Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Fiend Without a Face

Year: 1958
Director: Arthur Crabtree
Screenplay: Herbert J. Leder, based on the short story "The Thought Monster" by Amelia Reynold Long
Starring: Marshall Thompson, Kynaston Reeves, Michael Balfour, Kim Parker
Running Time: 73 minutes
Genre: Horror, science-fiction, monsters

Summary: A US Air Force base near a remote Canadian town is conducting secret experiments in using atomic power to boost radar signals. However, a number of local people have been mysteriously killed by some unseen force which removes their brains and spinal columns. The locals, who are already suspicious of the Air Force base, believe that the newcomers are ssomehow responsible for the killings.
Major Jeff Cummings (Thompson) tries to investigate the killings, with the help of Barbara Griselle (Parker), the sister of one of the murdered locals, and who also happens to work as the secretary for reclusive scientist Professor Walgate (Reeves), who has been working on the idea of telekinesis.

Opinions: On the surface this is a fairly average "B" grade horror/science-fiction film. Despite being set in Canada, this is a British production and was filmed entirely in England (the setting chosen because it was thought that a Canadian setting would appeal both to American audiences and British Commonwealth audiences and the producers thought that a Canadian landscape would be easy to replicate in the UK). The film moves at a fairly sedate pad, with the already brief running time padded out by long exposition scenes in offices, hospitals and living rooms, and also endless stock footage of jet planes and radar equipment.
However, the film comes into it's own in the final act when the previously invisible monsters are finally revealed as squishy disembodied brains, with spinal cord tails, tentacle-like nerves and protruding eyes on stalks. Filmed in jerky, stop-motion animation the creatures are genuinely bizarre and unsettling. The set-piece siege on the country house is a genuinely tense and memorable sequence, with an influence that can be felt in later films such as George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). The monsters themselves can be seen as a forerunner of the infamous "facehuggers" in the Alien series.
The acting is mostly pretty strong from the leads although there are a few weak notes among the supporting cast.
This little-seen curio is well worth checking out if you get the chance. With the climax in particular sticking in the mind long after the film is over.

Launce Maraschal encounters a Fiend Without a Face

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