FIEND WITHOUT A FACE(director: Arthur Crabtree; screenwriters: Herbert J. Leder/from a story by Amelia Reynolds Long; editor: Richard Q. McNaughton; cinematographer: Lionel Banes; cast: Marshall Thompson (Major Jeff Cummings), Kynaston Reeves (Professor Walgate), Stanley Maxted (Colonel Butler), Kim Parker (Barbara Griselle), James Dyrenforth (Mayor Hawkins), Robert MacKenzie (Constable Howard Gibbons), Terry Kilburn (Captain Chester), Lala Lloyd (Amelia Adams), R. Meadows White (Ben Adams), Michael Balfour (Sgt. Kasper), Gil Winfield (Dr.Warren), Peter Madden (Dr. Bradley), Shane Cordell (Nurse); Runtime: 74; Producer’s Associates; 1957-UK)
“This is just another mutant B-flick that is missing most of its brain.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz(director: Arthur Crabtree; screenwriter: Herbert J. Leder/From story by Amelia ReThis 1950s sci-fi/horror, cult classic, opens with a dead body found on the grounds of a secret experimental atomic test-site of a U.S. Air Force base located in the remote Winthrop-Manitoba part of Canada. The base is operated under the joint consent of Canada and the U.S. and is being used to experiment on long-range radar installation capabilities, using nuclear energy to boost the scanning range of the experimental planes. This stuff is all hush-hush.
There is growing resentment toward the base in the small backward town (can you blame them!), as the local residents are blaming the new base for the poor production of milk due to the noise from the passing jets as disturbing the cows and they are scared of the rumors they hear about fallout from atomic radiation. The military calls these people ignorant and superstitious for not trusting them. Gee!
The attractive murder victim’s sister, Barbara Griselle (Kim Parker), agrees with the town officials that an autopsy won’t be necessary, but Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson), the base investigator, urges a more careful investigation of this murder. He notes the look of extreme terror on the dead man’s face and surmises there is more to this death than meets the eye.
The viewer watches as invisible forces next attack a farmer’s wife (Lala) and then the farmer (White), with each of them screaming, throwing their head back and grabbing at their neck, and the invisible force never letting go until the victims are dead. The local constable Gibbons (MacKenzie) is very hostile to the Air Force people investigating these crimes, he even has a fist fight with the major when he sees him over at Barbara’s house (I think he’s a little jealous). He refuses to co-operate with them. But the major finds out from the local doctor, Bradley (Madden), and the military doctor (Winfield), that all the victims had their brains sucked out of them as well as their spinal cords removed.
The major also learns that Barbara is doing secretarial work for a reclusive research professor, Walgate (Kynaston Reeves), and he notices in her possession a manuscript for a book on “thought control.” His interest is further increased by his meeting with the strange but amiable professor, as a fourth murder is committed. This time it is the mayor who gets his brains sucked out and spinal cord removed. And if that wasn’t enough, Constable Gibbons on a search party in the woods for the killer, disappears and shows up later in state of shock. He dies in the same manner as the others.
By this time the major and Barbara show a strong affection for each other and a little romance is blooming, though without even a kiss or holding of hands taking place. There is one scene where she comes out of the shower with just a towel on, and you know that got the major’s attention. But the major is a busy man, so romance must take second place in this film. It seems that the major is the only one on the base who does any work. The security officer, Captain Chester (Kilburn), is more into doing paperwork than fieldwork and Colonel Butler (Maxted) is good at delegating all responsibility to the major. The colonel orders the major to get the killer before the locals really get mad and try to shut down the base.
The major begins his investigation for real by speaking to the professor without holding back that he is under suspicion. He believes that the professor is involved with the murders, especially when he learns from his security officer that the F.B.I. has a file on the professor doing psychic research with atomic power and one of the books he published is on cybernetics.
Luckily for the major he borrowed Barbara’s searchlight before going to the local cemetery because when he sees someone fleeing the mayor’s airtight mausoleum, he enters it and gets locked in; and, if it weren’t for Barbara knowing where to find him, the major would have perished.
It now becomes obvious that the professor is involved in this mystery and the fun part of the film begins, or some might think the film really goes out of whack from here on. The professor comes clean and goes into detail how he created these invisible mutant creatures by tapping into the base’s atomic power source and putting an electrical charge to his brain. He now urges the Air Force to destroy the nuclear plant, or else the invisible creatures can’t be stopped. But things are not that simple, the atomic plant malfunctions and can’t be shut down, and the creatures become visible because of the increase in atomic power in the nuclear plant.
Brains with a spinal cord are attacking everybody they see, killing all the people manning the nuclear plant. The colonel is tremendous in the crisis, as he keeps popping these hopping brains with his .45 pistol; and, it turns out they are mortal, turning to mush when shot. There are great special effects, using stop-motion animation to show the brains moving around. Meanwhile, the colonel realizing the tight situation they are in, tells the major to single-handedly go into the nuclear plant and dynamite it. The major leaves before Barbara could talk him out of it. But the genius professor saves the day, as he runs out to act as a diversion for the hopping brains and gets devoured by three of them. This gives Jeff a chance to complete his mission.
As far as entertainment value goes, this film should hit the right spot: it’s a screamer. If you are looking for a story that makes sense, you won’t find it in this film. This is just another mutant B-flick that is missing most of its brain. If the invisible creatures were supposed to bring with them an anti-atomic war message, the message was garbled and got lost somewhere along the way.
REVIEWED ON 12/4/99 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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