A blog exploring the sexy, shocking, surreal, and silly side of horror films.

September 12, 2011

Fiend Without a Face (Review)

Fiend Without a Face (1958) 

Director: Arthur Crabtree

British science fiction films only flourished for a brief period of time, and British sci-fi / horror was on the scene for even less. As a result, a classic like Fiend Without a Face shines even brighter in the back catalog of genre cinema. Sincere, unexpected, and unprecedentedly grisly, Fiend Without a Face is the best of the evil brain films, and appropriately enshrined in the Criterion Collection.


A joint American / Canadian military operation is experimenting with atomic radiation to create an enhanced radar system for detecting missile attacks and keeping tabs on the Soviets. It's 1958, and the world is in the grips of the Cold War. Fear is in the air; even the town's people are distrustful of the military and blame problems with their cattle on the secret experiments going on behind closed doors and 30000-50000 feet in the air. But soon people start to die and their autopsies reveal that their brains and spinal cords are completely missing. Is this the horrible side effect of negligent military experiments?

I told you that cellphones cause tumors!
No, it's much worse. The killers are invisible brain-like creatures that feed on nuclear radiation and suck out the brains of their victims. Yet, they're not the military's fault. They are the horrible product of experiments by the reclusive Professor Walgate (Kynaston Reeves) who has been striving to turn thought into reality. Using nuclear energy siphoned off from the military's experiments, Walgate manages to manifest his thoughts in the form of one of these fiends. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a mental vampire that escapes Walgate's control. Feeding on the radiation, reproducing, and growing stronger and more cunning, these fiends only become visible after causing the military's nuclear plant to go critical. By then, it may be too late for Major Cummings (Marshall Thompson) to stop them.

Rating: 4 / 5 Mental Vampires


Although Fiend Without a Face hails from that era of the 1950s B-movie, and it has all the hallmarks of the era that we satirize, Fiend Without a Face is serious and unpretentious. As a result, the grotesque nature of the fiends is not glossed over. Sure, the human deaths aren't very gory (especially since the creatures are invisible at first and the actors are pantomiming being strangled), but most of the horror is left to your imagination and accentuated by the superbly stomach-churning sucking/throbbing noise that signifies the presence of the fiends.

This is your fiend. This is your fiend on drugs.
The film doesn't get truly shocking until the final climax when the fiends attack and our heroes open fire. Whenever the fiends are shot or bludgeoned, they erupt in a squelching, sputtering explosion of chunky gore. They even melt into noxious, greasy puddles. It's incredibly graphic by 1958 standards, and still disgusting by today's.

Its only moment of silliness occurs when a partial-victim of the fiends resurfaces with brain damage and making the most ridiculously mentally-challenged noises.

Huurrrr. Derp derp derp.

After all these years, Fiend Without a Face still manages to offer some shocking ideas and disturbing  visuals, but it's also a well-acted, solidly-produced, and well-conceived film. The stop-motion creature effects are rough at times, but for the era they are excellent. Sometimes, they almost reach the levels of fluidity and immersion seen in the work of Ray Harryhausen. All together, Fiend Without a Face is a solid fusion of science-fiction, horror, and social subtext. It's not the power of the atom or alien invaders we need to fear but, instead, the evil things that come from within our own minds.

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