Whenever it comes time to review a film like 1988’s Faceless, movie bloggers like me are faced with a very important question. Which name should we use for this film’s prolific director? The director was born Jesus Franco Manera and, for a very small handful of his 200+ film, he’s actually credited by his full name. However, for the majority of his films, he dropped the Manera. Sometimes, he is credited as Jesus Franco and then other times, the director’s credit reads Jesse Franco or just simply Jess Franco.
Myself, I usually prefer to go with “Jess Franco,” because it just seems to go with his “never give up” style of filmmaking. At the same time, it seems rather appropriate that Franco is known by more than one name because he was a director with a many different personas, occasionally a serious artist, occasionally a subversive prankster, and sometimes a director-for-hire. Franco was a lover of jazz and his films often had a similarly improvised feel. Sometimes, the results were, to put it lightly, not very memorable. But, for every Oasis of the Zombies, there was always a chance that Franco would give the world a film like Female Vampire. The imdb credits Franco with directing 203 films before his death in 2013 but it’s generally agreed that he probably directed a lot more. A lot of his films may not have worked but the ones that did are memorable enough to justify searching for them.
Faceless is Franco’s take on Eyes Without A Face, as well as being something of a descendant of his first film, The Awful Dr. Orloff. All three of these films deal with a doctor trying to repair a loved one’s disfigured face. In Faceless, the doctor is Dr. Flammad (Helmut Berger), a wealthy and decadent Paris-based plastic surgeon. One night, while out with his sister Ingird (Christiane Jean) and his nurse and lover Nathalie (Brigitte Lahaie, the former pornographic actress who appeared in several of Jean Rollin’s best films, including the brilliant Night of the Hunted), Dr. Flammad is confronted by a former patient. Flammad botched her operation so the patient tries to get back at him by tossing acid in his face. However, Ingrid shoves Flammad out of the way and ends up getting splashed by the acid instead.
Now disfigured, Ingrid spends her time hidden away in Flammad’s clinic and wearing a mask. Flammad and Nathalie start to kidnap models and actresses, searching for a perfect face. Flammad’s plan is to perform a face transplant, giving Ingrid a new and beautiful face.
Needless to say, a face transplant is not a simple thing to do. In order to get some advice, they go to the mysterious Dr. Orloff (Howard Vernon) and Orloff directs them to a Nazi war criminal named Dr. Moser (Anton Diffring). Now, if you’re not familiar with Franco’s work, the scene with Dr. Orloff will probably seem like pointless filler. However, if you are a Francophile, you will feel incredibly relieved to see Howard Vernon suddenly pop up. When it comes Franco’s films, a Howard Vernon cameo is usually a good sign.
Flammad’s search for the perfect face is complicated by the fact that his assistant, the moronic Gordon (Gerard Zalcberg), keeps accidentally killing and otherwise damaging all of the prospects. As the bodies continue to pile up, Nathalie even points out that there’s “too many dead bodies” in the clinic.
(Of course, Nathalie isn’t doing much to solve that problem. When the film got to the moment where Nathalie plunged a syringe into one troublesome patient’s eye, I ended up watching the movie between my fingers.)
Eventually, Nathalie kidnaps a coke-addicted model named Barbara (Caroline Munro). Flammad thinks that Barbara might finally be the perfect face that they’ve been looking for but there’s a problem. (Actually, two problems if you count Gordon…) Barbara’s father (Telly Savalas) is a wealthy industrialist and he wants his daughter back. He hires an American private investigator, Sam Morgan (Chris Mitchum, looking a lot like his father Robert), to track her down.
Actually, it’s not that much of a problem. It quickly turns out that Sam is kind of an idiot. Plus, since he’s American, nobody in Paris wants to help him. A Paris police inspector orders him to go home, yells at him for always chewing gum, and then adds, “You are not Bogart!”
And things only get stranger from there…
Faceless is one of Franco’s better films, a mix of over-the-top glamour (Faceless was filmed in Paris, after all) and grindhouse sleaze. Though there is a definite storyline, the film still feels like an extended improvisation, with characters and plot points coming out of nowhere and then disappearing just as quickly. If we’re going to be totally honest, the film is kind of a mess but it’s a glorious and stylish mess, one that is never less than watchable.
One of the great tragedies of American politics is that Chris Mitchum has twice been defeated when he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (though he did come close to winning in 2014). Not only would it be great to have Robert Mitchum’s son as a member of Congress but it would be even better to know that our laws were being written, in part, by the star of Faceless. Unfortunately, Chris is sitting out the 2016 election. Hopefully, he’ll reconsider and file for at least one office.
Run, Chris, run!