Friday, April 01, 2016

Fiend Without a Face – review

Director: Arthur Crabtree

Release date: 1958

Contains spoilers

Credit where credit is due, whilst I had heard of British B movie Fiend Without a Face I had never seen it or associated it with vampires. However a little article on put me right about that.

The film is, of course, cheese with more bad science than you can shake a stick at but its entertaining cheese and I was surprised to discover that the film was British in origin. The film is set in a Canadian town with a US Air Base (and has a cold war anxiety as its background) and the content would seem to be US Drive-in fodder.

on guard duty
This is readily apparent from the sign that a guard stands by as he has a smoke. Also nearby is local farmer Griselle. There is a strange noise, kind of like a pounding noise mixed with a squelching noise. There is a scream and the guard finds Griselle’s body. This is a situation that will cause Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson, It! The Terror from Beyond Space & First Man in Space) plenty of headaches. Security specialist Capt. Al Chester (Terry Kilburn) doesn’t think there’s anything suspicious but they head off to see if the autopsy has been done. Jeff wants it to prove that the atomic reactor the base has isn’t to blame.

Barbara and Jeff
The base MD (Gil Winfield) hasn’t done an autopsy as the local Doctor, Bradley (Peter Madden, the Kiss of the Vampire & Dr. Terror's House of Horrors), and mayor (James Dyrenforth, Horror Hotel), took the body. The mayor is with the base commander, Col. Butler (Stanley Maxted), and Griselle’s sister Barbara (Kim Parker) – she refuses the autopsy. When the Col. points out that Griselle had been noting take-off and landing times in a notebook, she points out the next page – his cows had been producing less and lower quality milk and he thought it was to do with the noise of the jets. Jeff ends up giving her a lift home.

invisible attack
The base is testing a long range radar that is relayed through jets, the idea is that they can then keep an eye on the Soviets. However, when the signal reaches a certain point it suddenly fades. To try and compensate they increase the power from their atomic reactor (no comment on the thought that the energy is meant to be being sent to the planes wirelessly!). Whilst they do this there is another attack – this time on a farmer and his wife. We see this attack and whilst we see something moving through straw, it is only through movement of the straw. Whatever attacks them is invisible. Could there be a connection between the experiments and the attacks? An autopsy on the farmer shows two holes at the base of the skull and the brain and spinal column has been removed.

Jeff and Walgate
Of course there is a connection. Local mad scientist (and Barbara’s boss) Prof Walgate (Kynaston Reeves) has been doing experiments into thoughts made form. He has been tapping into the atomic energy to help with this and succeeded but the thought has become independent, intelligent and is multiplying. It is Jeff who mentions vampirism in the first instance but later Walgate suggests that he has accidentally created a “mental vampire”. These fiends drain intellect – we see this with constable Gibbons (Robert MacKenzie) who becomes a gibbering idiot. The removal of the brains seems to be to give the thought creatures a body (but don’t think too long on the logical flaws around that).

a fiend attacks
They are dependent on the reactor – the power gives them life. The power reaching a critical level makes them appear – and we get stop motion brains, with antennas, crawling on the floor and leaping at folks. Cut the power off and they will cease to be – but someone has smashed the reactor’s control rods… Ok, again don’t think on the fact that this would mean the reaction couldn’t be stopped and the plant would likely hit meltdown. Further don’t wonder at the genius idea that blowing up the control centre would somehow stop the reactions!

swarmed by fiends
Its pap, but it is fun and entertaining pap. There is a real chemistry between Kim Parker and Marshall Thompson but, what is even more fun, is just how sassy Kim Parker’s Barbara is as a character – to a point. When they look to barricade themselves in, to keep the brains out of the house they are in, Barbara is full of sass even shaming craven deputy mayor Melville (Launce Maraschal) for not helping. However, as soon as the brains get in she becomes a typically 50s weak woman, unable to do little else but scream and wait to be rescued, whilst worrying about the hero. They should have left the sass going, perhaps having her save someone rather than being saved, it would have been a really interesting move for the time.

The story is hockum and the stop motion isn't exactly wonderful (by the way, cut the power and the brains dissolve, a titbit of lore that is reminiscent of the vampire in the sun motif that, of course, developed in more traditional vampire cinema). On the other hand the film is short (around 1 hour and 10 minutes) so doesn’t outstay its welcome and it is just great B movie fun. Not great cinema but deserving of 5 out of 10 due to the fun factor.

The imdb page is here.

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