“ Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Fantasy / Director: Jesus Franco / Actors: Helmut Berger, Brigitte Lahaie, Telly Savalas, Christopher Mitchum, Stéphane Audran ... / DVD released 2004-02-24 at Shriek Show / Features of the DVD: Colour, Widescreen, NTSC „
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A film-only review. A US import DVD can be had for about £8 on amazon.
This is a late film (1987) for horror and porn director Jesus Franco, whose heyday was in the 1970s. By the late 80s, the type of exploitation which he had made had largely died out, replaced by tedious generic US horror and tired softcore erotic movies inspired by the turgid Nine and a Half Weeks. Exploitation films stopped being fun around 1985, and this is a depressingly generic film from a director like Franco. Certainly, many of his more personal efforts are unwatchably bad, but there's something inherently loveable about the idea of a low-on-talent Spanish hack churning out hundreds of mucky horror movies to some insane template in his own head.
It lifts its story unashamedly from the French classic Eyes Without a Face, the first ever surgical horror, and the first in which a deranged surgeon tried to transplant the damaged face of a loved one. So here dodgy plastic surgeon Dr Flamand has a sister who is hideously scarred in a vitriol attack. Flamand and his amoral wife have a clinic, and there they kidnap girls and attempt to do a cheap face/off job on them. It never works, but eventually they hook up with a Nazi surgeon who has more chance of success. They overreach themselves by kidnapping coked-up model Barbara Hallen. Her wealthy American father hires his old Vietnam buddy Sam to find and rescue his daughter.
It's not a new story, and the few novel ideas - the involvement of the ageing Nazi doctor, for instance - don't really add anything cogent to the mix. The film is as muddled as Franco's films usually are, although it's made with considerably more technical proficiency than is usual. The camera never wobbles, never goes out of focus, and never tries to zoom in on something inappropriate. A Franco film without Franco's trademarks is basically just a bad horror film, although happily a few minor Franco tropes are present (a pointless jewel theft and a doctor called 'Orloff'). Weirdly, in spite of a few flashes of nudity, this has very little sex in it, and most putative sexual encounters end badly. There's an atmosphere of sleaze, but it never really amounts to anything.
The only thing this really has going for it is the gore. This has proper gore effects, which for a cheap Euro horror film is actually quite surprising. Although not quite convincing, there are some genuinely impressive bloody effects involving prosthetic body parts and melting faces. The face removal sequences are not bad at all, and if over the top gore is your thing, you'll find something to enjoy here. The film overall looks glossy, and this must have had one of the biggest budgets Franco ever worked with.
It certainly has an impressive cast, at least in exploitation terms. Helmut Berger plays the plastic surgeon, and veers between camp and apathetic. But he's backed ably by porn star Brigitte Lahaie as his wife, giving a reasonably spirited performance (and looking like a white Grace Jones). An old-looking Telly Savalas plays the rich American, although he never leaves his office, and his scenes must have taken all of a day to film. Caroline Munro plays his daughter - long past her Hammer horror prime, Munro ended up in a lot of shabby films like this. Although visibly too old for the part, she is perfectly competent, and high enough up the food chain not to have to do nudity.
Sam is played by Chris Mitchum, son of Robert - he looks a bit like his father, but has none of the charisma or acting talent. He does get a hilarious fight scene, though. The Nazi is played by Anton Diffring, a cheap horror perennial, in one of his last film roles. And Franco regular Howard Vernon has a small, bland cameo. Franco's regular leading lady, his wife Lina Romay, is relegated to a walk-on part - I guess with all these 'proper' actors Franco was able to cast her aside. The cad.
The best thing about the film is the company's ident - an animated panther posing against a disk of fire, in space! Companies nowadays tend to go for quirkines or gravitas, but I salute Rene Chateau for choosing the tacky grandiosity route. Other than that, although much better made than Franco's usual stuff, Faceless is a painfully generic piece of work. It lacks the minimal spark that you normally get with the idiosyncratic director, and although it's fun spotting actors you've seen in better films, in truth none of them are really any good.
It's also far too rooted in the late 80s, with turgid music by a bland European George Michael soundalike, and women with shoulder pads and upsettingly large hair. It had plenty of potential, but sadly it fails to deliver on most of its promise. The lesson here is, don't watch Jess Franco films from later than 1985.