Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: protégé of scientist Baron Ivan Rassimov, Professor Sergei Nijinski ends up on his own when a controversial experiment goes wrong. He also nearly loses his wife Tanja, who is left disfigured by terrible burns and scar-tissue over her body. Lucky for the good professor, one of the experiments he and his mentor were dabbling in was that of skin grafts, ones that take hold almost immediately. In order to restore his wife to her former beauty, Professor Nijinski has been kidnapping young women from around the village, with assistance from his mind-controlled henchman, and after killing them, borrows their skin for Tanja. Unfortunately, none of the women procured so far have been up to her standards facially, so it’s nothing short of a miracle when a carriage carrying newlyweds crashes outside of the professor’s estate, the young wife being beautiful and just what Tanja is looking for. Having that face will be easier said than done though, with her husband and a local woman who’s secretly searching for her missing sister under the pretenses of writing an article on the professor’s work lurking around the house.
Evil Face is yet another in a long lineage of Italian (and French, and Spanish, and Mexican, and…) gothic horror films that deals with facial disfigurement and the art of not-exactly-legal skin grafts as a solution. And while I won’t kid you by saying Evil Face is in any way essential or does anything at all to differentiate itself, there’s something about it that held my attention throughout. Being a fan of madman Klaus Kinski, that very well could be one of the answers, but his performance here is rather subdued (until his final scenes, which are pretty wacky). Maybe it’s the odd vibe the film gives off being a co-production between Italy and Turkey; quite a marriage, considering Turkey can emulate Italian cinema pretty well when it wants to. It was odd seeing Erol Tas, the peeping pervert from Woman Despiser, an interesting foray into the Giallo realm for the Turks, in an Italian flick as Professor Nijinski’s heavy, and he has that same sort of imposing-yet-timid screen presence here as he did elsewhere; I suppose maybe it’s his niche.
Visually the film isn’t particularly stimulating. For a gothic horror film, it lacks much of the flair we’re used to from the genre, especially when it’s coming out of Italy. There aren’t really any great shots that play with shadows or fog, and in fact the set design actually looks more like something out of a spaghetti western than anything else. This may be due to director Sergio Garrone helming a number of Django and other western films before turning to horror (and then turning to Nazisploitation later in his career). What does work rather well in Evil Face is the heavy doses of gore; okay, that may be overstating things somewhat, but film’s in this certain genre tend to be pretty light on blood and guts, even those similar films that deal with skin robbing and facial transplants. Evil Face revels in it though, and has no qualms with showing the surgical scenes in as much detail as the budget will allow. The couple quick glimpses we’re given of a skinless face are quite effective.
But alas, all is not well in Evil Face. It never goes too far in either the gothic or gore direction, which leaves the film feeling at odds with itself. If it tipped the scales one way or the other, a better film could have been the result or at the very least it could have become something that distinguishes itself. Not helping matters is the aforementioned tired script, which literally seems as if it was cut and pasted from a number of earlier films and clichés (would someone just clean up the spider webs instead of just ducking under them repeatedly?!) and sewn together to create the final product. There isn’t one element at play here that’s remotely original, except maybe the idea of Klaus Kinski acting semi-normal. Outside of Erol Tas, who is indeed quite striking, not one of the involved actors is worthy of note, and it appears that most are here simply to pick up a quick paycheck; much the same could be said about the unenthusiastic direction. And then there’s the ending, which comes off very rushed and is about as anti-climactic and ridiculous as I’ve seen of late.
Yet with all of those complaints, there’s something about Evil Face that makes me give it a lukewarm recommendation. It’s marginal genre fare at best with little in the way of originality, but hardcore gothic junkies like me will probably find little bits here and there that when all is said and done amount to a film that doesn’t feel like a complete waste of time. Maybe it’s Kinski, maybe it’s laughing at the brain-dead characters, maybe it’s the random lesbianism…yep, I just stumbled upon the reason.
MYA Communication’s release of Evil Face won’t quell any of the backlash the company has received from fans of late, but considering this film has only ever been released previously on VHS, it’s a welcome release and the best we’re likely to get. The film itself is presented in 1.66:1 letterboxed format and is obviously sourced from video, as some of the horizontal print damage is inherent to the format. Surprisingly, this is flagged for progressive playback, but the video source holds it back thanks to some aliasing and muted colors. The print itself looks decent though, and if film elements are out there, a better quality release could definitely be realized. Never having been dubbed, the only available audio option on the disc is an Italian Dolby Digital mono mix which sounds fine with only a bit of background distortion. The optional English subtitles aren’t perfect, but are easy to follow and aren’t on the same level of embarrassment as what was included on MYA’s Italian Sex release. The only extra on the disc is a short stills gallery, with various poster art and lobby cards for the film.
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