I first saw this film about 10 years ago at a local university auditorium. It is a creepy little French film that features two most quintessential girly horror elements: obsession with beauty and disfigurement. In a French chateau, in the country, a famed plastic surgeon tries valiantly time after time to restore his disfigured daughter's face...driven by guilt since he was responsible for the accident that caused it. Georges Franju's 1959 Gothic shocker still retains the power to disturb unlike other similarly themed horror films. It is grislier than others of the period and stunningly photographed in b&w with haunting images (like the mask) that linger with you for days afterward. The surgeon (Pierre Brasseur) and his assistant (Alida Valli) are obsessively devoted to the daughter (Edith Scob) and don't take into account her personal feelings. Young women are lured to the estate, drugged and used for skin grafts as the daughter stands by helplessly, hoping for a new face. A dreamlike quality to the film makes it all the more disturbing and unforgettable.
The grisly storyline is subdued by brilliant black and white cinematography and an evocative mood which is maintained throughout the entire film. Granted, the operation scene is not for the faint of heart, but the images that resonated with me were the young girls eyes behind that eerie mask as she wanders through the big country house and Allida Valli's menacing black raincoat flickering in the night.
In addition to the excellent production values, the acting is impressive. Christiane Genessier, as the young Edith, who wears a mask in every scene except one, manages to convey her character with body language and her haunting eyes. Alida Valli as the "woman in the pearl choker" (and there is a reason for that choker!) is menacing and creepy as the doctor's assistant.
The film has an atmospheric, mesmerizing, ethereal and surrealistic beauty. The pacing is French Arthouse-slow but tantalizing.