Bad Movies Beware!
What the bloody blue HELL did I just watch…?
This pile of donkey excrement hails from 1958 and is part of an era where the monster movie-slash-creature feature was reveling in its heyday. People would pile into movie theaters and drive-ins to take whatever new silver-screen nasty would come from the imagination of Hollywood. The more ignorant, the better.
It was like the director would travel to the future, eat Taco Bell, then go back to the 50’s, and use whatever hit the toilet bowl as a Rorschach test for the newest movie monster.
I’m pretty sure that’s how we got The Blob.
Oi. Moving along.
The movie opens at Winthrop Air Force Base, a new installation in the small farming community of Winthrop, Canada. A guard on night patrol hears a noise in the woods and goes to investigate. A local man is there, also following the noise, and he ends up getting killed by an unseen force.
The guard is none other than Major Jeff Cummings, our lead man and hero. He’s also over the M.P.s out at the base and is investigating the murder along with his partner, Al Chester.
Yeah, I started singing it, too.
Anyway, Barbara, the dead guy’s sister, shows up with the mayor of Winthrop and asks about the investigation. The townsfolk blame the base for the blights they are having on their crops and cattle. The base is using atomic energy to power the newest radar technology, and the people of Winthrop fear radiation contamination.
I guess a fish with three eyes isn’t as appetizing as they thought.
More murders begin to happen. It’s about the third one in when I realize the catch to this movie: the killer is invisible. Thus, he/she/it is “The Fiend Without a Face.”
How clever. Ugh.
Reminds me of a certain film about an invisible dinosaur. The film was too low-budget to put an actual creature in the movie, so everyone just played pretend.
Yup, that’s the one.
During the rising body count and accusations of evil-doing against the base, Jeff and Barbara start developing a budding romance. Her brother, Howard, isn’t too keen on the idea, and he and Jeff trade a few blows before Barbara breaks them up and demands that Jeff leaves.
Howard organizes a mob in town to hit the woods and search for the killer. He gets lured off and disappears. The town does the most productive thing they can think of: they stand around and wonder what could’ve happened to him.
Hey, it worked in Devil Girl from Mars.
They organize a town meeting and are about to vote the Air Force Base away when Howard shows up. He’s dazed and confused, his eyes wide with mad fright. All he can do is grunt and groan.
Maybe he should run for President.
Jeff finds out that Barbara actually works for Professor Walgate, a local educated nutjob with a hang-up on the occult and supernatural powers, particularly telekinesis. Kind of like Tina in Friday the 13th Part 7, but not nearly as cool.
Jeff goes to the cemetery to see if he can find clues to the murders and sees the professor duck out of one of the crypts. Jeff goes in and finds the professor’s pipe, but the professor shuts the door on him. Al and Barbara come to the cemetery and find Jeff.
Everyone goes back to the professor’s house, and the local doctor shows up with Melville, a local man whose only purpose is to be in the final scene and die.
All he needs is a red shirt. Seriously.
The professor gives the obligatory 1950’s creature feature info-dump. I mean, seriously, like almost five to eight minutes of the movie is dedicated to backstory at this point. He explains that he was working on a machine that could generate the power of telekinesis in the human brain. Failed experiment after failed experiment, and he’s finally able to turn the pages of a book!
Why not just use your hands? Lazy git.
He decides to create a being with his mind to store his mental projections, but things get out of control. The machine gets destroyed, and the creature multiplies and escapes. The atomic energy from the base causes the creature to become more active, and it multiplies even more as it searches for more energy.
Sure enough, the atomic energy from the base increases again, and the creatures become visible. They’re brains with tentacles. They use the spinal cords attached to them to move around like inchworms from the planet Window-Licker.
I think my IQ just hit rock bottom on this one.
The group boards up the house a la Night of the Living Dead (the Romero version), and the professor goes outside to cover Jeff as he makes a break for the base. The professor succumbs to the brain creatures, and the things start coming in through the fireplace.
Jeff reaches the base, but the creatures have killed everyone. He fights them off and deactivates the atomic energy source, then blows it up just as the brains are about to kill off the group at the house.
And yes, they got Melville.
Jeff returns to the house, the group congratulates him on a job well done, and the film closes with him making out with Barbara.
(Slams head on desk)
Not that I dislike the creature features of the 1950s, but this one was possibly one of the more ignorant of the bunch. Granted, you kind of know what you’re walking into with these movies if you’re familiar with the genre and where it was at that point in cinematic history, but still…DAMN.
The music and sound are what’s pretty much expected of the genre: big, bumpy, timpani drum-based themes with drawn out blat-sounds from a symphony almost entirely comprised of brass instruments. All the sounds in the film, including the doors opening and shutting, are crash-studio sound bytes that were commonly overused at the time, and the sound of the creatures moving isn’t much more than a series of footsteps used for dinosaurs run under the Distortion Mixer from Hell.
The acting, believe it or not, is actually not bad at all. It’s the overdone Barker accent that was preferred back then (“Hey, honey, get the keys to the cah, will ya? We gotta get movin’!”) with convincing performances from Marshall Thompson and Kim Barker.
The writing and pacing are the biggest issues. The movie moves at a clip, but it tends to jump around like Angela Lansbury walking over hot coals during an episode of Circus of the Stars (Didn’t think I remembered that old Simpsons reference, did ya!). It’s a lot of back and forth along with a script that isn’t a whole lot more than “What’s going on?” and “Whatta we do next?” Barbara is an typical 1950s female assistant who dotes on the professor when she’s in the scenes with him, and Jeff is almost invincible and simply there to easily save the day. There’s no real danger to any of the characters except for one scene where Barbara almost bites it. Would’ve made it a stronger film, but I guess audiences back then would’ve rejected it.
I can’t really say much about the effects in the movie because there’s literally nothing to see until the last sequence. The brains are stop-motion animation, which was big at the time, and they do manage to do an “okay” job of it, though there are times when you can tell that there’s some reverse camerawork going on.
Let’s face facts, people: these movies aren’t meant to be much more intellectually stimulating than an episode of Jersey Shore or reading a pop-up coloring book version of 50 Shades of Grey. The problem is that Fiend Without a Face takes it to a whole new level of brain-dead with a lot of nonsense thrown into a movie that shouldn’t take itself as seriously as it does.
This one lands four Piles of S**t. It’s a classic, which makes it more challenging to pick apart, but it’s got a lot of issues and cop-outs that just hurt it more than anything.