Fiend Without a Face is one of my all-time favorite B-movies, due mostly to the antics of the stop-motion brain sucking cuties mentioned in the title. But that’s getting a “head” of the story, so let’s go back.
Marshall Thompson is Major Jeff Cummings. He’s in charge of a super secret (well, sorta secret) military project, which uses nuclear power to boost radar signals so we can spy on the Russians. Produced in 1957, this film features two of the major themes of horror movies of the era — fear of nuclear power and the Red Threat.
In the film, Cummings has his hands full trying to convince the backwoods Canadian locals, that his nuclear plant is not responsible for the strange deaths occurring around town. You see, even though nuclear radiation will kill you in a slow and painful manner, it doesn’t normally suck out your brain and spinal cord so, move on mister, the military is not to blame!
Enter Miss Barbara Griselle who fills out a sweater as well as any fifties pin-up girl but its her “brain” that got her the job as the assistant to Professor Walgate. Spunky Barbara begins to fall in love with the handsome Jeff Cummings despite the fact that she thinks he’s covering up the military’s involvement in the death of her brother. Let’s just ignore the fact that Cummings boss, Colonel Butler called Barbara’s brother a spy, shall we?
In a brilliant stroke of penny pinching, screenwriter Herbert J. Leder decided that the creatures would be completely invisible until the nuclear power reached a dangerously high level. This means that throughout the majority of the movie, all you see are people grabbing at their necks and screaming every time the creatures attack. But they do it so well, so I’m in! Of course, much of the creep factor comes from scrunching, crunching, munching sound that heralds the arrival of the invisible fiends. So very Jaws.
Soon fear grips the small Canadian community made up of people with Irish accents. (Who knew?) They turn vigilante. They go on a hunt for the radiation crazed soldier whom they think is terrorizing the town. And then — horror of all horrors — the brainless sheriff shows up at the town meeting. No, really, he has no brain. It’s been sucked out, or partially sucked out, I’m never really sure on that point.
Turns out the military is only PARTIALLY to blame as the rest of the fault lies on the frail and also creepy Professor Walgate. See, he’s retired and bored and so he decided to see if he could detach his thoughts from his brain and send them on a walkabout. He did it and the brain waves were so excited they went out and never came back. (Now, here’s the part where you just go with it.) The escaped brain waves gain power from the nuclear plant. When the plant boosts its signal during radar tests, the brain waves go all Travolta and do a happy dance. Why then, do they attack people and suck out their brains and spinal columns? Is this the escaped brain wave version of tipping cows or TPing a house? Whatever the reason, the little buggers have a taste for it now and they’re not going to stop.
The climax of the movie comes when the brain waves smash the dampening rods at the nuclear plant so the reactor can’t be shut down. Once the reactor reaches a critical level, the brain waves become visible! And we finally see that they look just like brains with spinal chords for a body, thin little legs and antennae. Regardless of the title of the movie, these little buggers have faces! I swear you can see them smile. They’re cute, except for the killing part. The crawl like Slinky dogs and they fly like they’ve been shot out of a cannon! They surround Walgate’s house trapping our heroes inside! (Oh no!)
Time for the fun to begin. Our heroes hack and shoot and smash the little fiends but the fiends will not be deterred. I love the one that steals the hammer they use to board up the windows! Luckily, this movie is in black and white because otherwise it would be damned gory. When the hatchet slices one fiend in two and his guts burble out all over the place. . . . yuck.
Don’t worry, this is a 50’s horror movie, which means our heroes will not only succeed, but they’ll celebrate with a round of silly banter and the guy will get the girl.
It may be hokey in spots, but Fiend Without a Face is a better movie than the title suggests. It’s exciting, even suspenseful in the end and there’s no beating those fabulous fiends! It’s like watching the Tim Burton version of the Rudolph Christmas special. Quirky, scary and cute all at the same time.
You can buy Fiend Without a Face on DVD over on Amazon.
Come back next Saturday when we’ll be taking a closer look at our next Creature Feature: The Killer Shrews.