Fiend without a Face
Dir: Arthur Crabtree
Star: Marshall Thompson, Terry Kilburn, Kim Parker, Kynaston Reeves
Cert / Year: 18 / 1958
Format: DVD R1

At a US airbase they are using atomic energy in an attempt to boost the range of their radar (!). Unfortunately something is draining the power during the tests, and shortly afterwards local people are winding up dead with their brains sucked out. Major Cummings (Marshall Thompson) sets out to investigate the deaths as the local populous are blaming the airbase staff. Could the answer lie with the reclusive scientist Professor Walgate (Kynaston Reeves) and his unlicensed telekinesis experiments? Maybe his glamorous assistant Barbara Griselle (Kim Parker) can help, or is the answer far more terrifying.

The Fifties were a brilliant time for sci-fi, and also for the British cinema. It was an era of technological marvels; it was the dawn of the atomic age. Hammer Pictures were cashing in on this interest in science with the excellent Quatermass movies, but lower down the food chain there was the pulp sci-fi shockers like this one. This was the era of monsters movies, Giant radioactive ants in Them!, Humanoid plant monsters in The Thing from another world, and here we have invisible brain monsters. Ridiculous, yes, but darn entertaining none the less.

Looking back you can see that many of these films cashed in on the great unknown that was nuclear power. People didn't understand it, and many feared it. For this reason it was blamed for causing of all sorts of monsters. Check out the science here and any school kid would be laughing. The use of atomic power (yes, note the use of the word atomic not nuclear) to boost the range of a radar to spy on those pesky Ruskies. It is fanciful at best, and in truth farcical. Both in scientific terms, and in terms of cold war paranoia. But hey this is the fifties people believed that atomic power could do anything both good and bad (atomic jetpacks, and lunar rockets anyone).

Almost dated to the point of comedy is the characterisation. Check out the scientist who takes his experiments too far, as he is unable to control his creations. It's not long before he's confessing everything and showing remorse for the evil he created (dead meat after this then). Or better still the square jawed All-American (in a British film) hero, quick with his fists and his gun. He knows that tossing dynamite into a nuclear reactor's control room is a sure-fire way of shutting it down. But best of all is the beautiful lab assistant, totally unable to protect herself. She is just as quick into the shower as she is to start screaming. Don't worry dear its all right now.

Pitted against this stock bunch of stereotypes are the monsters. For the most part of the film they are invisible. It is unclear if this is an attempt to add suspense or save budget, I suspect the latter. Their presence is announced via an eerily effective thump thump sound, and this works incredibly well. Never fear though (or should that be quake in your boots) before the end of the movie the creatures are revealed in all of their 'disembodied brain with antenna' like glory. At the time it is possible that they were rather effective and pretty gory, but now they are unintentionally hilarious.

Is this film pants? In many ways yes, but on the other hand it is an above average example of the fifties monster flick. It is entertaining, some times for the right reasons, and sometimes not. There is no doubt that Mystery Science Theatre 3000 would have a field day with this however it is really difficult to dislike the film. In an era where putting a disembodied brain in a box outside the theatre was guaranteed to boost box office takings (hell maybe George Lucas should try it, its better than leaving it at home as he did with the Phantom Menace) this was a top film. Now its a nostalgic flashback into the fifties atomic monster horror movie, and as such its just great.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Picture 1.66:1 Anamorphic Re-mastered but still a fair amount of print damage
Audio Mono Clear mono track no more could be expected
Features Trailers for this and other fifties horror classics
Audio Commentary by executive producer Richard Gordon and Tom Weaver
Production Stills
Production Info with commentary
Illustrated essay on British sci-fi/horror filmmaking by film historian Bruce Eder
Flying brain animated menus
Verdict A first class release of a more obscure fifties movie. Lots of extras really make for an impressive package. Many big studio releases could learn a lesson here.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Glitz Back Top Home