédateurs de la nuit – an exceedingly exploitative 'anti-bourgeois bourgeois' slasher flick starring none other than Austrian queen Helmut Berger (Ludwig, Salon Kitty) as the lead, if not ludicrously lethargic, villain – is undoubtedly one of highest points in the filmmaker’s eclectically artistically-lowly career as a prophet of torture porn, as well as horror films totally rid of genuine human emotion. An unofficial remake and deplorably degenerate update of the French-Italian horror classic Eyes Without a Face (1960) aka Les yeux sans visage directed by Georges Franju with a storyline reminiscent of Franco’s first feature The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962) aka Gritos en la noche, Faceless is undoubtedly an absurdly artless and asinine piece of curiously crude cinematic storytelling, yet it does have a couple moments of genuine horror and austere aesthetic brutality, albeit of the scientifically nonsensical sort as inspired by the holocaust mythos, thus making for a startlingly superficial flick that is big on sadistic shocks, sheer stupidity, and super soulless and shitty style, which is arguably the filmmaker’s greatest legacy as a would-be-auteur filmmaker. A fiercely feckless and philistinic piece of filmmaking, Faceless is one of those many horror films that reminds the viewer why the post-silent era horror genre is almost exclusively without a shred of artistic merit, but it is also an aesthetically and thematically reckless work that reminds one why it is also a fun genre with its complete and utter disregard for anything resembling intellectual integrity, artistic dignity, or aesthetic soundness. In short, Faceless, like the disfigured women in the film, is an aesthetic abomination that in certain contexts can be enjoyed, but is ultimately nothing more than a bottom of the barrel guilty pleasure, even if it features a nefarious Nazi surgeon who experimented on Jews, Helmut Berger, an ugly bastard mongrel of a necrophile henchman, and some of the most sickening medical surgery disaster scenarios ever depicted in cinema history. 

Pretty boy French doctor Frank Flamand (Helmut Berger in an against type and ultimately worthless performance) thinks he is at the top of the world due to his social and financial prestige, but things take a terrible turn for the worst when a certain Mrs. Francois (Tilda Thamar) – an ex-patient of his whose faced he caused to be disfigured in a botched plastic surgery disaster – seeks revenge by attempting to throw acid in his face like a savage Islamic terrorist, but instead it splashes the good doctor’s lovely sister Ingrid (Christiane Jean), thus leaving her horribly disfigured and less than sexually delectable in the process. Naturally, Dr. Flamand blames himself for his sister’s premature facial degeneration, so he gets his beautiful yet butch lesbo assistant Nathalie (Brigitte Lahaie) to kidnap an American model babe named Barbara Hallen (Caroline Munro), who is taken to the basement floor of the good doctor’s clinic, as he plans to perform a face transplant so he can give his severely scarred sis the gift of natural beauty like she has never had before. Of course, kidnapped girl Barbara’s father Terry Hallen (Telly Savalas) becomes deeply concerned when he does not hear from his daughter, so he hires a would-be-wise-cracking private detective named Sam Morgan (Chris Mitchum) to track her down. Following a lead, Mr. Morgan pays a visit to Barbara's photo director Maxence (Marcel Philippot) – a stereotypically anally retentive homo with an unhealthy obsession with buying abhorrent art pieces, which the private detective happily destroys to get answers from the feisty flamer – and learns that the girl moonlighted as a high-priced hooker and that she vanished without a trace with an expensive gold watch during a photo shoot. When Morgan pays a visit to Flamand’s clinic after tracing Barbara’s credit card there, he notices the doctor’s assistant Nathalie is wearing the watch and concludes that some sort of foul play is involved. Little does Morgan realize that Dr. Flamand has hired a Nazi doctor named Karl Heinz Moser (Anton Diffring) to transplant the face of female slaves onto the deranged doc’s sister Ingrid and Barbara is one of the involuntary donors signed up for the highly experimental surgery. Luckily, Barbara’s face was badly damaged by a mongrel freak with a Euro-trash mullet named Gordon (Gérard Zalcberg, who played the rather repellent Mr. Hyde in Walerian Borowczyk’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981)) – a fiendish fellow that does all of Flamand’s dirty work, including brutalizing and murdering gorgeous women – so they do not plan to use her for a transplant, but other women are not so lucky. After kidnapping an actress (Florence Guérin), Dr. Moser attempts to transplant her face onto Ingrid Flamand’s but the face falls apart during mid-surgery and Gordon disposes of the mutilated woman by cutting her head off with a chainsaw (as the eyes of the faceless actress move frantically), but does not forget to kiss the bloody skeletal lips of the fallen beauty during a sickening and senseless scene of quasi-necrophilia. Eventually, Morgan finds Barbara imprisoned in the clinic basement in a dark holding cell, but ultimately finds himself imprisoned as well not long thereafter. In the end, Faceless concludes on a curiously anti-climatic cliffhanger that is as satisfying as an aborted orgasm during a warm summer night. 

 With an absolutely appalling and totally uncomplimentary soundtrack by Italian-Canadian pop singer Vincenzo Thoma, the emotional authenticity and moral integrity of an Eli Roth film, the worst sort of cultural and aesthetic decadence of 1980s Euro-sleaze, horribly contrived comic relief scenarios that are scarier than the actual murder scenes, and a near total waste of a couple great actors, especially in regard to Helmut Berger, it is hard to give a film like Faceless any sort of serious critical reverence, but I would be lying if I did not admit that I watched the film no less than three times this year as there is something about it that makes you keep coming back, if not for all the wrong reasons. Like his incoherent surrealist ‘arthouse’ horror flick Necronomicon - Geträumte Sünden (1968) aka Succubus, Faceless is one of the very few Jess Franco films I can recommend as a delectable-enough dirty diamond in the rough from a filmmaker with an unhealthy obsession with seeing beauteous women die grizzly deaths.  Indeed, unlike Yukio Mishima or Veit Harlan, Mr. Franco seemed to be quite against beautiful corpses.  To his credit, while wallowing in the materialistic vanity of the 1980s, Franco also manages to portray such smug vainglory in an exceedingly unflattering light via Faceless to the point where he literally has it ripped to shreds like paper via the angelic faces of statuesque beauties. Also to his credit, Franco managed to ‘master’ what he first sought to achieve with his debut work The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962) by taking the gore, unsettling sensuality, and brutality to stomach-churning extremes that would make Mario Bava scream. Indeed, if you ever get the urge to take a break from serious arthouse films, Faceless makes for a bittersweet treat as a sort of anti-arthouse affair and an Alain Robbe-Grillet flick for philistines set in a banausic France without Godard or Resnais, but with only Jesús Franco on a pseudo-modish murder rampage of the marvelously misogynistic sort.  It is with Faceless, as well as Necronomicon - Geträumte Sünden (1968), 99 Women (1969), Venus in Furs (1969), Vampyros Lesbos (1971), and a couple other films, that Jess Franco will be remembered in infamy as an idiosyncratic libertine auteur of marginal artistic talent yet unlimited passion, and not as the typical nameless and faceless exploitation/horror hack, which is no small achievement (relatively speaking, of course).

-Ty E

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