FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958)
Fiend Without A Face really spooked me as a kid. The brain creatures are one of the most iconic 50s sci-fi creatures and maybe of all time. To a five year-old watching Chiller Theater or Creature Features (don’t remember which it was on) on a Saturday night they were the thing of bad dreams. Having recently revisited this 50s classic it obviously doesn’t have the same effect in some ways, but in others it does. A lot of what was creepy is now campy, but I got to say these bizarre little beasties are still effective and the stop motion effects that render them haven’t lost their charm.
Fiend is an English film set in the rural Canadian town of Winthrop (though filmed in England) where locals are very unhappy about a nearby US air force base and it’s nuclear reactor. Remember, it’s the 50s and every sci-fi flick had something to do with atomic power. This small village is also home to Professor Walgate (Kynaston Reeves) and the well meaning professor’s experiments with psychic power and telekinesis don’t mix well with atomic energy. After a series of mysterious deaths blamed on the air force personal and their use of the reactor, it’s revealed that Walgate somehow created a race of invisible and quite hungry beings who like to suck the brains and spinal cords out of their victims and feed off the atomic energy created at the base. It’s now up to Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson) and Walgate’s plucky secretary, Barbara (Kim Parker) to stop these fiends. But with the creatures rendering the reactor out of control and now becoming fully corporeal, no one may have the power to stop them as they feed and multiply.
The film made quite a stir when first released, but is kind of silly and campy now. Director Arthur Crabtree creates a decent atmosphere of dread and takes this tall tale of science gone awry very seriously as does his cast. But the film does take about an hour for our fiends to finally appear visible and there is some silly dialog and grin inducing situations to sit through, before our stop motion animated critters trap Cummings and company in Walgate’s house and lay siege to their potential meals. At only 77 minutes that’s quite a stretch to sit through to get to the real action, but the last act is still effective today as the effects still hold up and the creatures design still gives chills.
All in all, Fiend is still one of the best examples of 50s atomic age sci-fi and it’s creatures are still held in high regard by fans of horror cinema even if it’s science is silly, dialogue worthy of MST3K and it takes a really long time for our mysterious villains to actually appear. Campy fun and with one of the most unique and iconic creature designs ever. Fiend is available on DVD in a wonderful edition from the awesome Criterion Collection!
MonsterZero NJ trivia: Fiend is based on Amelia Reynolds Long’s short story The Thought Monster with a script by Herbert J. Leder who was originally to direct. The stop motion effects were actually done in Munich, Germany by FX artist K.L. Lupel and the spooky FX sequences were directed by Florenz Von Nordorff.
…and does anyone else think the reactor guy (Kerrigan Prescott) looks like he’s from the 80s band Squeeze…
…and leading lady Kim Parker is quite fetching in a towel… *sigh*