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Fiend Without A Face


Title: Fiend Without A Face
Year Of Release: 1958
Running Time: 74 minutes
DVD Released By: The Criterion Collection
Directed By: Arthur Crabtree
Writing Credits: Herbert J. Leder, Amelia Reynolds Long (story)

Starring: Marshall Thompson, Kynaston Reeves, Kim Parker
Taglines:
1. New Horrors! Mad Science Spawns Evil Fiends!
Taking Form Before Your Horrified Eyes!
Alternate Titles:
None found

Review Date: 5.22.05 (updated 1.1.10)

For a look at several of the film's lobby cards, click HERE.

Shadow's Title: "Invisible Brain Suckers"

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Fiend without a Face

DVD
Fiend Without a Face (The Criterion Collection)  

Characters
Major Jeff Cummings – He is the second in command at an USAF Airbase in Canada and the one heading up the investigation into the recent deaths. A pretty decent guy who gets along with most everyone, he is frustrated by the attitude taken by many of the locals.
Captain Al Chester – He is officially in charge of security at the airbase, but unofficially he was probably the local smartass and skirt-chaser who used his uniform to score with chicks. He was also Major Cummings’ right hand man and all around errand boy, helping in the investigation.
Colonel Butler – He is Major Cummings’ commanding officer and the top dog at the Airbase. This guy was the requisite doubting thomas who insisted over and over that it was an animal of some kind that had killed people and then sucked out their brains and spinal cords. Idiot.
Professor Walgate – The foolish old fart responsible for creating the Fiends. He was trying to turn pure thought into physical form and was siphoning energy from the Air Force’s atomic reactors to help power his experiments. That alone should have been enough to have him taken out and shot.
Barbara Griselle – Her older brother is the first one killed by the invisible Fiends and as she also happens to work for Professor Walgate, she was going to get dragged into this mess one way or another. She ends up attracted to Major Cummings, despite all the trouble he makes for her.
Constable Howard Gibbons – He ends up with only part of his brain sucked out by the fiends. This changes him from being a loudmouth asswipe to a drooling, inarticulate, glass-eyed, mentally impaired zombie…the perfect qualifications to now run his own B-Movie website.
Mayor Hawkins – Another total jerkwad. His mind is set to blame the USAF for anything that goes wrong in Winthrop, so when locals start making a habit of turning up around town without their brains and spinal cords, he has the perfect excuse to be uncooperative with the base personnel.
Melville – This moron is the deputy mayor or Winthrop. He takes over the civic duties after Mayor Hawkins is killed by the Fiends, which would later prove akin to making Shaggy the leader of Mystery Inc. This guy is a first class chickenshit and a major whiner.

 

The Plot Hold your cursor over an image for a pop-up caption

Technically, these fiends had no bodies, either...but who am I to nitpick?The film begins at a United States Air Force base in Canada. It’s the early morning hours and all is quiet and still, the planes parked neatly in rows and no one about except a guard making his rounds along the base perimeter. At one point he stops and lights up a smoke and as he does, a jet can be heard in the sky above. Nearby, radar dishes track all movement in the sky, powered by a nuclear reactor on base. Suddenly the guard hears something really odd – a peculiar sound alternating between a rhythmic heartbeat and a soft squishy noise. Now alert, the guard gazes into the woods but cannot see anything out of the ordinary. Some distance away in the forest is another man who is making notes on a small note pad. He also hears the odd sounds and looks about in puzzlement. The guard decides to investigate the sounds and before he takes too many steps, a horrible scream pierces the night, along with some tearing and sucking sounds. He rushes through the woods and comes across the other man – now laid out on his back and quite, quite dead, a horrified expression on his face. Pow! The menacing music swells, the title appears and the credits begin.

The music eventually changes to a more patriotic beat and we are treated to several shots of jets taking off, flying in formation and landing. It’s like being at a freakin’ airshow. Finally we fade into the office of Major Cummings, who is on the phone with somebody and talking about tracking down a power fade. After hanging up, Captain Al Chester advises him to get some sleep, but Cummings is too involved with matters at hand. He mentions having a tough case to solve and then speaks about the guy who got himself killed right outside the base. That must be the guy we just saw sprawled out a couple minutes ago. Chester hands him a file on the dead guy, who was a local farmer named Jack Griselle. Chester thinks the guy sounded pretty clean, but Cummings wants to know why the guy was in the woods surrounding the base at three o’clock in the morning. Chester cautions Cummings to not get too involved and to let the local authorities handle the matter, but Cummings and a Colonel Butler think there is more to the situation – especially when factoring into the mix the expression on the dead man’s face. Cummings heads out to speak to Doctor Warren, in hopes that an autopsy has turned up some clues.

Arriving at the Doctor’s office, Cummings is informed by Warren that an autopsy was not performed because the local Mayor and coroner came by earlier and claimed the body. Chester thinks the matter should now be finished, but Cummings is concerned that the locals will blame the death on the atomic reactors at the base. Warren agrees, stating that it’s a fear of atomic fall out. Cummings is frustrated, as the Air Force personnel are not exploding bombs, but just using atomic reactors to power their equipment. Chester jumps onto the Canadian bashing bandwagon by calling them all a bunch of backwards people. Cummings still wants to prove that the death was not a result of their equipment despite a local doctor determining the man died from heart failure. Along about now a secretary enters so she can inform Cummings that Colonel Butler wants to see the Major in his office right away.

Over at the Colonel’s office, Butler is talking to the Mayor and Barbara Griselle, the deceased man’s younger sister. The mayor is denying the Colonel’s request for an autopsy when Cummings arrives. Butler introduces him to the civilians before trying to coerce them into agreeing to an autopsy. Again, the Mayor refuses. Irritated, Butler now says he must use stronger methods of persuasion and removes from his desk a note pad – the same note pad found in the dead man’s hand. On the pad are notations that list the times of the take offs and landings at the base, which makes it look like the dead guy was up to no good. Butler seems convinced that this will give him the leverage he needs to force the locals into agreeing to that autopsy. Barbara asks to look at the note pad and when she does, explains that her brother believed the cream content in the family’s cows was being affected by the loud sounds made by the jets – the noise scaring the cows and making them uneasy – thus the reason for noting the take off and landing times. On the note pad are further notations listing the output of each cow. As she reads this, the Mayor gets a bemused expression on his face while the smug one on the Colonel’s quickly vanishes. Butler then thanks them for coming, which is nice speak for “get the f*ck out.”

Now we see Cummings driving Barbara home in a jeep. He tries to make some small talk, but she is somewhat unreceptive, still grieving for her brother and all. Eventually, he makes some lame joke about the military not being “monsters from outer space” and she cracks a smile. They arrive at her home where she thanks him for the ride and assures him that she harbors no hard feelings towards him or the Air Force.

Shape-shifting planes!The USAF's newest technology:Now we get a couple shots of a radar dish and a plane in the sky. The plane looks like one of those massive B-52 bombers (though I am by no means an expert on aircraft). Inside the base somewhere, Cummings, Butler and some other personnel are conducting an experiment. They are trying to extend the scanning range of their radar equipment, using power from the atomic reactors to boost it. They are able to increase the range to two thousand five hundred miles, and given their already Northerly location within Canada, this means they can closely monitor the Russians in their own “back yard,” spotting any missile or plane their cold war adversaries may launch. When we next see the plane in the sky, it seems to have changed shape into a much smaller aircraft, something along the lines of a B-47.

Suddenly, the image starts to fade, as power is being drained. This is the same problem they have encountered previously and Cummings phones the reactor personnel to tell them that more power is needed. The reactor chief warns them that they have already exceeded the design limits, but gives in to the demands to crank it up and orders a subordinate to remove more rods from one of the reactors! Yes, you heard me…remove! Wouldn’t that have the opposite effect? Unless those are cooling rods. Yeah, that must be it. We then see a gauge that measures the output slowly shift from “high” to “overload.” Now we get several shots of radar dishes spinning in circles. Get used to this sight, as this seems to happen a lot in this film. Despite their best efforts to “pour on” the power, it continues to be mysteriously siphoned off somewhere. Cummings says that they will just have to keep working on the problem while Butler wants to know what he is supposed to tell the Pentagon. The plane in the sky is recalled and it has now reverted to a B-52. At this point I think those shape-changing planes are a much better advantage than super duper radar.

In the local cemetery, Jack Griselle is being laid to rest, a small crowd gathered for his funeral. As the minister speaks, he is nearly drowned out by the sound of jets overhead. Elsewhere, a farmer and his wife are outside doing chores. They frown when a plane flies by, the wife commenting that the cows have finally gotten used to all the racket. The wife moves into the barn to feed the chickens and she is isn’t inside for more than a couple seconds before she hears something odd – the same strange sound we heard at the beginning of the film. She looks around and sees some hay moving before screaming and clutching at something around the back of her neck – something that is invisible. The farmer hears his wife’s screams and comes running, only to find her dead on the ground. Then he also sees the hay moving and quickly grabs a pitchfork, using it to stab at the place where something appears to be disturbing the hay. Suddenly he drops the pitchfork and clutches at his neck as gross slurping and sucking sounds are heard. He slowly sinks to the ground to lay dead beside his wife.

Back at the cemetery, the service has concluded and people are making their way to their cars. The Mayor asks Barbara if she would like him to see her home, but she refuses the offer. A car screeches to a halt and Constable Gibbons arrives to get the Mayor. He informs him that Ben Adams and his wife are dead, in the same manner as Barbara’s brother, over at their place near the air base. Uh oh. You can just hear the gears turning in their heads from here. Two more dead + near the air base = blame the Air Force. Everyone scatters at this point, like kids caught looking at daddy’s porn collection.

It should be noted that the dead couple were discovered pretty damn fast after having been killed. We heard the jets fly over both the funeral service and their farm, so they died sometime during the service for Jack Griselle, yet as soon as the ceremony was over, the constable comes roaring up to announce that they were dead.

Colonel Butler is now speaking to the Mayor on the phone, telling him that too much is being taken for granted. He assures him that there is absolutely no evidence of any type of radioactive fall out and that the Air force personnel will do everything they can to get to the bottom of things. After hanging up, he turns to Cummings, who thinks that if they clue the locals in on what they are experimenting with, there won’t be such fears…but Butler says they cannot do that. Chester then arrives and informs the Colonel that their investigation into the deaths at the Adams’ farm was halted when Constable Gibbons ran them off, claiming it was under his jurisdiction. Butler then orders Cummings to contact the relatives of the Adams and to do whatever it takes to get them to agree to autopsies.

"This my friends, is the tragic result of taking sleeping pills and laxatives at the same time."Next we see Major Cummings, Colonel Butler, Captain Chester and local Doctor Bradley all crowded around Doctor Warren. A body rests on a table nearby, hidden under a blanket. Warren has checked both bodies and called the other Doctor in to confirm his findings. Using a lot of medical terms, he describes puncture wounds found on the back of the victims’ necks. These wounds penetrated to where the spinal column meets the brain. After cracking open the skull, they found that the brain of each victim was gone – sucked out through the punctures. On top of that, the entire spinal cord is also missing from each victim, presumably sucked out along with the brain. Colonel Butler is quick to lay the blame on some animal, but Doctor Bradley assures him that having lived in these parts all his life, there is no animal capable of such things. Butler then starts spouting orders for everyone, having Cummings talk to the townsfolk to see if he can turn up anything that can explain these deaths.

The Major’s first stop is the home of Barbara Griselle. Miss Griselle is in the shower and cannot hear the door buzzer when Cummings rings it. He tries knocking, which only pushes the door open. He then calls out, but no answer is forthcoming. He decides to go ahead and enter. About now Barbara gets out of the shower and with only a towel wrapped around her, exits the bathroom to find Cummings standing before her. She ducks back into the bathroom while Cummings mutters an apology. While awaiting her return, Cummings looks about the room and sees a manuscript entitled “The Principles of Thought Control” by a R.E. Walgate. Barbara soon emerges, clad in a robe and sees what Cummings is looking at. She explains that she helps Professor Walgate prepare his manuscripts for publication. Cummings asks some innocent questions about the Professor and learns that he is retired, but has the habit of working throughout the night on many occasions. He reportedly is also an expert on psychic phenomenon.

The door opens and Constable Gibbons enters. I gotta wonder, do people have the habit of barging into the woman’s house? Gibbons is cold toward the Major, who decides it would be a good time to leave. A few terse exchanges between Gibbons and Cummings soon escalates when the Constable lays the blame for the murders on a “GI Killer” and tells the Major he should be hunting such an individual down rather than “tomcatting around here.” Naturally, this pisses off the Major, who grabs the Constable by the jacket. The other man responds with a punch and soon the fight is on! A few punches are then tossed back and forth before Barbara intervenes and gets the two testosterone twins to stop fighting. Cummings apologizes and leaves.

What the hell are sibonetics?Back at the Air Base Cummings meets with Captain Chester to see what the other has turned up, which is very little. The Major then asks Chester to obtain all the information he can on Professor Walgate. Next we see Cummings perusing various books written by the Professor. Books with titles like “The Energy of Thought” and “Sibonetics: The Application of logic To Electronics.” Looking closely at these tomes and it soon becomes obvious that the production personel just took some random old books and slapped some cheap labels on them. Aside from the hideous misspelling of the word cybernetics, they just don’t seem to match the books on which they’ve been affixed. Heck, one is even beginning to come loose! It is getting late and the Major is sipping coffee like a coke fiend.

Over at the Mayor’s house, Constable Gibbons is just leaving, having assured the Mayor that the killer will be caught. No sooner has his car pulled away than we hear that heartbeat-squishing sound that heralds the approach of the invisible fiends. Inside, the Mayor heads up the stairs to prepare for bed, oblivious to the horror approaching from outdoors. Outside, we see the bushes move then a garden tool fall over as the invisible creature makes its way onto the porch. Some more items are disturbed as the monster moves along the porch, including a bucket of dirty water that is tipped over. The liquid spills out and we see an odd track appear in the small puddle, as if something was sliding through the water. After that a small hole is torn in the screen door, allowing the beast indoors. The size of the hole helps clue us in on the dimensions of the monster – in this case, not too big…maybe the size of a cat.

Having heard the racket, the Mayor descends the stairs to check on things. Halfway down he sees an indentation on the rug below. An indentation that moves. An instant later the rug shakes as if something launched itself off it and the Mayor is clutching at his neck and making sounds normally heard in insane asylums. Within seconds the Mayor is quite brainless, making him just like every other politician out there. He tumbles down the stairs, dead. Note how in the close up of him coming to a stop, his head moves from the opposite way he was rolling down the stairs. Plus, in the close up, his eyes were already open, but in the wide shot his eyes are closed. The actor suddenly remembers to open them just as the door opens, allowing the invisible fiend to exit.

"Look, I only had six hats. You’ll just have to share."The next day Constable Gibbons is addressing a crowd of concerned townsfolk and is again espousing his theory that it was not radiation that caused the deaths, but some GI that has gone wild and is now hiding out in the woods. Gibbons wants to go after him and soon enough the locals are pouring into the woods with their guns, but only after the constable has gone to his car and pulled out enough rifles to arm an entire police precinct, which he hands out to the crowd.

At the Air Force Base, Major Cummings has received a report from the FBI on Professor Walgate, which paints the man as brilliant but reclusive. Cummings decides to go visit the Professor and leaves. He arrives at Walgate’s home and runs into Barbara, who introduces him to the Professor. He asks for Walgate’s help in both soothing the fears of the locals and determining what is killing people. Walgate dismisses the concerns of the locals as that of simple people afraid of the atomic boosted radar experiments. Cummings wants to know how the Professor knows that, to which the older man says he read about such ideas in a journal and put two and two together. He promises to keep it a secret and then offers the Major a whiskey. Barbara excuses herself and once she has gone, Walgate asks Cummings about her dead brother, wanting to know what his face looked like when he died. The Major describes it as one of complete horror…almost insane. I’m guessing he ran across Yanni out in those woods. Or worse, Yanni naked.

Back out in the woods, gunshots can be heard. People converge on Constable Gibbons’ location, but he says it is just a false alarm.

Returning now to the Major and the Professor, Cummings is bringing up the notion that something supernatural is at work, which Walgate dismisses. The Major pushes a little more and the Professor again claims that as a scientist, he disproves such things. Then Cummings brings up the Professor’s past in psychic phenomenon. The old guy is starting to get a little irritated, adamant that nothing like that is at work. Methinks he protests too harshly. Barbara rushes in and chews out Cummings for upsetting Walgate, then asks him to leave. She seems to be getting an image of the Major as a troublemaker.

We return to the woods again, where nothing has been turned up yet. People are getting tired, but Gibbons is having a hissy fit because they have almost reached the airbase. They spread out again, Gibbons pairing off with another man. They are walking down a forest path when they hear the faint sounds of the heartbeat-squish noise. The path splits up ahead and each man takes a different path, planning to meet up when the trails converge again. The other man begins to get uneasy when the heartbeat-squish sounds get louder and louder. He runs back to where the trail forked and calls out to Gibbons. He runs down the other path, continuing to call out to the Constable, but there is no answer.

Later in town, Doctor Bradley and Barbara are comforting Gibbon’s mother, who is worried about her missing son. A search party returns, but they found no sign of him. His mother is ready to charge into the woods herself, but they manage to restrain her. She is escorted home while the others discuss the missing Gibbons. They decide to call off the search, because if he were alive in the woods, he would have heard them and responded. They next plan to get some guy named Melville, who is the deputy Mayor, and convene a town meeting.

The meeting is held, with Major Cummings there to represent the Air Force. Naturally, the townsfolk are blaming the new Air Base for all the trouble, whether radiation is involved or not. One guy wants Cummings to explain why the cows are not producing like they did before the base arrived, but Barbara jumps to his defense by explaining that it was just the noise from the jets that frightened the herd and that they are normal again. The Major then stresses that there is no killer GI on the loose, but one guy suggests getting rid of the base, as they had no trouble before it was installed and that they will have no trouble after the Air Force leaves. Cummings tries to explain how short sighted that is, but a loud moaning interrupts him. They look at each other in puzzlement and then the door bursts open and Constable Gibbons comes stumbling inside. He is moaning like the Frankenstein monster, and has a dull, vacant look in his eyes. The film won’t feature Gibbons again, but dialog will later reveal that he has been reduced to the mental capacity of an idiot – or one step above Paris Hilton on the IQ charts. Apparently his brain wasn’t completely sucked out.

Cummings and Barbara are now back at her place…no doubt he gave her a ride home after the meeting. They are discussing Gibbons’ condition when the Major says that he thinks Professor Walgate is involved somehow. Barbara doesn’t believe that, but he thinks the research he has done on the Professor points to a possible connection. He then borrows a flashlight from Barbara, saying he wants to take a look at the local cemetery.

"I told you smoking this crap would kill you."Naturally, it is dark when he arrives at the cemetery. He does some poking around but fails to see a figure exit a tomb and run into the brush. As Cummings passes by the tomb, he sees that the door is slightly ajar, so he opens it and enters. Descending some stairs he finds the opened coffin of the Mayor, the body revealed. Nearby is a pipe that belongs to Professor Walgate. A rusty creak is heard and the door at the top of the stairs closes. Cummings rushes back up but no amount of pushing will get the door to open. He calls for help a couple of times and then the flashlight dies on him. He angrily throws it aside and it can be heard breaking as it hits the floor. Watch it pal! That is not your flashlight. You borrowed it, remember? He descends the stairs again and uses some matches to light some candles that were left in the tomb. Then it's back to the top of the stairs where he tries to use the candlestick to pry open the door. That fails, and as his oxygen supply peters out, he uses the candlestick to beat on the door.

At the Airbase, Captain Chester is trying to locate the Major and calls Barbara in hopes of tracking him down. She tells him that the Major was going to the cemetery, which causes Chester to spring into action. Soon enough Chester and Barbara are wandering through the cemetery. They hear the pounding and open the tomb, revealing a prone Major Cummings. They manage to rouse him (Barbara now referring to him as Jeff and not Major), and plan on taking him back to the base, but he insists on seeing Professor Walgate.

They arrive at the Professor’s place, where the Major makes it clear that he has been checking up on the older man. Walgate begins looking for his pipe while Cummings talks about one of the Professor’s books on the materialization of thought (CLUE!!!). The Major talks about all the useful things that could be accomplished but Walgate says it cannot be done. Then the Major suggests it could be done with atomic power (CLUE!!). The Professor tries to claim fatigue and wants the Major to stop badgering him. Cummings insists on continuing, asking what the Professor was doing in the cemetery. At Walgate’s confused look, he brings out the pipe he found in the tomb. The Professor then admits to closing the door to the tomb, but says he didn’t mean any harm, just wanted time to get away. Again the Major asks why Walgate was there and the other man says he needed to examine the Mayor’s body. No sooner does he say that than the heartbeat-squish sounds are heard briefly outside. Then Walgate passes out, but not before alluding to some horrible story and calling upon the Major to shut down the atomic reactors. Cummings then leaves Barbara to look after the Professor while he goes back to the base. The two share a brief kiss before he exits.

At the Airbase Colonel Butler is scoffing at the idea presented by Cummings. The Major tells him how each death so far occurred right after the peak of their radar tests, when the atomic reactor was working at full power. Butler is still reluctant to shut down the plant, but agrees to the idea in hopes that it will mean an end to the deaths. In the control room, preparations are being made to shut things down, when a technician comes in and says that all the rods have been smashed and that they can no longer shut it down. There are no spares on hand and the closest ones will need to be flown in – a four hour flight at the very least.

Back at Professor Walgate’s place, Doctor Bradley has examined the Professor and prescribed some rest. Before leaving he smiles at Barbara when she refers to Major Cummings first as “Jeff.”

Once more we are back at Colonel Butler’s office where he, Cummings and Captain Chester are discussing the destroyed rods. No one knows who did it or how, but they do know that they are up that famous unsanitary tributary and lacking any visible means of manual locomotion…in others words: up shit creek without a paddle. The phone rings and it turns out to be Barbara, who lets Jeff know that Professor Walgate is now awake. The three head on over, the Colonel having Deputy Mayor Melville and Doctor Bradley meet them there.

You’re invited to a free demonstration of Blonco’s new home brain surgery kit…never pay those outrageous hospital fees again!The Professor is in a much more talkative mood now, though he claims that even after hearing what he is about to say, they need to remember that the horrible deaths which have taken place were beyond his control. Yeah, right. He then begins talking about his attempts at achieving thought materialization. He knew that telepathy would not do the trick – he needed to boost his brain so that he could detach thought from his mind and given it a physical form. To make a long story short, after a series of experiments he learned how to move objects with his mind, powered by electricity. He then needed more power for his next experiments and so he devised a gizmo that allowed him to divert power that radiated between the atomic reactor at the base and the radar plane in the sky above. That solves the mysterious power drains! Anyway, to shorten things again, he used this power to give form to his thoughts – an invisible being that soon multiplied into many and escaped from his lab, drawing power straight from the atomic reactors. Deaths ensued and the Professor went to the Mayor’s tomb to verify his theory: he had created a mental vampire, whose own intelligence was growing day by day.

Cummings wants to know how such creatures could survive, and Walgate explains by draining the intellect from people. Colonel Butler thinks it is all nonsense, thinking Walgate is a raving lunatic. One of the Air Force guys – we’ll call him Mr. Expendable - that was tagging along then hears something and looks outside. The familiar heartbeat-squish sounds are all about them and they can see the shrubs moving as something invisible passes by. Butler tries to make a call, but the line is dead. Walgate theorizes that the invisible fiends have done this on purpose. The window suddenly breaks and Mr. Expendable is seized by something unseen, falling outside and lying still.

The others quickly barricade all the windows and doors (and as is usual in cases like these, such things as boards, a hammer and nails are readily available). As they do, Deputy Mayor Melville starts to have a panic attack. Butler and Cummings want to know if there is a way to make the monsters visible (funny how Butler is a believer all of a sudden) and Walgate says that it is all a question of the amount of power available. Uh oh.

Note - It is at this point that the movie enters its final segment, so if any of you really feel the need to watch this film and not know the ending ahead of time, skip the rest of this section.

Cut to the control room of the atomic reactor where the gauge on the output meter is swinging past “overload” into “DANGER” territory. The engineer in charge is trying to get a hold of someone over the intercom, but there is no answer. Enter the heartbeat-squish sounds and seconds later this poor shmuck is on the ground dead. The reactor output increases and suddenly a form takes shape on a console. The Fiends are becoming visible and they look like….brains and spinal cords! Ok…brains and spinal cords with eyestalks. Ewwww.

Back at Professor Walgate’s house, Melville is about ready to shit his pants in fear. He tries to break out through a window but the others restrain him and try to calm him down. The glass in the windows is broken, but the boards are preventing the fiends from entering. Walgate then says that the atomic plant needs to be shut down. Without the energy on which to draw, the monsters will die. Chester now sees something and rushes to the window. Soon after everyone is staring out through the spaces between the boards. The fiends are becoming visible now and there are a shitload of them! They all take a few minutes to stare at the critters before Chester retrieves their sidearms and the shooting gallery begins!

Proof that too many brains can be deadly.As everyone watches Chester and Cummings take turns shooting the beasts, which splatter blood all over when they die, Melville is slowly backing away. He doesn’t see the fiend that has come down the chimney like a nightmare version of Santa Claus…until it is too late. The fiend attacks and the others rush to pry it off. Cummings kills it with an axe, but Melville is already dead. The Major then insists that the creatures need to be killed. Ya think?? Walgate says the only way is to shut down the plant. The Major then devises a plan where he will make a run for a dynamite shed and use the explosives to blow up the control room. Colonel Butler agrees and as Cummings leaves, he shares another kiss and a tender moment with Barbara. Before we go any further I just want to know what kind of idiot thinks that shutting the plant down is as simple as blowing up the control room? Won’t that just create a bigger problem? Gee whiz, I’m sure any surviving technicians from Chernobyl are really kicking themselves silly (with their third legs) for missing that solution.

Professor Walgate now gets the bright idea that since his mind created the fiends, he might be able to control them and give Cummings a chance to get away. He exits the house against the protestations of Barbara and Doctor Bradley, who can only lock the door behind him. The old guy barely gets a few steps before the fiends are swarming all over him like flies on horseshit. His death screams only make Cummings pause momentarily. So much for helping out the Major..he was fine on his own! Chester and Butler continue to shoot at the fiends while Cummings runs through the darkened woods.

Bannister is clear.Where did that stiff come from?The Major finds the dynamite shack and busts the lock with what looks like some rebar that was close by. If it was that simple to break the lock, why have that stuff so near? Morons. He loads up on dynamite and then exits, shooting a fiend in the process. He runs across the Base, bodies littering the roads and walkways (note: half of these shots feature an obvious stunt man rather than actor Marshall Thompson). Look closely at the first screencap. Even though it is somewhat dark and difficult to see clearly, he can be seen running toward some stairs. Though most of the building material is brick, the bannister can be seen somewhat easily as it made from concrete and is much more whitish-gray in coloring. Note that in that first shot, there is nothing on it at all. Suddenly, a split second later we get a shot from the top of the stairs looking down, and now there is some dead guy hanging over the rail. Where the hell did he come from? Did he just drop from the sky and land there?

Back at the late Professor Walgate’s place, Barbara is worried about “Jeff.” The fiends have been quiet for sometime and the trapped people are wondering what the little buggers are up to. Chester warns the Colonel that they are almost out of ammo. The heartbeat-squish sounds return and the fiends make a concerted effort to gain entrance. They swarm the barricades and tear at the boards, breaking them. Fiends starting flying through the holes only to be shot by the people inside. They die quite messily I might add. I’ve got to say one thing about this whole sequence – Butler and Chester are crack shots! They never miss! There is a somewhat amusing moment when a Fiend flies at Barbara and Doctor Bradley must yank the squirming thing from her neck and toss it away. The prop used looks good, but in no way does it look like it's alive.

In the control room, Cummings has set the charges and is making his way out, shooting a few more fiends in the process. At the Walgate house the fiends continue to pour in, another attacking Barbara and attaching itself to her neck (after she just stands there like an idiot). Outside the base, Cummings dives to the ground as the explosives detonate, destroying the control room and (somehow) shutting down the power. All the Fiends now go limp and fall to the ground dead, including the one on Barbara’s neck. Then all the critters dissolve into sticky little pools of goo, which in turn dry up. All in all, a very gory effect for the 50s.

Something is amalgamated all right.Cummings returns in a jeep and has a tender reunion with Barbara, now referring to her as “honey.” Colonel Butler exits, placing the Major in charge of the clean up and promising to send help a soon as he gets back to the base. I’m betting he doesn’t know at this point that everyone at the base is currently lounging around without his or her brains and spinal cords. As Doctor Bradley leaves, the Major hopes that the townsfolk will be willing to cooperate more now that the threat has been ended. Looking at Cummings and Barbara in each other’s arms, the Doctor notes that they are setting a very good example. The Major and Barbara then snog each other.

The End.

Review

The Hammer film studio is what usually springs to mind when the topic of British sci-fi and horror films of the 1950’s is brought up, and quite naturally so as it was responsible for a great many of such films, stretching from the middle of that decade until its death throes twenty years later. However, it was not the only production company based in the United Kingdom that made genre films, especially ones garnered toward the lucrative American market. Amalgamated Productions began in 1945 and had been making cheapie thrillers for the bottom half of double bills (the quintessential B movie) before graduating to musicals and horror films. Fiend Without A Face remains their best known work to this day in the realm of cult moviemaking, in part because of the controversy the film raised in the company’s native land for its gore quotient – which was considerable for the day and age.

Based on a short story that had appeared in a pulp magazine nearly thirty years prior, the film was a multi-national affair: a British production, set in Canada, filmed mostly in the United Kingdom (with some location work in Canada), with FX done in Germany and starring American actors for the most part. Cinematographer turned director Arthur Crabtree was tapped to helm the film, and his experience can be seen in many of the shots. Somewhat formulaic, the film still made a buzz due to its graphic depiction of the titular fiends’ demises. In England the film was blasted as disgusting, but when has such publicity ever been a bad thing? When the film opened in New York, one theater displayed a working prop of one of the fiends in a glass case on the sidewalk outside, which drew crowds and eventually forced the New York City Police to ask the theater management to remove it. In the U.S. the film played on a double bill with The Haunted Strangler before disappearing into the cinematic graveyard, only to be resurrected for the TV market in later years.

The initial thought most likely to pop into anyone’s mind when first learning the nature of the monsters populating this flick would probably be to dismiss it as pure 1950’s B movie cheeze…and to be honest, that would not be a totally unfair assessment. This movie is a veritable well of such cheezy goodness and it makes no apologies for it, reveling in the sizable cheeze quotient on hand with an earnestness that often compensates for the silliness. However, what would be truly unfair, is to disregard the positive aspects of the film in favor of focusing on the negatives. While not a classic in the same vein as Them! Or The Thing From Another World, Fiend Without A Face still shines brightly on several occasions, and silly monsters or not, it definitely has its creepy moments.

Brains!This is your brain on raspberry jam...more to the point, this is raspberry jam on your brain.That has Excedrin written all over it.More brains!First let us talk about the most important thing in the film – its monsters. At first thought a creature shaped like a human brain and spinal cord does not sound especially frightening. I mean what’s next – critters shaped like a stomach and esophagus? It sounds more like an animated character in some old biology cartoon produced for elementary school kids. Yet, despite their odd appearance, the Fiends make very credible monsters. Perhaps it is their modus operandi – sucking out people’s brains. While in modern times this particular trait seems to be the definitive dining habit of B movie monsters, and is used more as a joke when referring to such beasties, it still maintains an aura of horror when taken seriously. It represents one of the ultimate violations: to have the single thing that differentiates a person from all others – their mind – stolen from them, devoured with no more concern than one would toss back a few crackers. Examining the Fiends even closer, and one might discover some deeper issues that may or may not have been intentional on the part of the producers. The brain-eating threat of the Fiends, which were created by pure mental energy which was in turn boosted by atomic power, could possibly represent the idea that man’s intellectual accomplishments could be easily stripped away by his monkeying around with things beyond his control. The fact that the ever-present-in-such-films atomic power figures into the equation seems to support the notion somewhat, especially when the time period is taken into account – the post World War II era when fear of radiation and atomic bombs were running rampant.

Perhaps another reason the monsters work so well is the fact that they spend most of the film invisible, thus leaving their true forms up to the imagination. What our imaginations conjure up is invariably more frightening than what we are shown on screen, as each individual forms an image that represents their own fears. It is a variation on the closed door theme – the only thing scarier than a closed door is what is on the other side of that door. Adding to this fear of the unseen are the subtle clues that hint at the nature of the beasts: The objects they disturb when moving, the paths they make through a puddle, the holes they make in a screen door in order to gain entrance and even the movements by their victims to fend off the monsters. On top of all that are the eerie sounds they produce. The heartbeat-like rhythm that denotes their approach, couple with the strange squishing/tearing sound only heightens the tensions in such scenes, especially since they cannot be seen. When the Fiends are finally seen, they might come off as something of a let down, but the viewer is prepared, given professor Walgate’s explanation of their creation. Still, the stop motion FX used to bring them to life are fairly decent. While nothing that made Ray Harryhausen lose any sleep, they still work far better than had the producers opted for hand puppets. The few times a live prop is used, it ends up lessening their danger rather than the other way around.

Pssst....Doctor McDead!Evidently in addition to sucking your brain and spinal cord out through a puncture wound in the back of one’s neck, the Fiends are also in the habit of changing the clothes on people they kill. Whether this is done before or after death is still undetermined, though one must admit that suddenly having invisible monsters undressing you is sufficient cause to scream like a bitch. Especially if they have cold tentacle thingies. Where’s the proof of this you ask? Well, at the very beginning of the movie, before even the credits are shown, we see a soldier on guard duty having a smoke. Nearby in the woods we are shown the soon to be very dead Jack Griselle, who is out making notations in his notepad. You can see him clearly in screen cap A. Then a few seconds later the Fiends get a hold of him, he screams the scream of a man who just got his first prostate exam and Mr. Soldier comes running to investigate. What he finds can be seen in screen cap B (which I present to you upside down so the facial features can be better discerned). Notice anything different? The corpse ain’t wearing the same clothes! Hell, I even think it’s an entirely different actor playing the part of the dead guy! They look nothing alike! The stiff looks more like Patrick Demspey than the guy on the left.

Their appearance aside, the one other thing this film is remembered for is its gore. Yes, you heard me – a 1950’s film with gore. At the film’s climax, the Fiends are attacking en masse, and end up dying by the dozen as well. They get shot for the most part, but unlike their Human counterparts in 1950’s cinema, who just fell over and died when struck by a bullet, the Fiends nearly explode in a shower of blood and guts. This is accompanied by a sound that is best described as explosive diarrhea crossed with a tire deflating. This gruesome demise is not just shown once, but is utilized for every Fiend death...and there are a lot in this film. Even once the source of their power is shut down and the remaining Fiends fall lifelessly to the ground, the show isn’t over as several shots reveal in detail how their bodies dissolve first into goo then dry up, leaving nothing more than a stain to mark their presence. All in all, it must have been quite the experience for anyone who saw this in the theater back in 1958.

On the Human side of things, we get performances that range from adequate to just barely passable. Lead Marshall Thompson seems totally at ease here, having been down this road before and appearing confident in his performance. Kynaston Reeves as Professor Walgate plays the curmudgeonly old scientist rather well, and totally sells the audience on his misguided character. The rest of the cast just seems…there. Colonel Butler was nothing more than a figurehead for the military and was developed about as much as land in Antarctica. The guy playing Captain Chester seemed to have some charisma, but was featured too little, while female lead (hell, about the only female in the film with any sizable role) Kim Parker turns in an almost forgettable performance as Barbara. The sudden romance between Barbara and Major Cummings seems very forced and included only to fill some mysterious B movie quota on such useless story elements. She starts the film as plain and unobtrusive and pretty much ends the movie the same way. The one positive aspect to her character is that she holds it together pretty well in the end, much more than one man who panics like a baby. One of the most noticeable things about many of the supporting actors are their accents. This film was shot in the United Kingdom and it shows here. Far too many of the "Canadians" have Irish and Scottish accents. I wonder if the ignorant American movie going masses in 1958 really believed that Canadians spoke that way after seeing this film.

On the down side, the film uses far too much stock footage to help extend its running time. If I saw another shot of a radar dish spinning in circles or planes flying and landing, I think I would have screamed. The lighting isn’t especially well done either in many shots. Most notable is the control room where Major Cummings supervises the radar experiments. The room is very dark and one wonders if such low light was used on purpose, to cover up something – say the sparse set dressing. Ironically, some of the day for night shots are too dark as well… a problem that rarely arises with such scenes. Still, despite a few setbacks due to budget, and the overabundance of stock footage, Fiend Without A Face offers its share of creepy moments that will linger in the mind after the film has ended. In the final analysis, you can’t ask for much more from such a film.

 

Expect To See:
Brains - Once the title creatures are made visible they resemble a brain and spinal cord. I’ll stick with a dog…they make picking up chicks easier no doubt.
Gore - Extremely gory for its day. When a Fiend dies, it usually spouts blood like a fountain and makes a sound like explosive diarrhea. Quite gross even by today's standards.
Monsters - Not human sized, but monsters none the less. They make up for their lack of size with their invisibility, which really makes them creepy and dangerous.
Romance - A very, very subtle one here between Major Cummings and Barbara. She starts out not overly fond of him, but by the end of the film they’re snogging away.
Science - Lots of pseudo science at work here, especially in the manner in which the Fiends are created. Don't forget to look for the book on "Sibonetics" (cybernetics).
Skin - Just one shot of Barbara as she exits the shower clad only in a towel. Look closely and you’ll see the towel slip, exposing more of her left breast than what one might expect.
Stock Footage - LOTS of recycled shots of planes taking off , flying and landing. Also the film is padded out with waaay too many shots of radar dishes spinning in endless circles. Zzzzzz.
Violence - Numerous people meet very scary ends, with more than one shown. While there is no gore attached to the Human deaths, their nature makes them somewhat intense.

 

Movie Stats:
Shadow's Commentary:

Deaths: 14 (probably lots more not shown)
Alcoholic drinks consumed: 2
Cups of coffee consumed:1
Smokes: 9
Shots of radar dishes: 11
Shots of jets: 16
Canadians with decidedly non-Canadian accents: 7
Fist fights: 1
Fiends that meet messy ends: 19

01 Min – You know for 3AM, it sure is damn bright outside.
12 Mins - Wait, that’s not the same plane!
19 Mins - The brain is gone? So he was a democrat!
25 Mins - What the hell is Sibonetics? A new diet regime?
35 Mins - How about some cheese to go with that whine?
41 Mins - It sounds like Frankenstein’s monster is out in the hall.
44 Mins - That tomb has more square footage that some apartments.
59 Mins - It feeds on brains? My family is perfectly safe…sadly.
71 Mins - Insert “this is your brain on drugs” joke here.


Shadow's Drinking Game: Every time a "Canadian" with a Scottish, English or Welsh accent of some kind talks, take a drink.

 

Images Click for larger image

Alert status was cancelled after it
was learned that the Russian
invasion fleet on the radar was really
a result of ensign Jones sneezing on it.



"Gaaah! I swallowed my gum!"

Once again, Grandpa fell victim to
the skateboard on the top stair gag.

 
"Of course I’m the General, baby…
now, where were we? Oh yeah…
You, me and some cocktails."

"That’s like the fifth time you’ve
lit up in an hour. Are you quite
sure that is strictly for
medicinal purposes?"

"Look, I'm the freaking General around
here, so if I wanna sing into the
intercom and pipe it across the
whole base, I'm damn well gonna
do it!"



 
"Listen, if you’re not going to help
us, then sit there and
shut the hell up."

 
"Next time my dear, you really
should read the script
before signing the contract."

"Damn, the Girl Scouts sure are
relentless in this neighborhood…
here comes the fourth wave of them."

"This isn’t how it looks, I swear!"

"Yes! Five o’clock. It's Miller time!"

Ignore the "Do not feed the brains"
sign at your own risk.

 

Immortal Dialog

An autopsy turns up surprising results.

Captain Chester: “Why the brain, it’s gone.”
Doctor Warren: “Yes. Sucked out like an egg through those two holes.”

Shadow’s comment: Those wacky democratic party initiations…


Professor Walgate asks an odd question about Barbara’s dead brother.

Walgate: “I don’t want to seem morbid, but did you see his face after he died?”
Major Cummings: “Yes.”
Walgate: “What was it like? I have a reason for asking.”
Major Cummings: “Well, it was an expression of complete horror…fright…almost insane, I guess.”

Shadow’s comment: Somebody played a Yanni album for him?

 

Keep In Mind
  • The USAF perfected shape-changing planes back in the 1950’s.
  • Most Canadians speak with Irish, Scottish and Welsh accents.
  • Morgues make great meeting rooms.
  • Constables are allowed to walk into anyone’s home without knocking.
  • Constables routinely carry multiple rifles in their backseats.
  • Smoking a pipe makes anyone a brilliant detective.
  • Candlesticks are multipurpose tools.
  • Atomic plants can be shut down on the word of an eccentric scientist.
  • Elderly scientists always have hot chicks for assistants.
  • Boosting one’s brain with atomic power is not a good idea.
  • In any group of trapped people, there is always one whiny coward.
  • Blowing up an atomic reactor’s control only results in shutting it down.



This Film & Me

Oh boy. This film and I have a tangled history. The first time I encountered the movie was when I was about five years old. It came on the local Saturday afternoon monster matinee and I like I did every week, I sat down to watch it. Unfortunately, my parents had to go somewhere, so shortly after Ben and Amelia Adams were killed we left the house. Naturally, the film was over by the time we returned. A couple years later the film popped up again on a Saturday afternoon, and once again I tuned in to watch it. This time around I got as far as the Mayor’s death scene before my mother left the house to run some errands and taking me with her. I was not a happy camper, let me tell you. This was in that long ago era when VCR’s were the size of suitcases, weighed about half a ton and cost several hundred dollars – suffice it to say that we did not own one. Finally, about three or four years after that, the film came on for a third time. THIS time I actually managed to see the whole thing. You can imagine how my curiosity was ready to burst after so many years of being denied. Especially when the film featured invisible monsters – I wanted to know what they looked like in the worst way! I think I managed to see it once or twice more after that, and then it vanished along with all those monster matinee programs when they died off in the early 80’s. I think I caught it again years later when TNT had their “Monstervision” thing going and it was around that time I bought it on VHS. Many more years would pass before DVD became so popular and it was only recently that I bought the film in that format, as my VHS copy was still quite good.

Shadow's rating: Seven Tombstones



The Good

  • Unexpectedly gory for a 50's flick
  • Great sense of lurking danger
  • Has a decent pace
  • Creepy atmosphere when needed
  • Hot chick clad only in towel
  • Inventive design and look for monster

The Bad

  • Stop motion FX are somewhat jerky
  • Too many stock shots of planes and radar dishes
  • Townsfolk are portrayed too much as ignorant simpletons
  • Atomic power once again blamed for the problem

The Ugly

  • Too many Canadians with European accents
  • Melville is a major chickenshit
  • Obvious stunt double for Marshall Thompson in some shots
  • Stock shots don't match, thus creating a shape-shifting airplane

 

 

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