Review of “Fiend Without a Face” (1958)

trailer from YouTube—unfortunately, the titles don’t really reflect the movie.

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering, with more Cold War hokey monster movie atomic radiation/mad scientist vibes than you’d want to shake a stick at. I rather liked it. The pizza wasn’t too bad either, despite some distractions. We watched it with Svengoolie, who was—as ever—a fountain of information.

Plot:

At an American radar installation located outside the (fictional) town of Winthrop, Manitoba, a sentry (an uncredited Sheldon Allan) watches jets scream overhead. He hears ominous thumping and squishing sounds in the woods outside the chain-link fence surrounding the base. Fern leaves sway as if disturbed by some unseen critter.

A young man (an uncredited Eddie Boyce) standing in the woods outside the perimeter of the base with a pencil and notebook also watches the jets and notices the odd thumps and squishes.

The sentry, already looking around to find the source of the abnormal sounds, now hears the young man scream in mortal terror. He runs to find him sprawled out on his back, his head tilted over a tree root toward the audience, his face frozen in terror.

The title appears, and the credits roll—a nice, creepy opening scene.

The next day, Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson) and Capt. Al Chester (Terry Kilburn) await autopsy findings on the deceased young man, a local farmer named Jacques Griselle. Chester already has reports (he’s good) on Griselle and his sister Barbara (Kim Parker), who lives on the farm with her brother. Griselle has a solid war record. They’re both upstanding citizens. So what was he doing out in the woods at three o’clock in the morning?

Doc. Warren (Gil Winfield) breaks the bad news. There won’t be an autopsy. The civil authorities have claimed the body, and the dead man’s sister refuses to allow one. Neither the Air Force nor the civilian authorities can demonstrate poor Jacques’ death was not caused by atomic radiation, which the locals blame for a variety of anomalies, particularly those involving farming and livestock.

The base is using atomic power not for weaponry but to boost its radar capacity. It’s experimental work. Each time they power their system to the point of peeking into the Soviet Union, it fades, as if there were a drain or leak somewhere along the way. The control room swears there is no leak, and the equipment is in working order.

Hmmm….

Thoughts:

The nice, creepy atmospheric tone of this 1958 movie is set against the backdrop of the fear of radiation and its little understood effects on the environment and animal life. A layer beneath that is the “mad scientist,” Prof. R.E. Walgate (Kynaston Reeves)—who happens to be Barbara Griselle’s boss and the author of such works as The Energy of Thought.

One indication of how long ago 1958 was appears in the first moments of dialogue. Maj. Cummings looks haggard, going over the reports of Griselle’s horrific death outside the base the night before. Capt. Chester asks him casually, “Ever try sleep instead of Benzedrine?” (i.e., an amphetamine, now tightly controlled because of its abuse potential).

Another is the role of Barbara Griselle. When presented with the content of her brother’s notebook, she doesn’t deny the suspicious-looking notes but continues to read, putting those notes into context, revealing their innocence and making fools out of those who would see them as otherwise. Yet, the major has his eye on her, whether she’s in mourning or not.

Later, he’ll walk into her house because the door is unlocked and surprise her as she’s coming out of the shower—suitably wrapped in a towel—and linger a little longer than necessary while she disappears back into the bathroom.

A likeness of her in her towel made the movie posters of the time.

Why doesn’t she throw him out on his ass for barging into her house? Well, come on. He kinda likes her. Besides, it gives him a chance to rifle through the material she’s transcribing for elderly Prof. Walgate, a page-turner titled The Principles of Thought Control.

Creepy/voyeuristic, not at all like the delightful creepy mood set in the opening sequences and built upon with the assault and killings of additional Winthrop farm folk by invisible entities (thump—squish). The townsfolk worry now it’s not just radiation menacing them. Maybe a rogue soldier is preying on them—what a great time to get a posse together and find that killer.

What could go wrong?

The invisible enemy grows in strength, becoming visible only toward the end of the movie. The killing of the stop-action fiends was considered gory and violent for the times, with censors in Great Britain and the U.S. forcing some trimming of footage.

A 1930 story from Weird Tales titled “The Thought Monster” written by Amelia Reynolds Long inspired the movie.

The strong points in the movie are its suspense. It also gives the viewer both intentional and unintentional moments of amusement. On the other hand, the stock footage of aircraft is not worked in well. The dialogue is hollow at times. And, of course, pro tip: If you ever find yourself having to shut down a nuclear reactor in an emergency situation, don’t waste time blowing up to the control room. Get yourself some boron.

Overall, I liked this movie, warts and all. It was fun.






Title: Fiend Without a Face (1958)

Directed by
Arthur Crabtree

Writing Credits
Herbert J. Leder…(screenplay)
Amelia Reynolds Long…(original story “The Thought Monster”)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Marshall Thompson…Maj. Cummings
Kynaston Reeves…Prof. R.E. Walgate
Kim Parker…Barbara Griselle
Stanley Maxted…Col. Butler
Terry Kilburn…Capt. Al Chester (as Terence Kilburn)

Released: May 29, 1958
Length: 1 hour, 14 minutes
YouTube link: Fiend Without a Face

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

2 thoughts on “Review of “Fiend Without a Face” (1958)

  1. It was actually a cause of controversy in England. Parliament discussed why the film wasn’t banned. At a showing a prop of the brain was on display in a cage for people to look in. It caused such commotion on the streets that police came in and demanded it be removed. Fiend Without A Face could very well be a film that laid way for films like Night Of The Living Dead and The Exorcist. I believe it gave directors the clear to be much more graphic with their content.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I’d read that it was discussed in Parliament. The prop outside the Rialto in Times Square was a victim of its own success: too many people wanted to see it. The crowd got too big, as I understand it. Compared to what’s commonplace now, the movie is hardly outrageous, but, of course, different times. I laughed out loud at the Benzadrine remark.

      I think probably what also helped Night of the Living Dead, et al., was the death of the Hays code 1968-ish. I don’t know how much influence it had in Great Britain, but its force for self-censorship was quite heavy in the U.S.

      Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: