In this case the mad scientist is a sympathetic mad scientist. He was the one who caused the accident that destroyed his daughter's face (terrible burns, immersion in water and, of course, the rats). But Christiane Genessier (Edith Scob) survived, and her father, Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur), with the assistance of his devoted nurse, Louise (Alida Valli), is determined to construct a new face for her. To do this, he surgically removes the faces of young women and grafts them onto the destroyed face of his daughter, all the while trying to find a solution to the problem of tissue rejection, a problem he hasn't quite mastered.
Eyes Without a Face is not as good as the hype might have you believe, but it is nonetheless an unsettling, eerie, well-made movie. One of the things that makes it so unsettling is that nothing really gruesome is shown, just implied, until the one scene where a face is carefuly, surgically removed. You might not feel like ordering steak tartare after watching Doctor Genessier's technical skills.
The movie is almost leisurely as it establishes the story line and developes the characters, but it never seems slow. Genessier initially seems disturbed, emotionally dead. He's a stolid man who moves carefully and always is in control. But as we learn that his wife died, that he has a clinic where he helps patients, that he has feelings of some sort for Louise, and that he clearly loves his daughter, well, a kind of sympathy creeps in.
Christiane, nearly always wearing a white mask that could perhaps be mistaken for her face, drifts, almost floats, through the movie. Slowly she becomes more deranged in a quiet, moving way. She is the cause, finally, of the resolution of the movie. Her fate is sad and ambiguous.
This is not a horror movie from the local pizza school of film making -- doughy with dripping red sauce and stinking of cheap cheese. Is it a great movie? No. Is it a good movie? Yes. And you can call it a horror movie if you want to.