This basic French exploitation movie is in the ever-sleazier line of plastic surgery-obsessed horrors from Les Yeux sans visage via Circus of Horrors and Gritos en la Noche to Corruption. It offers a Jean Rollin-like chateau setting (indeed, I’d swear I’ve seen that castle in other films) inhabited by a couple of surreal thug dwarves in animal skins (Johnny Cacao and Roberto), a disfigured mad woman (Anny Duperey) whose devoted artist husband (Philippe Lemaire) calls in plastic surgeon Dr Romer (Howard Vernon, Franco’s Dr Orlof from Gritos en la Noche) to sacrifice the skin of abducted girls to restore her former beauty, and (as a commercial necessity) regular contrived scenes of nudity and sexual abuse (the first transplant donor is groped and battered to death by the dwarves and therefore of no use, while a montage of potential source material consists of various pretty extras sunbathing, bathing or otherwise en deshabillé).
The anything-goes script extends to sub-plot business with poisonous plants (used for one near-incidental murder), a jealous high society villainess (Elizabeth Teissier) who causes the accident in the first place (she turns up at her ex-lover’s outdoor wedding reception and backs the new bride, who is wearing a flammable hooped gown, into a bonfire) but surprisingly gets off scot-free (surely, she ought to be first on the list of unwilling donors), some very perfunctory investigations on the part of the cops and the eventual heroine (Olivia Robin), a stab at a modern art milieu and one unusual idea – the transplant operation the maniac has pinned her hopes on really is unworkable, and the doctor hangs himself rather than go through with it. Duperey, extraordinarily beautiful pre-mutilation, has an abrupt character change from saintly to monstrous with her accident, which makes for melodrama but cuts down on the moral complexity that works so well in Les yeux sans visage.
The monstrous Anne also becomes a vague presence in the film, with blurry POV shots (the burning has affected her vision), close-ups of parts of her ravaged face, and the odd wheelchairbound shadow standing in for her. This gothic reticence works reasonably well, since we never get a really good look at the state of her – even when she peers in horror at her reflection, it’s distorted in polished metal rather than clear. However, it also cheats an interesting actress out of a chance to make anything of the post-transformation character – we just hear spiteful voice-over, and see the odd black-draped hand (though Duperey does take part in a Rollinesque dream sequence that explores Anne’s inner mind and gets round to a mild, mandatory lesbian cuddle). Made early in the sex-horror cycle, it’s almost comically awkward when it comes to incorporating the necessary nudity – with women finding excuses to doff their tops or get groped even as writer-director Claude Mulot seems more interested in the old dark chateau-isms.