Man, I love how sometimes Criterion will just release a total piece of schlock like this. It proves that I’m not crazy when I get adamant about b-movies being an important part of film history. The only problem, though, is that I tend to get my hopes up a little TOO much for the movies that Criterion chooses, and often feel sort of let down when I finally see them. It happened with Equinox, and now again with Fiend Without a Face.

This one is about a scientist who accidentally creates a race of invisible brain creatures, that must feed off of living human brains and spinal fluid in order to survive. The hero of the tale is an Air Force Major from a nearby airbase, whose radioactive powered satellite system is being erroneously blamed for all the strange deaths by the townspeople. He is aided by the young and beautiful assistant of the scientist, who has no idea what her boss is truly up to (and forget that bit in the trailer that calls her “the girl who might be a spy” – since there is absolutely NOTHING in the movie to support it).

If you’ve seen enough sci-fi/horror films from the ’50s, you’ve probably got a fairly good idea of what this one is like. A lot of scientists and experts standing around in rooms, trying to figure out what is going on and giving a lot of technical sounding mumbo-jumbo for explanations. If you’re into the inherent campiness of these sort of scenes, which are always delivered with such stone-faced earnestness, then you’ll most likely get a kick out of them here, although I think most anyone will agree the movie could benefit from a little less talk and a little more fiend action.

The fiends in question are without a doubt the best thing about the movie – I like their invisible attack scenes, in which the sucking out of the victim’s brain is portrayed only through disgusting slurping noises. But the real treat is in the film’s last act, when the creatures finally become visible. It’s here that the movie really ups the disgusting, as the heroes shoot and demolish the brains with axes, causing them to slowly ooze out what looks like black jelly. Herschel Gordon Lewis is often credited with being the first director to bring gore to the movies – while he might have been the first to do so in a big way (and depict it as violence against actual people), the destruction of the brain creatures in Fiend Without a Face shows that gross-out FX were not his invention. In fact, I’m pretty sure this movie’s reputation as one of the first to use such FX probably goes a long way towards explaining its Criterion selection.

There is some stuff I enjoy about this movie besides the creatures themselves, most of it having to do with the same sort of old-timey charm that makes all the horror movies of this era kind of entertaining. For instance, it’s pretty funny how the government and Air Force officials are not only the heroes of the film, but are made to look like victims of unfounded accusations by the townspeople (who, in turn, are presented as being pretty foolish not to just trust these shadowy military figures living on the outskirts of their town). That’d definitely not how that would play today.

But overall, there simply aren’t enough of the fun scenes to justify the movie’s running-time, and I found myself bored during the film’s middle section, only hanging on because I had already heard about the bloody finale and wanted to see it for myself. That bit is great, but it might be too little, too late. I’m not recommending this one, especially not to the majority of friends who have “liked” this page, most of whom I know wouldn’t give a damn about a movie like this. Then again, most of you probably don’t give a damn about a lot of the movies I watch and write about here. Oh well.

 

This review was originally posted on May 15th, 2011 at Trevor Likes Movies.

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