FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958)

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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 and they’re missing more than just a face! 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.

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A 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 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 reactor leak, it’s not 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!

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 of course. 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 mundane reality of fission energy just 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, all that matters is that it’s true. A nearby a scientist devising a method of telepathy has also been draining the station the same way for his experiments.

However after all the 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 military men discover that Professor Walgate (Kynaston Reeves) has been trying to use his mind to move small things like the pages of a book. However he’s also managed to conjure up a new life form, a creature of pure mental energy that is now on the loose. Typical. It’s started multiplying somehow and is feeding on the brains of the locals. But hang on just a moment the monster itself… is also a human brain? Maybe it’s best to switch yours off when considering this type of thing.

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All that matters here is the big monster finale, which is a lot of fun as the officers and the professor are held under siege by these creatures. Conveniently for them they happen to become visible to the naked eye at the last minute, even if like everything else going on the reasons are unclear. I guess waiting to reveal of the monster until later in the third act is a pretty standard trope in this kind of movie. Besides that bucking the trend is probably expensive. The showdown between man and brain is the highlight of the story with some great stop motion effects. It’s not really of a high standard, but the fact that they went to the effort at all is praise worthy. This is a low budget film which uses a huge amount of stock footage, so in a way any kind of animated effects are impressive.

There’s a lot of shooting as the psychic 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 entertained, especially with the sound effects that accompany the acting. Strangling monsters flying in for the kill and bloody oozing bullet hits are pretty graphic for the period. This is by no means a classic of the era, although it’s definitely memorable for the reasons noted here. It feels like the kind of script where the monster was thought up first, and the reasons for it to exist were thrown together afterwards to give them an excuse to include it. Not everything is this much fun and a typically forced romance is given far too much attention.

Elsewhere a there are strange loose ends including a victim of the creatures who didn’t die but is left a mentally scarred… but is forgotten almost right away. Taking it seriously is basically impossible, particularly when the climax begins and it’s decided that guns and bombs will solve everything. Surely a telepathy based solution would make the most sense? Never mind that let’s get out the explosives and head for the nuclear powered installation, what could go wrong. 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 enough silly entertainment value to make it worth checking out.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

About Mocata 120 Articles
A sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, world 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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