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Film Review: Faceless (1987)

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A beautiful French female gets her face ruined by some crazy broad who throws acid on her face. Her determined brother is a doctor and promises to restore her beauty and make her look like an attractive girl again. He begins to kidnap young and beautiful females and bringing them to his clinic with the help of his nurse and soon enough they kidnap a model and her father sends a detective out to find out what has happened to her


Faceless is a movie that wastes no time getting right into the action. We see Dr. Frank Flamand (Helmut Berger, most famous for his work in many of Visconti’s film, including Ludwig and The Damned), his sister Ingrid (Christiane Jean), and his assistant Nathalie (Brigitte Lahaie, France’s number one adult film star turned scream queen, recently featured as Mademoiselle Vicky in the very disturbing Calvaire) riding around town and shopping. As they are walking back to their car in a parking garage, a disfigured woman pulls up to the group. She blames the doctor for her unfortunately scarred face, then attempts to splash acid on him for revenge. However, Ingrid pushes him out of the way and the acid hits her in the face. She screams as her skin begins peeling off, and Dr. Flamand promises to one day restore her beauty. This promise, along with the doctor’s efforts to fulfill it, represent the next ninety-eight minutes of your life. You could certainly do worse.

Dr. Flamand runs a plastic surgery clinic in France, and has numerous patients who keep coming back for his treatments as he seems to be a miracle worker. His methods aren’t quite on the up-and-up, however, a secret which he keeps between himself and his assistant Nathalie (who is also his lover). Behind a private, locked door at the clinic, he keeps women locked up against their will in order to “use” them for his treatments. Neither the patients nor the other staff has any knowledge of this secret area, and those who catch on find themselves mysteriously dead.

Realizing he is personally unable to bring back his sister’s beauty, Flamand contacts Dr. Orloff (Howard Vernon, reprising his role from Franco’s 1962 film The Awful Dr. Orloff). Orloff puts them in contact with Dr. Moser (Anton Diffring, once again pigeon-holed to play the Nazi), a former surgeon who did experiments involving face transplants during “the war.” Of course, in order to successfully transplant a new face onto Ingrid, another face is needed. Which brings us to further realize that Dr. Flamand is not just a nice fellow trying to help out his sister.

Jesus (Jess) Franco is a Spanish director best known for his 1970’s exploitation and horror-erotica films. This is obvious just by looking at some of his most famous movies: Sinner: Diary of a Nymphomaniac; She Killed in Ecstasy; Vampyros Lesbos; and the list goes on. So it comes as no surprise that numerous attractive women would be featured throughout this film, nor that many of these women fall victim to gruesome fates. He easily incorporates this into the story through the search for Ingrid’s new face. We see models, dancers, actresses, and escorts in various states of clothedness as the doctor and Nathalie look for a good replacement. We also see a strange incestuous relationship uncovered between Ingrid and her brother as well as his voyeuristic tendencies on full display.

They first kidnap a fashion model named Barbara Hallen (the beautiful Caroline Munro, previously a Bond girl in The Spy Who Loved Me and a slave girl in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad). However, she gets more time on the clock when the goon who watches over the underground clinic rapes her and bruises her face. At the same time, in America, Detective Terry Hallen (played by Kojak himself, Telly Savalas) calls in Private Investigator Sam Morgan (Christopher Mitchum, son of Robert).  Barbara is Detective Hallen’s daughter, and he hasn’t heard from her so asks his old friend to help find her.

Faceless isn’t so much a horror film as it is maybe a gory detective story. While Dr. Flamand and Nathalie spend their time looking for a perfect replacement face and having sex, P.I. Morgan is shaking down possible witnesses on a trail leading him to the clinic. But I promise, the gore is there. Hands are chopped off, headless bodies are found, a syringe is graphically plunged into a nosy patient’s eye (that’s always been my weak spot, the needle in the eye). A snooping nurse hides in a cabinet where she finds a skull full of maggots (which three years later becomes the title of a Cannibal Corpse song). And this is saying nothing of the first attempt at the face grafting surgery that goes wrong. Surprisingly, the gore is much harder than the sex, which for the most part is assumed off screen.

Some fans of Franco’s work consider this one of his greatest films, others feel it is a bigger budgeted departure from his previous classics. Without comparing at all, and simply judging Faceless as a stand-alone film, it is an entertaining story with some interesting kills. The story is fairly simple, the acting is okay, the gore effects range from campy to good. I hit a point where I was sure I knew how it would end, then I found myself thrown for a couple unexpected loops in the last scenes that brought my opinion back up. Having been all that familiar with Franco’s work, Faceless leaves me comfortable enough to follow through and check out more of his early work.

Faceless (1987)

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