Fiend Without a Face (1958)
FIEND WITHOUT A FACE
WRITER: Screenplay by Herbert J. Leder
Original story by Amelia Reynolds Long
DIRECTOR: Arthur Crabtree
STARRING: Marshal Thompson as Major Jeff Cummings
Kynaston Reeves as Professor Walgate
Kim Parker as Barbara Griselle
Stanley Maxted as Colonel Butler
Terence Kilburn as Captain Al Chester
James Dyrenforth as Mayor
Robert MacKenzie as Constable Gibbons
QUICK CUT: On the outskirts of tiny Canadian town, a US Air Force base has opened up. Once people start falling dead, the blame is pointed squarely at the bases nuclear reactor, but the truth is stranger than any of them may think. Think. Get it? Because it's killer brains.
Major Jeff Cummings - Our hero for this piece, and he fills the role perfectly. Stand up American, soldier, square jawed...heck he coulda been Captain America in another life.
Professor Walgate - A researcher living in the town, working on moving things with the power of the human mind. He's a kindly sort, and eager to help Jeff and the Air Force figure things out.
Barbara Griselle - The sister of the movie's first victim, she also works as Walgate's secretary and transcriber of his works. She also is falling for Jeff in the background. She's kinda in every plot.
PREVIOUSLY, ON TRISKAIDEKAFILES...
"In fact, my mocking is well warranted, as the voices are just coming from the hotel's cinema, currently playing Fiend Without a Face!"
"A movie about killer brains? I totally intend to review that movie someday, don't worry folks."
Well...someday has come. SOME DAY...IS THIS DAY!
THE GUTS: We start out with an Air Force soldier sneaking a smoke as he guards the fence around their base, and watching some stock footage. He hears something in the woods and rushes out there. But by the time he arrives, it's already too late and he finds a dead body.
Afterwards, two of the airmen on base, Al and Jeff, are talking about the dead body and what to do about it. Jeff wants to look deeper into things, curious what happened, but Al is more than content to let it go, and let the local authorities handle things.
They head over to Doc to see what the autopsy showed, but he never did anything, since the mayor and coroner for the town of Winthrop claimed the body, so the uh...local authorities could handle things. Well, everyone's happy, right?
Colonel Butler calls Jeff to his office so they can deal with the mayor and the dead guy's sister, Barbara. They try and convince the two from town to let them have their way with the guy, showing Jaques's notebook showing he was closely watching the air base's take offs and landings. But Barbara explains he was just there because he thought the planes were making his cows give bad milk.
So, in short, he's dead because his cows were sick.
After driving Barbara home, Lee Major..er, Major Jeff plays with some scanning equipment back at the base. They manage to get their scans to reach well into Russia, but then the system starts to fade. They try and push the nuclear reactor beyond its limits to get more power, but any excess power just seems to be drained off elsewhere. See, this is why they need Scotty.
The movie shifts over to Jaques's funeral, and the townspeople going about their daily lives. We get a few moments of watching everyone getting annoyed by stock footage flying by.
Once they're done with that, a farmer's wife heads off into the barn to feed the chickens, but finds something rustling in the hay before she starts screaming. Her husband comes running and finds her dead body, but soon joins her when he is invisibly choked to death as well. This is what happens when the Predator visits Canada, isn't it?
I love how the funeral isn't even done yet, and someone has already found the two new bodies, told people, and one of them has rushed down to tell the mayor what happened. Talk about news traveling fast in a small town.
Modern Major General...er, Jeff manages to get ahold of the farmers' bodies so an autopsy can be performed, with some startling discoveries. Doctor Infodump tells them about two holes he found at the base of their necks, and that their brains are gone. Not to mention the spinal column.
I want to know just how big these holes were, that a spinal cord could be yanked out through them. Because uh, how could even a crap, small town coroner have missed those and gone, "Yup, they died from heart failure! Never mind the giant gaping wounds in their necks!"
Jeff gets his orders to talk to the townspeople, and uses that as an excuse to head immediately over to Barbara's house. When he gets there, the door is open, and no one is answering, so he sneaks in to see what's going on. But oops, she was just in the shower, and is horrified when she walks out in a towel and finds the major waiting there.
While he waits for her to get decent, he finds a paper she's working on transferring from dictation of Professor Walgate's; The Process of Thought Control. Turns out he's very interested in the topic, and other sort of psychic phenomenae. I think we have a suspect!
Later, at the mayor's house, he hears a thumping, pounding beat, but before he can dance to the rythym, he gets attacked by an invisible killer. And I don't mean high blood pressure.
Jeff heads over to talk to the Professor and see what he knows, and they do a nice scene to show just how clever he is. The prof used some vague hints to guess what the secret plans are at the base, and he nails it perfectly. Jeff neither confirms nor denies, but it's a good bit for Walgate.
While they talk about the look of horror on Jaque's face, we jump back to Constable Gibbons and his mob stomping through the woods as a shot rings out. It will be a miracle if they don't kill themselves... But at least no one has a minigun to mow down the forest with.
Back at the professor's, Jeff pushes him to find out what he knows about the killings. On the surface, it sounds like he's just simply denying the existence of the supernatural, but the more he is pushed, the more Walgate sounds like he's denying something else is responsible for the killings, and he knows what it might be.
Meanwhile, the mob is still on their Predator hunt. They're just about to call it a night when Gibbons and one of the others hears the thumpity thump of something. In classic horror movie fashion, for that is what this movie is, they split up to cover more ground.
The thumping grows nearer and then stops, with Gibbons' man calling out to him in the woods, all alone, with no sign of Gibbons or any creatures.
With Gibbons missing and his mom in near hysterics over it, the town decides to call a meeting. Which becomes a little problematic when the mayor's dead, but thankfully they got a backup.
Major Tom...er, Jeff comes to the meeting, and they all hash things out, and come to zero conclusions! It's not this, it's not that, it's not radiation, there's no mad soldier running around. It's not a floor wax. It's not a dessert topping. It's not live OR Memorex. Great, so we now know everything it isn't.
Another thing that it's not stumbles into the meeting, when Gibbons finds his way out of the woods. Unfortunately, it appears he left his reasoning behind, as the most intelligible thing he can manage is whimpering cries and moans.
Major Disaster...I mean, Jeff still thinks that Walgate has something to do with this mess, and goes to investigate the cemetery. Geeze, someone joked earlier about mental vampires, and the movie now looks like I've stumbled straight into Dracula.
While he's down in a crypt poking around in a coffin, the door gets shut and locked behind him. It doesn't take long for Al to become concerned though, and he drags Barbara along for the hunt.
They fortunately find him when they hear him thumping against the crypt's door with a candle holder. I like the parallel here with the thumping of the creatures before they kill someone.
Everyone heads over to the prof's house to question him, and he fumbles about looking for his pipe, that Jeff happened upon in the crypt. He admits to things, and apologises for closing the major in, not meaning to, but he was afraid and ran.
The professor has another episode due to his failing health, but before he loses consciousness, he urges the major to shut down the power plant. An idea that doesn't go over well with his superior officer, but it's hard to deny all the attacks came after they drew a lot of energy.
Surprisingly, the colonel agrees. But when they try and shut the plant down, they discover the control rods have all been smashed. They have no spares, and while they immediately call to get replacements, it'll be a good four to six hours before they arrive.
Once Walgate regains consciousness, they all rush over so they can get a speech from Professor Flashback MacInfodump. He tells them about his experiments in telepathy...okay, no. Telekinesis. I don't care what the movie says. Moving objects is not telepathy, damnit.
Where was I? Oh right. He stimulated his brain with painful, sickness inducing electrical impulses, but that didn't go to well. It wasn't until a freak storm struck the house with lightning, boosting his equipment beyond any previous usage that he got any results. As time went on, he developed a tolerance and built his strength, but it was still unpleasant and dangerous.
The professor knew he needed a better power source, so once the Air Force moved in with their fancy nuclear juice, he tapped into their systems and diverted a portion for his own use. Gotta love the lax security of the day.
He goes on to explain how he tried to envision a form for his thoughts to take shape in, and have a life of their own. He succeeded, but like the thoughts that created it, the creature was invisble. Convenient for the special effects crew!
Now that he has literally given his thoughts life, they decided they liked it that way, and destroyed his equipments and notes. I've heard of free thought, but c'mon.
Even worse, he surmised there may even be more than one, and now that they were autonomous of Walgate, they were drawing power naturally from the airbase to sustain their existence. And then things got worse when they escaped.
It should come as no surprise that everyone assumes the preceeding story to be the ravings of a man gone mad, trying to justify his murders. That is, right up until the creatures thump their way back home, and grab a soldier to prove they exist.
They barricade themselves in the professor's office, moving things and boarding up windows, blocking the doors, essentially trapping themselves in a single room. Against an enemy they can't see. Something here ain't quite bright. Walgate has an idea that more power might make them more real, more visible, but before they can do that, the guys at the reactor get strangled.
But it's too late, the reactor has hit a critical, dangerous level! I've lost track of if we want to crank up the power or turn it down at this point, though. Whatever, we finally get to see what the creatures look like, giant brains with antennae and spinal cord tails! THIS IS AN AWESOME VISUAL. That is all.
Meanwhile, at Walgate's, they're trying to figure out what to do, which boils down to shutting down the plant. Yeah, thanks, prof. We're already trying that one.
Everyone has a peek outside and can see the Fiends becoming visible. They're scattered all over the forest, hanging off branches and trunks like brain fruit. They're using the trees! But being visible now, also means they're targets. And hey, they can be shot. And if it bleeds, we can kill it!
While the soldiers are having fun blowing their brains out, one of them finds its way down the chimney and grabs the backup mayor that came along for the ride. He lasts about as long as everyone else against the brains.
Major Malfunction...er, Jeff decides he needs to take out the reactor's control room and finish off the Fiends. He runs off to grab some dynamite and do the job, while his fellow airmen cover him as best they can.
Even the professor tries to make good on his experiment gone awry, when he sacrifices himself to try and control the Feinds. Or at worst, try and give a tasty distraction for them.
His distraction lasts all of five seconds, so no, no control going on there. Hopefully the brains will feed for longer than he took to run out there and get killed.
The makers of the movie sure had a lot of fun just showing a bunch of scenes of nothing more than Al popping off brains. I'm not complaining, mind you.
Major Nelson...er, Jeff gets to the shed and finds a bundle of dynamite, and a few brains along the way. But he ain't got time to bleed, and kills the obstacles pretty easily, making his way to the control room.
Back at Walgate's, time and ammunition is running out. Not to mention they keep forgetting these things are actually smarter than they appear, when they grab a hammer, and start pulling and bashing their way through the barricaded windows.
The room gets filled with brains. Filled! They literally fly everywhere! It's awesome! And the soldiers waste no time in popping them all off. It's quite a sight to watch such top notch special effects and just wanton cranial carnage. Lovely.
Even Jeff gets to take out some brains while he tries to blow shit up. One of them after getting hit, hilariously tries to stop the fuse, but just can't reach it in time before it dies.
Barbara gets attacked by a brain, but fortunately the explosives go off, taking out the control room and shutting down the reactor. You would think this would cause further problems of an uncontrollable reactor, and fallout, and meltdowns, but oh well.
As the reactor goes boom, all the Fiends fall dead and go oozy from the lack of raditation they now have. With no food, they all quickly perish.
The brains are dead, and Jeff wraps up the movie by coming back to Walgate's to get the girl, and settle things with the town doctor with hopes of Winthrop being more hospitable towards the Air Force base now. And thus everything is wrapped up in a neat, spinal column bow.
Video: A really good transfer of stock from the 1950s. It's cleaned up, looks good, but still has some scratches and grain, so as to not ruin the aesthetic of watching something so old. It looks good without looking TOO good, but the flaws are never distracting.
Audio: A straight up mono track, what with the age of the piece. But everything sounds great, and the thumping heartbeat of the brains is still nicely chilling.
Sound Bite: "Your funeral. Mine too, probably..." Said as the reactor is pushed beyond its limits.
1 - Just short of two minutes in, the Fiends claim their first victim, Barbara's brother Jaques.
2 - Amelia gets choked in the barn.
3 - Her husband, Ben, swiftly joins her when he hears her screams and rushes to his own doom.
4 - The mayor buys the farm from another Fiend.
5 - Random soldier gets yanked out a doorway.
6 - Petersen gets strangled in the nuclear plant.
7 - Interim mayor gets strangled by a chimney Fiend.
8 - Professor Walgate sacrifices himself to the Fiends to buy Jeff time.
With a bunch of added soldiers at the reactor for fodder.
And a shitload of brains.
Best Corpse: I rather liked the death of the interim mayor. It was random, his look of horror was great, and we got to see the brains in action, finally.
Blood Type - B: There's not a lot of blood, per se. Not from the people, at least. But the brains ooze a lot (With hilarious noises!), so most of that high score is in honour of the special effects. The stop motion animation on the brains is just...wow. So well done.
Sex Appeal - Barbara in a towel out of the shower is the best it gets here!
Movie Review: I watched the Criterion DVD release, and part of that worried me. Criterion has a reputation of good movies. How was this going to fare? And I have to say, it's actually a pretty good movie! It's a simple plot, it's damned unique, and while it's got its share of plot holes, mostly about nuclear power and the nature of reactors, it's a fun ride. The acting is decent, and it's well made. Fiend has a reputation as being one of the best B movies, and that reputation is deserved. I wholly enjoyed this experience, five out of five nuclear control rods.
Entertainment Value: And in the flipside, I was worried that the movie would be TOO good for Trisk. But coming from the 50s, and the villains being stop motion brains, quickly put those fears to rest. There's still some cheese. A surprising amount of "Canadians" have Irish accents, I think. (It's because they filmed in Britain, I know.) The acting isn't great across the board. Once you get out of the top four actors or so, it falls off sharply. The farty, splorty noises of the dying brains is giggle worthy, in a good and bad way. And the solution does kinda boil down to 'shoot things until they're dead and then blow stuff up'. Which is again, much like Predator. So yeah, it's a good B movie, a very good B movie! But it is still very cheesy, and very entertaining and laughable. It straddles that line between good and bad that Trisk strives to find almost perfectly. Five out of five creepy crawly brains.
Get to the reactah!!