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Fiend Without a Face (Arthur Crabtree) 1958 

    Pretty typical as 1950’s B-movies go, Fiend Without a Face is decent enough as a creature feature, but is a bit more interesting when looked at as a defining example of its genre. The film’s plot is most interesting because of the sheer number of clichés that it manages to trot out in an attempt to lengthen the film’s already short (74 minute) running time. I usually resist plot summary, but here it’s too good to pass up. There’s a supposedly government conspiracy (courtesy of the USAF) uncovered that’s encroaching upon the idyllic peace of a group of simpleton Manitoban farmers. Apparently, the Atomic Radartm that the Air Force hopes to use to fight the Red Threat not only upsets the town’s cattle, causing them to produce less milk, but seemingly has also resulted in the mysterious death of the brother of Barbara (Kim Parker), the film’s heroine. He’s found with his face frozen in a look of “absolute terror”, so you know something nasty must be afoot. This setup just covers the first fifteen or so minutes of the film, which later introduces mad scientists, angry mobs, a strong anti-war tirade, and mind control theories, not to mention the titular fiends. 

    It’s a shame that with all of these tasty elements present things don’t feel more cohesive. The source of the murder remains wonderfully obscured for most of the running time, and you’re not quite sure who the “good guys” are, which is pretty rare for this sort of film, but besides that, there’s not a lot about the movie that feels necessary. Almost any one of the film’s plot threads could be eliminated, as they all feel as arbitrarily placed there as the obvious stock footage at the film’s start. Thankfully, the film saves its most impressive moments for the final reel. The arrival of some quality (for the era) special effects manages to add a repetitive, if neat, gory fascination (which seems to have been repeated verbatim in Tim Burton’s 50’s sci-fi homage Mars Attacks!) with the film’s big visual trick. That special effect (which I won’t spoil even if the movie is over forty years old), manages to be relatively unnerving and unforgettable and probably stands as the reason that a few people still watch Fiend Without a Face today. To be perfectly honest, however, even judged solely against its own genre, the film pales in comparison to such 50’s B-movies as the magnificent Them!, The Thing from Another World, or The Day the Earth Stood Still



Jeremy Heilman