When we first look at another person, our immediate instinct is to anticipate possible danger. In thus "seeing" another face, our perceptions are influenced by ancient ideas and feelings—in short, stereotypes—about "evil" or "criminal" types that denote a relationship between the physical and the moral.
THE FACE OF EVIL surveys the long history of attempts to identify and categorize the physiognomy of evil, from the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch to such "sciences" as physiognomics, phrenology, eugenics, and anthropometrics, to latterday notions of criminal anthropology.
The film illustrates these dubious efforts through the historical case study of Bruno Lüdke, an alleged serial killer arrested in Germany in 1943 and charged with more than 50 murders. The stockily-built, mentally deficient young man, who was felt by Nazi authorities to have the appearance of a "born criminal," became a guinea pig for a series of biological experiments to validate their beliefs in racial categories, of atavistic or degenerate types, a hierarchical ranking of the "Other."
THE FACE OF EVIL features excerpts from The Devil Strikes at Night, a 1957 German film dramatization of the Bruno Lüdke story, archival footage and photos, museum artifacts and police archive documents. Numerous sociologists, historians, criminologists, photographers and writers discuss the Lüdke case as well as the work of early theorists of criminology such as François Joseph Gall, César Lambroso, Alphonse Bertillon, and Eugène François Vidocq, and how literature, photography and the cinema have perpetuated a typology of "good" and "bad" faces and the notion of the criminal as a recognizable type.
“Stylish, thought-provoking... this intelligent, stimulating film makes good use of current scholarship... Non-specialists should find it will arouse their curiosity, while even specialists can benefit from some of the perspectives the film opens up.” —Benjamin Carter, H-Net Reviews in the Humanities and Social Sciences
2007 Society for Visual Anthropology/AAA Film Festival
"Intriguing... an absorbing, if extremely sober, take on the subject – and a timely one in our contemporary age of profiling and widespread surveillance. Recommended." —F. Swietek, Video Librarian
"An absorbing and intelligent survey of a now largely discredited scientific movement... Highly recommended." —Educational Media Reviews Online
"A fascinating film about physiognomy... The subject is not merely historical. It has once again come to the forefront because of the screening policies of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies at airports or at traffic stops (the current term is 'racial profiling')." —Ballast
"A multidisciplinary study of Ludke's case from sociology, history, and criminology perspectives, offers a persuasive collateral review of the influence of photography, literature, and cinema on us." —Dr. J.H. Carbone, Ipse Dixit Electronic Bulletin Board of Scholars