Fiend Without a Face (1958)

Fiend Without a Face (1958)

“The brain — it’s gone! Sucked out like an egg through those two holes!”

When residents near a Canadian military base blame its nuclear power plant as the cause of several recent murders, Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson) begins to investigate. Soon he suspects that a local professor (Kynaston Reeves) may know more than he’s letting on, and enlists the help of the professor’s pretty young assistant (Kim Parker) in learning more.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Atomic Energy
  • Mad Doctors and Scientists
  • Mutant Monsters
  • Science Fiction

I’ll gladly join the chorus of critics (see links below) who wonder what Criterion was thinking in selecting this rather average B-level sci fi flick for DVD restoration: while it’s not awful, it never comes close to the quality of artistic accomplishment Criterion is generally known for marketing. Fiend Without a Face is essentially yet another iteration on the timely yet overused theme of nuclear paranoia — an iteration which unfortunately suffers from a host of issues, including merely serviceable or sub-par acting by most involved; a cliched romantic subplot; an overly didactic explanation (via flashbacks) of how the “fiends without faces” came into being; a corrupt scientific premise; and rather iffy stop-motion animation (at one point, a brain explodes, but it takes a split-second for the innards to start gushing out — enough to notice the delay). While it may be of interest to ’50s sci fi fans and/or fans of mutant monster flicks, Fiend is certainly not must-see viewing for most film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Kynaston Reeves as Professor Walgate
  • Some gruesome special effects near the end of the film

Must See?
No. While inexplicably chosen for DVD restoration by Criterion, this only-slightly-above-average B-flick isn’t must-see viewing.


One thought on “Fiend Without a Face (1958)

  1. A once-must, at least.

    I’m a little wary of the idea that Criterion has to stick to certain parameters when choosing what to include in its collection. I’m rather glad they picked this one up. OK, there are much better – classic – sci-fi/horror flicks. But this is by no means a stinker. (And Criterion certainly has some genuine stinkers in its collection that are masquerading as bona fide art films.) Much of ‘FWAF’ is actually rather clever, in its own way. It’s produced and shot well on its low-budget and the acting is decent, esp. stalwart Marshall Thompson at the helm. (I don’t find the ‘romantic subplot’ to be much in evidence, though it’s there; at 74 minutes, there isn’t much time for getting lovey-dovey.)

    The best, of course, are the fiends themselves – ever-present, though not visibly until the action-packed final 15 minutes. If the film were to be re-made (though it’s doubtful it ever would be – and it shouldn’t be; it has a cinematic ‘charm’ all its own), the killer brain-thingies would have high-end tech behind them and would be more frightening. But, if you ask me, the final showdown is rather effective anyway. Those things are quick and icky (before and after they’re destroyed).

    I’ve actually seen this a few times recently and find it fun for this main reason: I like to imagine the writers/directors who were kids when they saw this. You can, for example, spot moments that would inspire even better moments in films years later: the spinal cord tail strangling victims would return later in ‘Alien’; the handful of survivors trapped in a house, boarding up the windows would later have ‘relatives’ in ‘Night of the Living Dead’, etc. ‘Fiend’ is fun-enough anyway, but those little reference touches can be a perk for ffs.

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