Jesus Franco. The name has probably repelled some from reading any further.

True, the man has made some utter shit over the years. But to dismiss him as a talentless hack with nary a decent film to his name is wholly unfair. After all, the guy has made hundreds of movies over the last five decades and amongst them are some highly lyrical and evocative titles (VAMPYROS LESBOS; FEMALE VAMPIRE; JUSTINE; EUGENIE; THE AWFUL DOCTOR ORLOFF; NECROMONICON etc). But then there has been the crud - too numerous to mention here. So, for the sake of diplomacy, let's just say the guy's inconsistent

FACELESS is a latter-day Franco effort, hailing from 1988, and is significant for being the only film he shot entirely in English.

Basically a reworking of the classic LES YEUX SANS VISAGE, FACELESS opens with cosmetic surgeon Frank Flamand (Helmut Berger, SALON KITTY; THE GODFATHER PART 3) escorting his sister Ingrid and his wife Nathalie (Brigitte Lahaie, GRAPES OF DEATH; FASCINATION etc) to his car at the end of enjoyable night on the town.

Upon reaching his car, the threesome are confronted by a former patient of Flamand's. Scarred and bitter, she attempts revenge by throwing a jar of acid in the doctor's direction. Ingrid steps in the way, however, and takes the full horrific effect of the acid.

From this point on, Flamand becomes obsessed with the notion of restoring his faithful sister's beauty of old. Nathalie adopts the classic Alida Valli role, venturing out to Parisian clubs at night and luring beautiful women back to the doctor's house for kinky shenanigans. Once there though, the women are locked in bare cells guarded by the brutish Gordon (Gerard Zalcberg, he who played Mr Hyde in Borowczyk's BLOODBATH OF DR JECKYLL).

Meanwhile Helen (Caroline Munro, MANIAC; CAPTAIN KRONOS VAMPIRE HUNTER; THE LAST HORROR FILM etc) is a young upstart rich kid from the States who has moved to Paris to become a fashion model. Having had nose reconstruction at Flamand's institute in the past due to overuse of cocaine, Nathalie knows she can easily entice the pretty model into her car with the promise of free drugs.

And so Helen becomes Flamand's latest catch, and the face he ultimately hopes to transplant onto his sister's disfigured visage. That is, until Gordon gets rough while raping Helen and cuts her face.

Oh dear. What with the arrival of celebrated SS experiment doctor Karl Moser (Anton Diffring, WHERE EAGLES DARE; MARK OF THE DEVIL 2) being imminent - he's the only man in the world who can perform this revolutionary grafting operation - Flamand needs a fresh face quickly. Cue Nathalie, back out on the pull for pretty young girls.

Meanwhile, Helen's business mogul father Terry (Telly Savalas, LISA AND THE DEVIL; KOJAK etc) hires New York detective Sam (Chris Mitchum, Jodorowsky's TUSK - which incidentally co-starred Diffring) to find her. Sam uses his heavy-handed, physically intimidating methods to move ever closer to the truth while in Paris. But will he find Helen? And will the pair of them be able to outwit Flamand et al, and escape??

The plot, as you've no doubt determined for yourself by now, is preposterous. But Franco has been graced with a good budget (by his standards) and, as you can see, a great International cast. And these factors contribute enormously towards FACELESS' success.

Well photographed and boasting some of the most stylish compositions seen in a Franco film since the early 70s, the film satisfies on a visual level. The gothic poetry of his best work is not present, but this a damn sight more attractive than the likes of BLOODY MOON. The high production values and cinematography of Maurice Fellous must surely be acknowledged on this front.

And as for Franco's direction? Fear not, the dreaded zoom-in shots are nowhere to be seen!

Christine Pansu has edited the movie in an agreeably fast-paced manner, allowing the story to move from one sleazy sex scene or gore set-piece to the next. Of which there are a good few.

The scenes involving Moser's attempts to remove the faces of attractive women on an operating table are deliciously gruesome - and surprisingly well conceived. Franco is obviously pleased with FX artist Jacques Gastineau's (LIFEFORCE) work too: he lingers on the gory details without apology.

Other gory highlights include a nifty scissors-through-the-throat scene and a chain saw beheading that, in honesty, lets the side down a little. But as for the scene where a nosy patient at Flamand's clinic suffers a syringe to the eyeball?! Fantastic.

FACELESS is definitely one of Franco's most accessible films, and if the fast pace and high quotient of sleazy gore scenes doesn't get your heart racing surely you must be at least a little curious to see a Franco film with a cast that boasts Munro, Savalas, Berger, Lahaie, Mitchum, Diffring and the late great Howard Vernon (DAY OF THE JACKAL; BOB LE FLAMBEUR; countless Franco films)?!

An enjoyably trashy film, then, with a keener sense of style than many latter-day Franco offerings. And if you like your horror to come from the 80s (complete with bad fashion and even worse disco score) and laced with frequent lashings of gore, then you could do a lot worse than this.

Shriek Show's disc has been the object of some controversy. First, there were the huge delays. I mean, the disc hit the streets in late January, but when was this initially due out?! Then there was the matter of it's proposed 2 disc special edition being reduced to a single disc presentation. THEN there were reports that the initial pressings had a major fault and had to be recalled. Oh, and I doubt it's gone unnoticed that the final line of dialogue in the film has been taken from a French master and therefore is spoken in an entirely different language to the rest of the film! (the line is something like "get me a ticket to Paris")

But I can only comment on how I found the disc. And I was delighted.

Firstly, the picture quality is absolutely sublime. This is one of the most immaculate transfers I've seen in ages - simply beautiful. Colours are sharp and vivid, there's no grain and everything looks significantly brighter than it ever did on VHS. It's a sterling job. Image aspect is 1.85:1, anamorphic.

The audio - 2.0 surround, English - is equally impressive: loud, clear and consistent. There's no hiss, pops or drop-outs at all.

Shriek Show have also provided an array of genuinely interesting extras for this release.

A feature-length commentary track finds Franco and uncredited assistant director Lina Romay discussing the film in Spanish, with the benefit of removable English subtitles provided by SS.

There's an excellent, lengthy video interview with Munro who is keen to discuss all aspects of her career in exploitation films. Her insight into the rape scene in FACELESS is especially illuminating.

Chris Mitchum is also interviewed onscreen, and he too makes for an interesting watch. His recollection of the shoot is witty and well-preserved (and he looks more like his dad every day).

A video interview with Franco himself follows, and is equally worthy of your time (though why his interview is shorter than Munro's - who essentially has little more than a cameo role in the film - is anybody's guess). It's a pleasant surprise though.

The original theatrical trailer is in good shape, and the stills gallery offers some attractive artwork to wade through.

An attractive fold-out booklet offers an additional text interview with Munro, and a filmography to boot (both written by Steve Swires).

Last but not least there's the nice addition of a double-sided cover. A nice touch, that harks back to the days of pre-cert VHS.

Menus are dull and static, but greeted with nice soundbites from the film's more exploitative moments. The disc is region 1 encoded and comes in a black keepcase.

Speak as you find, as the saying goes. I was deeply impressed with Shriek Show's disc of FACELESS. The visual presentation is jaw-droppingly flawless, and the sound (bar that one line of French dialogue at the end!) is great too. The extras are magnificent and greatly appreciated when you consider that FACELESS is hardly a classic of it's genre.

A fun proposition, that benefits greatly from a gorgeous transfer.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Shriek Show
Region All NTSC
Not Rated
Extras : see main review