Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Faceless (1987)

The Movie: The great cosmetic surgeon Doctor Frank Flamand (Helmut Berger) seems to have it all. Unfortunately, while on a shopping trip with his wife, Nathalie (the amazing, and terrifying, Brigitte Lahaie), and sister, Ingrid (Christiane Jean), he runs into the only case he failed. The woman in question is not amused at having her face destroyed, and she has a surprise for the good doctor; a vial of acid. In a nasty twist of fate, Ingrid saves her brother and gets the face full of acid instead.

With the help of their mute (and probably inbred) thug, Gordon (Gerard Zalcberg); Frank and Nathalie start kidnapping beautiful women to serve as “donors” to transplant and rebuild Ingrid’s face. This isn’t too big a change for them, as it seems that this is how they have already been collecting materials for Flamand’s miracle treatments. A talk with Dr. Orlof (long time movie veteran and Franco regular Howard Vernon) gets them in touch with Dr. Karl Heinz Moser (veteran actor Anton Diffring in one of his last roles), a former Nazi surgeon who is the only doctor to have performed a true face transplant.

The complications start when our villains kidnap the coked-up model Barbara Hallen (pin-up actress and Bond girl Caroline Munro). Her wealthy father Terry (Telly Savalas) calls in an old friend, the private detective Sam Morgan (Christopher Mitchum), to go to Paris and find her. Now the race is on as Morgan slowly but surely tracks Barbara’s whereabouts and uncovers Flamand’s house of horrors. Will he reach her before she gets her face-ectomy?

The Review: Jess Franco is definitely one of the most interesting directors to have appeared in the last century, in every sense of the word. Starting in the early 1960s, and to my knowledge still making movies, Franco has turned out a very large body of work. Among other things, Franco is known for his very low budgets, his having at least dipped his hand into every traditionally low-budget genre and sub-genre, his fetishistic little touches (such as the cabaret acts that are frequently included in his films), and his penchant for sleaze. That brings us to our current review.

Faceless is a homage/remake/rip-off/take your pick of the 1959 French move Eyes Without a Face. Now, the latter is widely and justly recognized as a subtle, haunting and artistic (in a good way) little movie. The former, on the other hand, is a Franco flick and therefore exploitation, pure and simple. That doesn’t mean, however, that Faceless is not worthwhile. If you’re into exploitation films, Faceless is definitely well worth a look.

In regards to basic structure and script, Faceless works out well. The story is well written and well blocked. It flows more or less believably from its major points until the ending. The ending, admittedly, is rather ambiguous; frustratingly so for some people. However, I, personally, don’t have any problems with it.

The cast is great, particularly the villains. Of course, the standout for me is the extremely talented Brigitte Lahaie. In fact, the fact that she starred in it was my main motivation for seeing Faceless in the first place. As I’ve said before in other reviews, Lahaie is an extremely talented actress. She is particularly good as a villain.

The majority of Lahaie’s movies that I have seen have been horror movies; and the majority of her roles which I have viewed involved her doing “Really Scary,” which she does really well. Her Nathalie Flamand is extremely well done; elegant and sophisticated, and yet twisted and dangerous in a way that can’t always be defined. She is in turn subtly, and very blatantly, threatening. I find that one particular scene stands out, where she is chewing out Gordon for being ‘naughty.’ The thing is, Gordon stands at least a head or two taller than Nathalie, and he has enough body mass for at least two of her; yet he is obviously cowering in terror. What’s more, it does not look ridiculous or incredible at all. Through sheer presence, Lahaie conveys effortlessly who is truly the greater danger.

The other two main villains are also good. Berger as Frank Flamand is equal parts charm, sophistication and monstrousness. Ingrid is more of a presence; most of her behavior is based more off of interaction with the other two than in and of herself. Yet the three do great together. The relationship is delightfully twisted; we get a definite vibe of an incestuous ménage a trois. However, what’s really fascinating is that the relationship as a whole is probably as healthy as a relationship between three bloodthirsty sociopaths could possibly be. There are some dysfunctions, of course; there’s a bit of strain between Nathalie and Frank at times, particularly when her klepto tendencies start biting them on the collective ass. Nevertheless, the three give the impression of being utterly devoted to each other in every way.

Mitchum as Detective Morgan isn’t quite as morbidly fascinating, but he provides a fairly solid hero we can get behind. He does have some less sympathetic traits; he’s a bit amoral in pursuit of his goals, and does tend to think a bit much with his fists; but these traits help to establish him a bit more as a human being than as a simple story trope. Differing is wonderful as the ex-Nazi doctor, with some truly good lines: “Deep down I’m a real sentimentalist.”

There is some debate over how much Faceless fits into Franco’s traditional oeuvre. I am still only familiar with a small fraction of the man’s works, but I’ve noticed a few things. The production is much slicker and comes off as a slight bit more mainstream. Likewise, there’s little if any actual nudity; which could be a good or a bad thing depending on your point of view. I’m still on the fence. Considering the almost obsessive presence of female nudity Franco is known for shoveling into his films, on one level this does seem like a slightly odd omission. Then there are the scenes in the New Wave dance clubs where the Flamands stalk some of their victims; which are an interesting twist on the traditional Franco cabaret scenes.

One exploitation element which Faceless does very well is the gore. Particularly effective for me, personally, are the two face removal scenes we are witness to. Admittedly, they affect me so badly because they are too much like something I’ve experienced. I’ve been wide awake on an operating table before, and it’s not an experience I’d care to repeat, even vicariously.

Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the theme song, Destination Nowhere. It is used a lot throughout the movie, to the point where it sticks in your brain like a flu virus, or a Katy Perry tune. Damn it, not again! Out of my brain Perry! Sigh, guess I’ll be fetching the steel wool when I finish writing this.

So in conclusion, Faceless is a pretty solid, decent, well made and fun little exploitation flick. Gore, sleaze, twisted romance, unnecessary surgery and fistfights abound. If these appeal to you, then by all means watch Faceless.

No comments:

Post a Comment