Saturday, November 23, 2013

Brutality and Poetry

Les Yeux sans visage. Georges Franju, 1960.

There can be a fascinating conflict in horror between confrontation and comfort.

I suspect that many people find reassurance in the rituals of horror; they know that Dracula will be forced back into his tomb by daylight or by cross; they know that Cthulhu will fail to destroy the world because "the stars are not right;" they know that an exorcist will clean up all the cold pea soup. Everything strange, every threat, will become familiar and predictable and pleasingly bland.

Yet horror can also confront our fears and preserve their power. No cross, no stars, no cleaned-up soup; instead, the abyss. The grave. The darkness at the end of all things.

Comfortable horror wins fan clubs and imitators, but confrontational horror tends to be distrusted. We never see long lines of people eager to buy tickets for Shame or Seconds or Eyes Without A Face.

Eyes (Les Yeux sans visage) is an interesting hybrid. The elements are familiar: isolated house, mad surgeon, terrible experiments, a ghost -- all very comforting. Yet the house is a modern medical clinic, the surgeon is torn between parental guilt and a doctor's drive to dominate everyone and everything around him, the experiments are the sort that you can read about in medical journals, the ghost is a deeply sad woman who has lost everything she loves.

The plot, as well, might seem familiar, but here again, the standards never quite match our expectations. The police are active, alert, intelligent, and useless. The grieving fiance does everything a sane and loving person would do, but achieves nothing. There is human retribution and punishment, but always, lurking in the background, the cold stare of the abyss.

In the end, this brave and beautiful film, with its brutality and poetry, leads us into the dark and lets us go. It will never be popular, but it is unforgettable.

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