Fiend Without a Face
|Fiend Without a Face|
|Directed by||Arthur Crabtree|
|Produced by||John Croydon & Richard Gordon|
|Written by||Herbert J. Leder|
|Music by||Buxton Orr|
|Edited by||R.Q. McNaughton|
Criterion (Region 1 DVD)
|Release date(s)||USA 3 July 1958,
UK December 1958
|Running time||77 min.|
|Box office||$650,000 (on double bill)|
Fiend Without a Face is a 1958 independently made British black-and-white science fiction film produced by John Croydon and Richard Gordon and directed by Arthur Crabtree. It stars Marshall Thompson, Kynaston Reeves, Michael Balfour, and Kim Parker. The film tells the story of mysterious deaths at the hands of an invisible life-form that steals human brains and spinal columns to use as bodies in order to multiply itself. The film is based upon Amelia Reynolds Long's 1930 short story "The Thought Monster," originally published in the March, 1930 Weird Tales magazine.
The film is set on and in the general vicinity of U. S. Air Force Interceptor Command Experimental Station No. 6, a long-range radar installation located in Winthorp, Manitoba, Canada. Unexplained deaths begin to occur in the general area of a farming village near the American base. Postmortems reveal the victims were murdered and the brains and spinal cords are missing from the corpses; the only clue left behind are two puncture marks at the base of each skull. The locals, however, become convinced that radiation leaks from the radar installation's nuclear-power experiments are the cause of the mysterious deaths.
Air Force Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson) begins an investigation as the local deaths continue, interviewing various townsfolk looking for anything unusual. Cummings becomes suspicious of Professor R. E. Walgate (Kynaston Reeves), a retired British scientist living near the airbase; Walgate is in the process of writing another book about his on-going experiments with telekinesis, this time as it applies to thought projection. Major Cummings' suspicion of Walgate is later proved to be correct. The scientist finally admits he has not only succeeded in developing his mental ability, but in the process created a living thought projection. Unknown to Professor Walgate, the nuclear power radar experiments underway at the nearby U. S. airbase have greatly enhanced his mental abilities to the point that, through him, his living thought projection has become a malevolent and invisible new life form. It escaped from Walgate's laboratory and is now attacking humans as a means of replicating physical, though still invisible, new versions of itself, all of which are now feeding on the base's nuclear-generated power.
The invisible creatures eventually attack and kill the military personnel at the airbase in order to take over control of the radar station's nuclear reactor; two of them dial-up the power to very dangerous levels. As they do so all the creatures suddenly become visible. Their now visible bodies are revealed to be the missing brains with spinal cords stolen from their victims; their spinal cords have become very flexible and have now sprouted tendrils. These mutations also allow the brain-spine creatures to move quickly and even leap distances; each brain-spine has also developed a pair of small eyes at the ends of extended eye stalks.
The slithering creations then attack Walgate's home, where most of the film's principal characters have gathered to discuss the crisis. Some of the brains get inside by breaking through a boarded-up window using their tendrils, while others leap to the roof and slither down through the fireplace's open flue. Some of the defenders are attacked and killed, but well-aimed .45 automatic pistol shots to the brains soon make short work of most of the attacking creatures; they gorily bleed-out as they expire. Professor Walgate exits his home as a diversion but is quickly attacked and killed by his creation. Meanwhile, Major Cummings escapes out the back way and quickly heads to the airbase, where he saves the day by blowing up the radar installation's power machinery. This immediately robs the surviving brains of their high-energy food source, and the creatures quickly die, dissolving into puddles of goo.
- Marshall Thompson as Major Jeff Cummings
- Kynaston Reeves as Professor R. E. Walgate
- Michael Balfour as Sergeant Kasper
- Kim Parker as Barbara Griselle
- Terry Kilburn as Captain Al Chester
- Gil Winfield as Captain Warren, M.D.
- Shane Cordell as a nurse
- Stanley Maxted as Colonel G. Butler
- James Dyrenforth as Mayor Hawkins
- Kerrigan Prescott as an atomic engineer
Production and release
Noted science fiction personality, collector, and literary agent Forrest J Ackerman represented mystery and science fiction pulp writer Amelia Reynolds Long and brokered the sale of her story "The Thought Monster" to the film's producers.
The film was made entirely in England. Its Canadian setting was chosen because it would appeal to both American and British Commonwealth movie audiences, while still being easy to replicate using the English shooting locations. U. S. Air Force stock aviation footage was also used to establish the military base setting and to pad out the film's meager running time. The producers used primarily expatriate American and Canadian actors working in the United Kingdom, plus a few British actors dubbed by Americans.
The film's visible brain creatures were created using stop-motion animation, an unusual practice for such a low-budget science fiction thriller of this era. The director of these effects sequences was Florenz Von Nordoff, while the actual stop-motion was done in Munich by German special effects artist K. L. Lupel. Peter Neilson headed up the British practical effects' crew.
During July 1958, Fiend Without a Face first opened in the U. S. at the Rialto Theatre on New York City's Times Square. The film's producers placed an outdoor, front-of-the-house exhibit near the sidewalk that showcased a "living and breathing Fiend" in a steel-barred glass display case. It periodically moved its spinal cord tail, startling onlookers, and also made menacing sounds with the help of a concealed electrical device. The crowds that gathered to watch the caged Fiend grew so large that NYC police finally ordered the display case removed because it was creating a public disturbance.
Five months later, the film created a public uproar after its British premiere at the Ritz Theatre in Leicester Square in London's West End. The British Board of Film Censors had demanded a number of cuts before its release and finally granted the film an "X" Certificate, but newspaper critics were still aghast at its horrifying special effects. Questions were actually raised in Parliament as to why British censors had allowed the film to be released and further asked what was the British film industry thinking in trying to beat Hollywood at its own game of overdosing on blood and gore.
With a 67% "Fresh" rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Fiend Without a Face is considered one of the best B-movies of the 1950s. James Rolfe called the film the best killer brain movie ever and stated that "it may be the goriest film of its time."
According to MGM records, Fiend was teamed on a double-bill with The Haunted Strangler; together they earned $350,000 in the U. S. and Canada and $300,000 in England and elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $160,000.
The on-line website Dread Central offered an October 2013 update from Frumkes on his Fiend Without a Face remake:
"I’ve wanted to do this film for 40 years, so I already had it all in my head, and it wasn’t hard to write. What I didn’t have was the technical information; I’m no science buff. Now I’m interviewing scientists, getting the technology straight. It’s set in a think tank in the Berkshires, and it’s not about young people. It’s a mature film, but it has a Street Trash sensibility, so the people who like my work will not be disappointed."
The website also posted a still from a fund-raising trailer Frumkes had shot for the remake with director Franco Frassetti.
Rémi Fréchette, a filmmaker and performance artist based in Montreal, produced and directed a Web series (2013) and a feature film (2014) called Les Jaunes, in close resonance with the themes and images of Fiend Without a Face, including its military aspects, rural setting, and energy-based brain creatures created using stop-motion animation. 
The Criterion Collection is a video company well known for its painstaking restorations of various film classics. The 2007 DVD release of Fiend Without a Face was as a more expensive deluxe edition, having been previously released by them on Laserdisc.
A high definition video transfer, created on a Spirit 4K Datacine, from a 35 mm film print, was struck from the film's original negative. Thousands of pieces of dirt, debris, and scratches were removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System. For optimal image quality, Criterion also encoded the dual-layer DVD-9 at the highest possible bit rate. The film's original Monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24 bit, and audio restoration tools were used to eliminate clicks, pops, hisses, and crackles.
Criterion added these bonus DVD features to their release:
- A new widescreen 1.66: 1 transfer with a complete digital picture restoration enhanced for 16×9 hi-def televisions.
- Audio commentary: A conversation with executive producer Richard Gordon and genre film writer Tom Weaver.
- An illustrated essay on British science fiction/horror film making by film historian Bruce Eder.
- A collection of movie trailers from other Richard Gordon films: Fiend without a Face, The Haunted Strangler, Corridors of Blood, First Man into Space, and The Atomic Submarine.
- Rare still photographs and ephemera, with audio commentary.
- Vintage advertisements and lobby cards.
- New English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired.
- A new DVD cover art design by David Cohen.
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- Richard Gordon and Tom Weaver, commentary on the Criterion Collection DVD.
- Amelia Reynolds Long http://amelialong.tripod.com/
- Warren, Bill. Keep Watching The Skies Vol II: 1958 - 1964, McFarland, 1982. ISBN 0-89950-032-3.
- Tom Weaver, The Horror Hits of Richard Gordon, Bear Manor Media 2011 p 48-52
- "Fiend Without A Face (1958)". Cinemassacre. 6 October 2010. Retrieved 15 July 2014.
- ""STREET" cred for "FIEND WITHOUT A FACE" remake". Fangoria.
- Fiend Without a Face at the Internet Movie Database
- Fiend Without a Face at AllMovie
- AMCtv.com – B Movies – Fiend Without a Face (Full Streaming Movie)