Our editor-in-chief Nate Yapp is proud to have contributed to the new book Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks, edited by Aaron Christensen. Another contributors include Anthony Timpone, B.J. Colangelo, Dave Alexander, Classic-Horror.com's own Robert C. Ring and John W. Bowen. Pick up a copy today from Amazon.com!
Fiend Without a Face (1958)
Boy, there's just something about 50s films that warms the cockles of the heart. The plots that are completely out of the realm of reality...the cheesy acting...the even cheesier special effects...the paranoid anti-nuclear messages...it's some good stuff.
Fiend Without a Face takes place in Canada, of all places, on a military base that is using atomic-powered radar as an early-warning system against those pesky Ruskies. The townspeople think that the nuclear reactor in the installation is a Very Bad Thing, and there's lots of tension between the town and the base.
So, when somebody ends up dead right next to the airfield, it's not good PR for the military. The only thing is, nobody can quite explain how the fellow died, and his surviving sister won't allow an autopsy. Luckily for the medical examiner, more people die, and it's discovered that their brains and spinal cords have been sucked out (ewwww). It's up to Major Cummings (Marshall Thompson) to figure the whole thing out.
While Fiend Without a Face suffers slightly from Cheesy 50s Flick Syndrome, it makes a few advances. First of all, nuclear power is not the enemy, but simply a scapegoat (I doubt if this was meant as a commentary on other films of the era, though). A few of the "simple townsfolk" have some brains about them. The monsters are invisible more much of the proceedings, but when they do show up, they're fairly disturbing stop-motion creations.
There are a few excellent sequences, in particular one where Our Hero is trapped in a tomb. A less thoughtful movie would just have him stuck there, but this one was actually thinking enough to have him start running out of air. Minor intelligence at work. The finale is also notable in its suspense and terror. Very good work.
This is not to say, however, that there aren't problems. Much of the dialogue is overwrought and silly, and the actors speaking it don't help the situation by overacting. The French-Canadian accents seemed fairly ridiculous (but I could be sticking my foot in my mouth...they could be entirely accurate, which would only confirm the fact that Canada is ridiculous).
If you're into the whole 50s sci-fi thing, give this movie a shot. If you can't find it at a rental store, the Criterion Collection, for some unknown reason, has seen fit to give it a full release, with lots of "kewl" extras. It might be worth a shot.