Monday, October 20, 2008

#98: Fiend Without a Face


Fiend Without a Face
Directed by Arthur Crabtree
Written by Herbert J. Leder (based on Amelia Reynolds Long's "The Thought-Monster")
Released July 3, 1958

Tonight we're jumping back the the 1950s to check out another black and white oldie but goody: Arthur Crabtree's Fiend Without a Face, which struck me as a must-rent when I read that it was one of the first film's to employ bloody/gory special effects.

Fiend begins as yet another 50s Sci-Fi movie that plays on the world's fears of the Atomic Age, with a U.S. Air Force base sharing occupation in Canada coming under fire for mysterious deaths that have begun arising in the local population. While the deaths appear to be related at first to radiation, the town coroner and the Air Force soon discover that something is sucking the brains and spinal cords out of these victims. On top of all that, the damn thing appears to be invisible.

By the time the movie was half over, four people had died and I still hadn't seen a drop of blood (granted, with a 75 minute run time, I hadn't waited that long). Since this long lost B-movie had been released by Criterion, I had been expecting something much more subversive... maybe something from the 50s that really crossed the boundaries of good taste for the era.

One lesson about making movies that Crabtree needed to take to heart is to give the audience a little taste early on of what they're going to get in the finale. The director saves all of the juicy stuff for the last fifteen minutes. In a way, these scenes of the creatures attacking are a kind of precursor to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, in that the menace is a mass of slow moving but persistent enemies which may be easily dispatched if not for their persistence.

I tried to put myself in the place of a viewer from the 50s, but I could only wonder how much longer I would have waited for a payoff among the stiff acting and silly script before putting the moves on my girlfriend at the drive-in theater. I wondered if my gal would have even lasted through the long-winded description of how the "fiends" were birthed, or if she would have slapped me and walked home in the night.

Now there's a set-up for a decent 50s Horror movie.

For more on Fiend Without a Face:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Buy the Criterion DVD.

A scene from Fiend Without a Face:

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