FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958)

 Posted by on November 6, 2016  HCF Reviews, Horror, Sci-Fi
Nov 062016
 

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Directed by:
Written by: ,
Starring: , ,

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This is certainly one of those cases where the images created in your mind by the crazy name can’t possibly live up to the film it’s headlining. The title card itself is just as overly dramatic with exaggerated lighting bolt style lettering flashing onto the screen. However as sci-fi B-movies go I guess this isn’t too bad either. But where to begin trying to describe what it does have? There’s more than one fiend for a start, if you can call them that. They’re missing more than just a face too! So I guess I’ll just have to go ahead and say it, whether it peaks your interest or gets a laugh. Maybe both. This one sits under the dubious category of … killer brain stories. Invisible killer brains. Even within this period of genre movies where scientific experiments frequently run amok, it’s a pretty silly choice.

An invisible killer stalks the grounds outside an air force base on the US-Canada border, strangling its victims. Is it something to do with the new arrival of atomic power or are there more human forces at work? The local farmers all seem to be convinced that radioactive fallout is coming out of the nearby military installation … somehow. Logic be damned, they’ve got low quality milk to prove it. The science part here isn’t exactly the strongest element. I’m pretty sure that nuclear fuel sources and fighter planes don’t just release radiation randomly. Even if there was a waste leak, it’s not really something that would play havoc with dairy produce one minute and then instantly kill someone the next. Forget these neck injuries, it must be the radiation!

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The base in question has however devised a Radar machine that can see further away by just boosting the power. Not that the locals are made privy to this information. How this works isn’t clear, they just turn a few switches and their screen’s view gets bigger. The power is somehow increased by … removing rods from the reactor? Wouldn’t that mean less? It’s all pretty weird but I guess that’s what you’d expect – the reality of fission based energy isn’t exciting enough. Later it’s inferred that the energy being produced is feeding the monsters and causing them to multiply. But how do they get this food source, through the air? Whether this all adds up isn’t important, since apparently it’s true; nearby a scientist devising a way of using telepathy has also been draining the station for his experiments.

After all this atomic paranoia, the towns folk suddenly decide that instead there must be a mad soldier running about in the woods and try to hunt him down instead of complaining to the town council. They aren’t exactly depicted as a rational bunch. Meanwhile as deaths from the invisible strangler increase, the air-force men discovered that Professor Walgate has been trying to use his mind to move small things like the pages of a book. However instead he’s managed to conjure up a new life form, a creature of pure mental energy that is now on the loose. How typical. It’s also started multiplying somehow and is feeding on the brains of the locals. But hang on a second the monster itself… is also a brain? Maybe it’s best to switch yours off when considering this type of thing.

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The big monster finale is a lot of fun as the military officers and the professor are held under siege by these creatures. Conveniently they just happen to become visible at the last minute, but like everything the reasons are unclear. I guess holding the reveal of the monster until later in the third act is pretty standard fare for this kind of thing, and bucking the trend is expensive. The showdown is the best part and has some neat stop motion. It’s not really of a high standard, but that they went to the effort at all is praise worthy. This is a low budget film which uses a lot of stock footage, so in a way all the effects are impressive. There’s a lot of shooting as the beings attack, as well as a surprising amount of monochrome gore once things really heat up. It’s so ridiculous at times that it’s impossible not to be amused, especially with the sound effects that accompany the oozing bullet hits.

This is by no means a classic of the era, although it’s memorable for the reasons noted above. It feels like the kind of thing where the monster was thought up first, and the reasons for it to exist were thrown together in service of it. A typical romance is given far too much attention, while stranger moments where a victim of the creatures who didn’t die but is left in a mentally scarred state is forgotten almost right away. Taking it seriously is basically impossible, particularly when the climax begins and it’s decided explosives will solve everything. The plot is messy, the wooden characters are flimsy and the central idea isn’t very well thought out at all. But it’s all so endearing, and it delivers just enough entertainment value.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

Mocata

MocataA sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, foreign cinema, martial arts and all kinds of assorted stuff and nonsense. If you enjoy a bullet ballet, a good eye ball gag or a story about time travelling robots maybe we can be friends after all.

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