Fiend Without a Face (1958)

As I said recently, the Criterion Collection have some unlikely titles in their catalogue, and Fiend Without a Face is arguably one of the more unlikely ones (it came out along with The Blob; evidently the people at Criterion were in that sort of mood at the time). Indeed, DVD Savant was so put out by the unlikeliness of the thing that it provoked this oddly ill-tempered rant against it. While it’s certainly no major arthouse masterpiece, surely it’s not as ordinary as Erickson would have it, and even he has to concede the last 15 minutes or so are indeed something. A British production, it’s set around a US military base somewhere in an isolated Canadian backwood, experimenting with atomic power as a means of amplifying radar to keep an eyes on those damn Commies (remember the time period), but, as they discover, they’re not the only people conducting such experiments… and the townsfolk, already unimpressed at having this atomic power bullshit in their vicinity, are even less happy when something starts killing them and, quite literally, sucking out their brains, which they use in the film’s climax to become visible. It’s about as formulaic and cheesy as this sort of thing gets—adapted from a story published in Weird Tales in 1930, therefore blessed with a sufficiently pulpy pedigree—but when the final assault comes, it becomes kind of “fucking hell” for a film made in 1958, what with stop-motions brains splattering everywhere (I uttered the words “oh for fuck’s sake” in stunned disbelief at least twice); it’s a bit of a slog to get there but it’s good payoff. Ultimately, Fiend Without a Face simply is what it is, i.e. an efficiently made B horror, and as I’ve said in the past there’s nothing inherently wrong with that sort of thing if it’s done well enough, as it is here. After all, sometimes “efficiently made B horror” is precisely what you want on a Saturday night rather than an actually reputable masterpiece of the seventh art…

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