(1958) dir. Arthur Crabtree
My Halloween horror fest for 2008 included this 1958 classic of sorts. Released on the Criterion Collection, one’s expectations might be a little higher than they might be for a 1950’s horror/sci-fi flick that I’d never seen. But, less like The Blob (1958), and more like Equinox (1970), the film’s true impact and value has more to do with its revolutionary design and special effects than with its overall quality.
That said, it’s a little hard to say. I’ve been familiar with some of the iconographic images of Fiend Without a Face having never seen it, whereas with The Blob, I had my younger experience of the film that no doubt colors my feelings toward it. Who knows? If I’d seen Fiend Without a Face back in my younger years, the special effects could have had the impact that they had on the probable many.
The thing is, beyond that, it’s a decent, but in no way significant of a horror film. Set in Canada, the British production is about the effects of an American nuclear power station and the psychic experiments of an obscure aging scientist on a rural community. Of course, in this case, the impact is that of invisible brain-sucking psychically embodied life forms, rather than straight up environmental impacts.
It takes more than an hour for the creatures to become visible, unleashing the film’s clever, effective effects: stop-motion animated brains and spinal cords with antenae and other feelers inchworming and flying all over, sucking out people’s brains and spinal cords. What they truly reckon of and no doubt have influenced were the impregnanting aspects of the aliens in Aliens (1986). I am sure that this speculation is based on some reality. If this film was not a direct influence on the scene in which Sigourney Weaver and “Newt” are trapped by the crawling impregnators, then…well…okay, I don’t have anything significant to bet but I bet it nonetheless.
Fiend Without a Face is quality 1950’s science fiction/horror. But for the overall effect, you have to patiently wait for the special effects and the unveiling of the monsters. It’s worth it.