Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
William D. Carl
This Week’s Feature Presentation:
FACE OF TERROR (1962)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!
The “mad plastic surgeon attempting to make scarred chicks beautiful again no matter who they kill” (a.k.a. MPSATNSCVANMWTK) is a genre staple that just doesn’t want to die. Starting with the brilliant EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960), moving through dozens of tacky European examples like CIRCUS OF HORRORS (1960), THE AWFUL DR ORLOFF (1962), and FACELESS (1987), to last year’s brilliant Pedro Almodovar film THE SKIN I LIVE IN (2011) the mad plastic surgeon has indeed lived again and again. One of the lesser known films in this genre is FACE OF TERROR, a 1962 Spanish movie from Futuramic Releasing. This twisted little flick is a bit different from most MPSATNSCVANMWTK films.
Fernando Rey (THE FRENCH CONNECTION-1971, SAVING GRACE-1986, VILLA RIDES-1968, THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOUSIE-1972, and more than 200 other films!) stars as Dr. Charles Taylor, who has a new method of fixing scarred and damaged skin. As he tells the Madrid Institute of Mental Health, he can form a synthetic plastic skin that can be connected to any tissue, but the technique has yet to be tested on human beings. He wants patients from the insane asylum to become human guinea pigs. The board of the hospital denies him access to any patients, but who is that woman in white watching through the window? Why it’s a patient, and she sneaks into the good doctor’s car backseat riding all the way to his home. Dr. Taylor somehow doesn’t notice her, even though she’s wearing white hospital duds.
Once he’s home, he participates in some sexually-laced banter with his assistant (and sometimes lover) Alma, played by lovely Concha Cuetos (SLUGS-1988 and THE POD PEOPLE-1983). After Alma leaves, the mental patient confronts the doctor, and she’s a horribly scarred woman with a face like half a pepperoni pizza. She tells Dr. Taylor she was about to jump off a bridge, and if he doesn’t operate on her right this minute, she’ll kill herself, because “women are far more susceptible to psychological damage due to disfigurement.” The monster-faced girl is played by the gorgeous (and actually talented) Lisa Gaye (ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK-1956 and more television shows than you can shake a remote at, including such 60s fare as THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW, SEAHUNT, and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE). Of course, when the Doc gets a good look at Norma’s face, he decides to take a chance and perform the procedure. Cue operating montage followed by waiting in a mummy-like, bandage-wrapped state montage.
Soon, the bandages are off, and she’s even more beautiful than we suspected. In the meanwhile, we discover this woman, Norma, who escaped to the good doctor’s home/office, is a psychotic killer who is very violent. She’s “a sick woman, and a very dangerous one.” The police are notified, and after they see her gruesome head-shot, they decide she’ll be easy to track down. Anyone with that face would be easy to find.
- Dr. Charles Taylor (Fernando Rey) about to take off the bandages of his latest patient, Norma (Lisa Gaye) in FACE OF TERROR.
Norma, infatuated with her new glamorous puss, wants to leave the lab. Dr. Taylor gives her a formula that will keep her skin from tightening too much or drying out and flaking off (uh-oh!) Taylor goes to his office and chastises himself, “Body temperature. I never figured on body temperature!” When he later coaches her, he discovers the tag on Norma’s wrist that identifies her as a patient at the mental hospital. He says he’s taking her back, that the operation was illegal because the hospital said he couldn’t use patients. As he dials the phone, Norma begins to lose it, screaming and shaking, and she finally beans the doctor with a huge chemical bottle. Norma believes she’s killed her savior, and she escapes, taking the formula with her as well as all his money. Alma arrives back at the laboratory and finds her lover on the floor in a coma. He’s taken to a hospital, where he eventually awakens…with amnesia!
Here’s where FACE OF TERROR veers off into its own crazy film, steering clear of the usual clichés of the MPSATNSCVANMWTK sub-genre. The plastic surgeon is the good guy and the woman he’s experimented upon is the evil creature with a new face, a mental patient and homicidal maniac. We have the “monster” running around with a brand new face, nothing like the photos of the disfigured girl the police possess, and the doctor can’t recall what she even looked like when he was done with her. And he’s suffered nerve damage!
Norma buys a stylish wardrobe and gets a job at a nightclub where men are soon prowling after her like horny wolves in heat. The want-ad states ‘Waitress, Enjoy Beautiful Vacation-Land, Must be young, attractive, & personable.’ Well, that fits her to a ‘T’. Soon, the manager of the place is pawing her, a patron won’t take no for an answer, and Norma’s face requires a lot of touch-ups with the formula. The flaking plastic skin effect is truly icky and effective, and every time it happens, Norma gets a little crazier. Soon, she kills one man in a fit of rage, but she also knocks over her bottle of magic skin formula.
She returns to Dr. Taylor, now recuperating at home in a wheelchair. Demanding more of the formula, Norma throws a hissy-fit that would make any two-year-old child proud. “You did this to me,” she screams. “I came to you for help, and you did…this…to ME! Don’t tell me what I should have done! Give me that fluid! You’re against me! Everyone is against me! I hate you all!” She grabs a bottle of acid (isn’t there always a bottle of acid in every mad plastic surgeon’s lab? Just in case?) and she chases the doctor in his wheelchair around the office. Then, Alma comes back and quite a cat fight ensues. The doctor is crawling across the floor to find a weapon…
Will Norma kill the doctor and his lover? Will she disfigure Alma? How many other men will die while the totally ineffective cops sit in their office and discuss what could possibly be happening out there in the real world? You’ll have to watch to find out.
One of the truly odd features of FACE OF TERROR is the fact that it was filmed in English even though it was made in Spain. All of the actors read their lines phonetically, and most of them come off as idiot savants or as escapees from mental ward’s themselves. It lends a surreal air to the whole film, raising it to a whole new level of strangeness. As if FACE OF TERROR needed to be stranger.
- After her surgery, Norma (Lisa Gaye) finds out she has quite a way with men, in FACE OF TERROR.
FACE OF TERROR was written by Monroe Manning, who supposedly directed the classic 1961 sexploitation film THE TOUCHABLES (although this isn’t certain). As well as writing this sicko black and white wonder, he also supervised the American version of FACE OF TERROR and was also the art director! Later, he went on to write most of the episodes of the television shows LASSIE and FLIPPER! Such a diverse career deserves a round of applause.
FACE OF TERROR was co-directed by Isidoro M. Ferry and William J. Hole Jr., who also directed THE DEVIL’S HAND (1961), SPEED CRAZY (1959), and the wonderful GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLLOW (1959). All exploitation classics.
The cast, especially the luminous Lisa Gaye and the stodgy Fernando Rey (only a few years away from respectable roles in major films), is fine, even when phonetically mumbling their lines or getting dubbed in what sounds like a bell chamber. The production values are all fine, and the black and white cinematography by Jose F. Aguayo is very nice. Aguayo also lensed such foreign classics as Luis Bunuel’s TRISTANA (1970) and VIRIDIANA (1961), so the man knew what he was doing, and the whole film looks crisp and quite beautiful.
Throw in a rock ‘n’ roll number; a rushed wedding, complete with flaking skin; a car chase; a flamenco dance scene; someone pushed down an elevator shaft; and another gory murder, and you have a wildly entertaining MPSATNSCVANMWTK.
I found FACE OF TERROR on the Creepster TV Network, but Sinister Cinema also sells a pretty good DVR of it.
I give FACE OF TERROR three plastic skin grafts out of four.
© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl