I can’t imagine a single person that wouldn’t love this movie.
I also think everyone loves The Fly with Jeff Goldblum, so take this with a grain of salt. But, I’m just going to say it: if you don’t like these fiends, I don’t know if we can be friends.
Fiend Without A Face
I don’t mean to be morbid, but did you see his face after he died?
Atomic. Mental. Vampires.
What more do you need?
Brains with spinal cord tails. Got it!
Fiend Without A Face is the perfect amalgamation of horror and science fiction. It has the kind of masterful claymation effects work that would make Ray Harryhausen proud. It’s gory for a film made in ’58, it’s well written, easy to follow, and honestly: Why don’t things like this win Oscars?
But I digress – this is just a ton of fun in a compact 92 minutes. It’s also a pretty brilliant commentary on American military and nuclear power. I really wish I could have gotten Fiend Without a Face expert R. Suellau in here to guest post on it, but perhaps we can book her for a later date. This sort of work really does deserve to be expounded upon.
I’m going to do my (brief) best.
Sci-Fi is not as much my bag as Horror, but I find that the films from this period (40s-50s) are often flirting with horror, if not outright combining the two. So I have a soft spot for them. The original Fly with Vincent Price is a perennial favorite. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a classic example of chill inducing sci-fi. And of course, mutant insect pictures like Them! and Tarantula* are as much about the creep factor as they are the weird science (*I don’t watch any of the spider movies for personal reasons, so no, I can’t really tell you anything about them. Except that I’m scared of them. A lot).
What’s maybe most special about Fiend to me is that its creatures aren’t really creatures at all – they’re human brains.
Of course, they’re human brains with spinal cords that crawl around and kill people of their own accord, but still – they’re pieces of us. And their source is not a chemistry set, or an alien ship, but the thoughts of a man projected into the world, propelled into reality by nuclear power. That’s a big statement there. It says something about the power of men. It says something about the power of war machines. And it says something about what we choose to use our brains for.
And it is especially telling that these brains, sneaking up and choking the life out of people, are terrifying. It’s as if the filmmakers are suggesting we’re afraid of our own intellectualism, afraid of our own ideas, afraid of what it is we might be capable of. Food for thought. Literally. (I think that millennialism almost works here!)
Brains climbing up trees is pretty killer. BUT, the real stand-out for me here is, for some reason, the explication bit. When they finally get the Professor talking about these creatures he’s materialized with his mind, he really gets going. And going. And going. And going. It’s a classic genre moment, where the science behind the irrationality is finally explained, and this narrative bit (complete with amazing flashback sequence!) is PEAK mad scientist. It’s also oddly serious, and when I sat to think about the implications of the Professor’s thought experiment, I found it genuinely frightening. Not to mention, I live not far from a nuclear power plant (we’re in the “stay where you are, you’re irradiated already” zone), so the thought of radiation levels enhancing human thought patterns, enough to power a telepathy which can induce brain soldiers is TOO REAL, guys. TOO REAL.
Other Things to Notice:
The fantastic performances of the victims. I have never been so thrilled to watch people choke by invisible assailants.
And on that note – the sound effects that accompany said assailants. I think this film has some of the best sound design of any movie I’ve seen (old or new). The sounds of encroaching death are kind of crunchy and slimy. And they are chilling.
If You Like It, Watch:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers – I truly love both versions and refuse to choose. So for an authentic 50’s horror sci-fi experience, go for the original black and white from 1956. Then, follow it up with the Donald Sutherland 1978 remake for a bit more gore (and Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy) and a really great end shot.
Mimic – Underrated first big studio film from co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro. Like Fiend, this involves scientists/government overstepping their bounds and creating something that just can’t be stopped. Plus, giant bugs in the subway.
C.H.U.D. – This isn’t a good movie. But if you want to see one of my favorite little radioactive monsters, just fast forward to all the best parts.
I have a couple of spots on my October calendar that haven’t got a horror movie booked yet. I could fill them with my own selections, but I’d rather get some of yours. Are there any films you think I must cover? Better yet, can someone find me one I haven’t seen? It’s a challenge, but one of you must be up for it.