40×40: Fiend Without A Face (1958)

Directed by Arthur Crabtree.

“You ever think of trying sleep instead of Benzedrine? You might like it!”

Why Did I Get This?

I knew nothing about this at all, and it’s another disc I didn’t actually buy. Didn’t borrow or steal it either, it was one of a bunch of horror movies posted to me by friend and Late Reviewer contributor (and co-host of the brilliant Strong Tea podcast), Vikki Layton.

To be honest, I think I found the title just the right level of cool and goofy (who doesn’t love a bit of alliteration?!), and when I realised it was a ‘dangers of atomic science’ sci-fi horror, I was totally on board. Which meant I put it to one side and didn’t watch it for well over a year.

Really curious to see how this one plays out, so let’s give it a go…

The Late Review

As always, the Late Review will go into detail about the film from start to finish, so if you’re looking to avoid potential spoilers, scroll down to the next heading.

A series of mysterious deaths near a US Air Force base in Canada has left locals terrified and convinced that the villain removing the brains and spinal columns of villagers is either a demented serviceman, something to do with the atomic experiments taking place on the base, or some combination of the two. It’s up to Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson), to get to the bottom of things before the evil spreads further.

Right from the off, I was sold on this one. Stark black and white shorts of planes and radar dishes at a US air base (stock shots, of course), blended into ominous shots of woodland and the blood-curdling scream of an off-screen death? Yep, roll the titles, it’s going to be a fun ride.

This is one of those films that has a weird charm to it because everything’s just a little bit… off. A US air base in Canada that’s fairly clearly shot in the British countryside? Love it. There’s that sort of Avengers feel to the military base and surrounding cottages that feels homely and civil, despite the ghastly goings-on. Military sheds containing explosives are secured with the tiniest padlock, for example, and local farmers have a little chat about what they’re having for dinner before dying horribly at the hands (or tentacles), of an unseen assailant.

Can’t see the creatures massacring the locals for the first 80% of the movie? Brilliant – sell the terror through its weird, loud stomping approach then have the actors mime a horrific death while clutching their throats and the back of their necks. Considering you’re not seeing any actual injuries, these are pretty nasty deaths, and every victim sells it.

It’s time to see a little bit more of the creatures’ approach? Excellent – utilise some good old-fashioned stop-motion animation to show trails through spilled water, a porch door being cut open, and let our minds do the rest. The slight jerkiness of the movement and occasional light disparity in the animation sequences add to the eeriness.

And when we finally see the fiends themselves, let’s go for stop-motion brains and spines with writhing tentacles that wouldn’t look too out of place in The Thing. Again, the jerkiness of the attacks really add to the otherworldliness of the beasties, and their deaths by bullets of brave US servicemen are surprisingly bloody – huge great splurts of black blood gush from the brains before they liquify when everything goes back to normal.

These aren’t just your straightforward stop-motion shots either – at one point they’re incorporated into crash zooms into a boarded-up window, a technique I didn’t realise was common back in the 1950s but which looks great. Reminds me a little of the end of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, complete with the gore, and jerkily animated, weird-sounding creatures. Really exciting stuff!

Exciting doesn’t exactly describe the plot itself, though, which is basically a murder mystery of sorts. Local farmers are blaming the airbase for cows’ milk turning sour, then also for the murder of a local man hanging out in the woods at 3am and the deaths that follow. When I say it’s a mystery of sorts, it’s fairly clear who might actually be responsible for whatever’s going on as soon as someone mentions there’s an eccentric scientist living near the airbase, but it’s a fun (and short), journey to get there.

Yes, it turns out the mad scientist was obsessed with focusing his mental powers to try and materialise his thoughts, and was doing so by harnessing electricity (see here, for more information!), but accidentally creating the weird, murderous creatures and had no idea how to put the metaphorical genie back in the metaphorical bottle.

This is all revealed through a lengthy flashback sequence and monologue which, while it reminded me a bit of the ending of Psycho, felt really suitable for this film. Not forced and not silly, just right – a Golidlocks monologue.

In terms of the cast, it feels quite a bit like a perfectly serviceable bunch of performers who had a couple of weeks to kill while hanging around in Britain and fancied an easy paycheck. Not flashy, but solid, good but not outstanding. That being said, there’s a lovely sense of camaraderie and an easy friendship between the airmen – especially Marshall Thompson and Terry Kilburn as his friend and verbal sparring partner. Kim Parker is great too, in fairness – initially saddled with a bit of a thankless grieving role, she ends up going toe-to-toe with Thompson verbally (then, predictably, cheek to cheek too), but also shows a lightness of touch with comedy aspects too.

It feels like a lot of movie in under 80 minutes, but it also sort of feels like a lengthy episode of a cult sixties television series, with its Cold War and atomic power fears in amongst the grisly deaths and mystery shenanigans.


Honestly, it feels like I’ve gone from zero to a hundred on this one. Like the 1931 Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde, this is a film I finished and could immediately have hit play again and doubtlessly enjoyed.

The design of the creatures was great, but the execution of them with some lovely stop-motion was even better. Also, their execution of them by .45 sidearms was also excellent and surprisingly graphic.

I thought the use of stock footage was really well done too, even though there’s clearly a difference in filming stock and style (not to mention the ADR is a little too clear during the ‘high altitude’ flights), it’s used in just the right way so as not to be distracting. Similarly, there’s use of sound to imply jets roaring over scenes just out of shot which is the perfect way to cheat without it feeling like a swizz.

Yeah, it’s silly, but it’s classic hokum with enough great ideas and interesting techniques to ensure you’re entertained throughout its 77 minutes or so.

Highly recommended, lots to love here.

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