Monday, October 14, 2013

Fiend Without a Face

“We've got to have more power!”

This is an enjoyable sci-fi flick in the same vein as THEM! and The Thing From Another World, though it doesn’t quite live up to the quality of either. I know I’ve seen this film, but it must have been on one of those long ago afternoons of my childhood, staring morosely at the screen because it was raining outside. I didn’t remember much (well, any) of the plot, but I remember the monsters well enough. Glistening disembodied brains with spinal columns for tails and nerves/blood vessels for limbs. They make an impression!

The setup involves an American/Canadian joint military base in Manitoba. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any other film set in Manitoba. Anyway, the base is engaged in a secret operation to boost radar with broadcast nuclear power. (If this gobbledygook of science bothers you, the plan to shut down the plant by blowing up the control room (after the rods are destroyed!) will really upset you.) The local townsfolk are already on edge, unhappy with the loud jets and the nuclear power plant, blaming it for problems with their livestock. When locals start showing up dead, expressions of absolute horror on their faces, the fingers quickly start point at the base.

Of course this is the 50’s, and the military is not only blameless, but the only hope the town has against an insidious, invisible creature of pure thought. The result of the experiments of a local scientist, the monsters are literally sucking people’s brains out. For much of the film the monster is only shown via effect and sound – there’s a sort of creepy crackling noise as it moves long and knocks things down or tracks through liquid. When they finally do appear visually – due to an increase in the output of the nuclear plant – they’re well worth the wait.

The monsters are stop motion, which was something of a rarity in the 1950’s. They’re suitabley gross and horrifying, flying through the air and wrapping their spinal cord tails around people’s necks. There’s some gore as well, which I wasn’t expecting. During a tense standoff in an isolated farmhouse several of them are shot, spurting blood and other substances. Must have drove the censors nuts back then.

It’s a bit unorthodox in that nuclear power itself isn’t the issue, it’s how it’s used that causes the problems. The characters are pretty cookie-cutter, but the effects are above average and there are some nicely tense sequences as invisible monsters stalk various victims.

All in all a decent fright flick in the atomic horror vein.

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