Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Faceless (1987)

...aka: Depredadores de la noche, Los
...aka: Prédateurs de la nuit, Les
...aka: Predators of the Night

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

Franco is one of those directors who seems to miss ten times more than he hits. However, he did make a handful of OK genre films that, while wildly uneven, at least managed to merge the director's excesses to create an entertaining film. While FACELESS has myriad production woes (loopy plotting, big holes in the story, a very out-of-place/silly pop tune that is repeated about twenty times...), it is surprisingly good in other areas; particularly the excellent casting, the professional photography, the high production values (René Château produced and it was released through his own company), the location work in and around Paris, the fittingly gruesome make-up effects and some effective sick/trashy passages. By dropping the empty pretension that plagues much of his other work, Franco basically gives the intended audience a more straight-forward horror story sparked by exploitation elements hearkening back to Euro-horror cinema of the past, notably Franju's classic EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960) and Franco's own AWFUL DR. ORLOFF, from just one year later.

Crazed Parisian plastic surgeon Frank Flamand (Helmut Berger, who played the title role in DORIAN GRAY back in 1970) wants to restore the beauty of his distraught, slightly disturbed, facially-scarred sister Ingrid (Christiane Jean), who had acid thrown in her face by one of his disgruntled former patients. His clinic is not only a place to work on wealthy older women (including acclaimed French actress Stéphane Audran of all people!), but also (in a hidden wing of the hospital) a place to keep beautiful young ladies prisoner in padded cells. He plans on removing their faces and transplanting them onto Ingrid once he gets the technique down. Aiding him is his icy blonde nurse/lover Nathalie (former Euro porn queen Brigitte Lahaie), a hulking, perverted, semi retarded behemoth with shaved-off eyebrows named Gordon (Gérard Zalcberg) and Dr. Orloff (Howard Vernon, only in one scene), who sends him some help in the form of Nazi war criminal/doctor Dr. Karl Heinz Moser (Anton Diffring), who had previously caught fire experimenting on full face transplants. Meanwhile, New York City detective Sam Morgan (Christopher Mitchum) is on the case after Terry Hallen (Telly Savalas) hires him to find his missing, troublesome, pampered, drug-addicted model daughter Barbara (Caroline Munro). Guess where she disappeared to?

There's plenty of all-around sleaze to keep trash movie fans glued to the screen... Rape, heavily implied incest, voyeurism, necrophilia, threesomes, male gigolos, lesbians, a flamboyant fashion designer, bad disco dancing, decapitation by chainsaw, a needle piercing an eyeball in close-up, two full face scalpings (one of which is extremely messy!), scissors stuck in a neck and much more. Interestingly (and surprisingly) in the uncut version I saw, there is almost no nudity. It was shot in English, with only some of the supporting actors dubbed. The ending was unexpected and right out of Poe. And like I mentioned before, the cast is excellent.

It's hard to imagine a classier and more sophisticated couple of sick-o's than Berger and Lahaie. Both look great cruising the club scene for victims, engaging in kinky scenarios and lashing out violently at victims in the calmest, coolest fashion imaginable. I was particularly impressed with Lahaie. Of course she looks gorgeous (and naturally gorgeous, at that), but she also has great presence as a villainess. She is dubbed in this film, but it's easy to see why she has received mainstream work along with the sex films. Diffring (who has the most incredible pair of eyes in show business) adds his usual stamp of class and a much needed injection of credibility to his final role; a virtual replay of his famous CIRCUS OF HORRORS character. Even though he has nothing to do but sit behind a desk, Savalas is the consummate professional and doesn't embarrass himself. Neither does Munro, who spends most of her scenes in a cell trying to fend off Gordon and gets to show more emotion than usual. The only bad performance out of the principles is Mitchum, who is dull and one-note throughout. Florence Guerin (in an in-joke appearance as herself) and Lina Romay as Mrs. Orloff (she has one line of dialogue) are also here, albeit briefly.

The Shriek Show DVD has very good interviews with Franco, Munro and Mitchum, audio commentary from Franco and Romay, partial audio commentary from Mitchum and some trailers.


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