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 black-and-white British 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 Weird Tales magazine.
The film is set on and in the general vicinity of an American long range radar installation and airbase in rural Manitoba, Canada. Mysterious, unexplained deaths begin to occur in the area of a small village near the U. S. base. Postmortems reveal the victims were murdered and their brains and spinal cords are missing; marks on each victim's neck are left behind as the only clue. The locals become convinced that a radiation leak at the radar installation is the actual cause of the deaths.
Air Force Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson) is sent to investigate the strange deaths; he quickly becomes suspicious of Professor R. E. Walgate (Kynaston Reeves), a British scientist living near the base, who has been experimenting with telekinetics. Cummings' suspicion is later proved to be correct: Walgate has succeeded in developing telekinesis. Unknown to Walgate, nuclear power experiments underway at the American airbase have enhanced his mental abilities well beyond his understanding. In the process, through him, they have created a separate, malevolent, invisible new life form which has developed its own intelligence and now escaped his laboratory.
This intelligence rapidly begins to multiply its invisible numbers by claiming even more victims. The creatures continue to feed on the now higher levels of power being generated at the U. S. base, and in the process they finally become visible: Their mutated "bodies" are revealed to be the missing, now enlarged brains and connected spinal cords that were stolen from their victims; the spinal cords are now very flexible and have sprouted feelers. These mutations allow the creatures to move quickly and even leap distances; each brain-creature has also developed a pair of small eyes at the ends of extended eye stalks.
The film climaxes with all the visible brain creatures attacking an isolated mountain home; most of the film's main characters have gathered there to discuss how to deal with the growing crisis. Having come armed with various weapons, the defenders are forced to chop and hack away at the attacking brains, but they quickly discover the creatures can be easily dispatched with well-aimed gun shots to their enlarged brain-bodies. It is Major Cummings, however, who takes action and saves the day by blowing up the radar installation's nuclear power plant machinery, robbing the slithering brain creatures of their high-energy power source; they quickly expire and then dissolve away.
- 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 meagre 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 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 film classics. Fiend Without a Face's 2007 DVD release was as a special 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 DVD bonus features:
- New widescreen 1.66: 1 transfer, with digital picture restoration enhanced for 16×9 televisions.
- Audio commentary: A conversation with executive producer Richard Gordon and genre film writer Tom Weaver.
- 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 commentary.
- Vintage advertisements and lobby cards.
- New English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired.
- 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)