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Fiend Without a Face: 1950s Sci-fi movie so bad it's good

Updated on November 1, 2016
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy writes about family, home life, parenting, money-saving tips, and many other topics, as well as essays and occasional humor pieces.

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Remember 1950s Science Fiction Movies?

The 1950s was the decade of really hokey science fiction movies - this was long before computer generated graphics hit the screens, so the quality of most of them was generally pretty awful.

But, it didn't take much to scare the pants off of little kids or to generate screams from a carload of teenaged girls at a drive-in. Some of the 50s movies are classics, such as Forbidden Planet, which introduced us to lovable Robbie the Robot. Others, though, were too awful to become cult favorites, but are worth resurrecting now for the humor value in the form of bad scripting and the use of plastic for special effects.

As I mentioned in my hub about the really awful film, Eegah! - another of my all-time favorites - my dad worked as a part-time projectionist when I was a kid.

The good news is that I got to see dozens of movies (maybe hundreds - they start to blur after a while), all for free. The bad news? Well, this hub has an example of the usual fare.

An inexplicable promo shot in the shower stall (she likes the fiends, see her smile?) and the famous towel scene

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Fiend Without a Face - The Basic Plot

Looking back now, and watching old clips of the film, Fiend Without a Face is another of those 'so bad it's good' flicks so common during the 1950s sci-fi era. The special effects of those years were low-budget and considerably less sophisticated than we see now. But in some ways, those movies managed to scare you even more than current releases due to the power of suggestion. Especially if you're a kid.

Plot:

The story supposedly takes place on an American airbase located in Canada (probably because military officials inside the U.S. borders read the script and didn't want anything to do with its stupid premise and poorly planned special effects). One of the first scenes shows a giant rotating radar antenna; remember this piece of information - the antenna is a key plot element.

Early on in the movie, several local characters die suddenly. As the story line develops, we are shown their gruesome death scenes. In each case, they stare at the unseen source of a sucking noise, then grab their necks and keel over in various versions of the old "Who Falls Best" game we used to play back then.

When their bodies are examined, the coroner is shocked to find each has no brain and no spinal cord. We could have saved the coroner time and told him that would be the case - if they'd had a half a brain and any spine at all, none of them would have signed on to be in the movie. The only marks on the bodies are a few holes on the back of their necks.

Local residents want to attribute the deaths to the nuclear testing being done at the base,' but the military officials are just as puzzled as the coroner, and everyone involved grows more and more fearful of the unseen, fiendish attackers. Handsome Male Romantic Lead and Lovely Young Woman who gets to be in a just-left-the-shower towel scene; you name it, the movie had it all in the way of characters.

Notice the actors have to hold the plastic 'fiends' on their necks to enhance the special effects

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Bad Science Fiction of the 50s - it only gets worse

As the movie continues, more and more people drop dead, all spending their final seconds staring at indentations on carpets or bumps under throw rugs, then grabbing their necks and competing for the 'Best Fall While Gasping' award. In the meantime, Handsome Male Lead (Jeff Cummings, playing an Air Force Major) realizes an elderly professor living near the base is at fault. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you about the eccentric professor character. He gets to keep his clothes on, though.

Professor Walgate has been experimenting with telekinetics and has developed a telekinesis device (which looks like something from Young Frankenstein). While the nuclear tests aren't to blame, they have upped the power on the hokey tubes and lights in his machine and we now have telekinesis on steroids.

But of course the little telekeneticized (is that a word?) creatures have to eat something to build their strength so they'll have their 15 minutes of visual fame at the end of the movie. Hence the brain and spinal cord diet.

Somewhere along the way, Lovely Female Lead (Kim Parker) is scared by one of the invisible brain-suckers while stepping out of the shower wearing nothing but a towel (except for her full make-up and well-coiffed hairdo). There's also an incredibly exploitative promotional shot of her sitting in the bathtub, smiling, while surrounded by plastic, brain-eating fiends.

One plot and budget gimmick worth pointing out is that up until the last scene of the movie, we never see the 'monsters' that kill these people. Sound effects of sucking noises (downright laughable) and lumps and dents in carpeting are the only signs one of the creatures is homing in for dinner. Truly a cost-savings effort to provide cheap fear for the viewing audience. And, based on my personal reaction at the time, an effective one.

The power of suggestion is used to allow the viewer to scare herself, and boy, did it ever work with me. Something that kills you, but you can't see it? There went a few months of my sleep, in one movie. This flick terrified me! (I was just a little kid, give me a break!)

What's Your Opinion?

How would you rate this movie?

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It shimmies, it shakes! It crawls on its belly like a snake!

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The Big Reveal: We Get to See the Little Monsters

If you never watch anything else (not that I'd expect you to immediately order the DVD of this movie), please view the clip below.

At the end of the movie, you, as well as the poor characters stuck in this silly movie, are treated to the sight of plastic models of brains and spinal cords leaping through the air, wrapping their nasty little tails around victims, crawling in through the windows and attacking the cast, as well as your cognitive discernment. Oh yeah - the brainy little guys have grown some tiny eyeballs, stuck on the end of little antennas, so they can see where to attack.

At first, Handsome Male Lead and others try to shoot the attackers. We are treated to several scenes of splattering blood and squishy sound effects. But of course, a few measly pistols can't fight the power of plastic.

Incredibly, the solution to the crisis, executed by Major Hunk, is to blow up the nuclear reactor at the base! What a stroke of brilliance! How's that for a safe and comforting ending, boys and girls?

Bear in mind, this was during the years when schools had air raid drills and atomic bomb drills, and kids were taught to huddle in the hallways or climb under their desks in order to avoid radiation. So, let's just blow up an entire nuclear reactor!

How bad did it scare me?

Bad enough to lose sleep for a few months. It was finally eclipsed by another movie that gave me insomnia for at least a few years, though. Horrors of the Black Museum was the one that really scared the snot out of me.

As I got older, I soon realized what an incredibly hilarious movie Fiend WIthout a Face was. It truly deserves a place in the Camp Cult hall of fame!

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  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Okay, you got me hooked on that one - a musical about cannibals? I can't wait! Thanks for the tip, PDX! I'm not sure if that's a comedy or if they're taking it seriously, but it sounds hilarious!

  • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

    Justin W Price 4 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

    Marcy, if you get a chance, you should watch Cannibal the Musical. It's the film made by college students Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and it's cheesy gore in the tradition of the great 50's cheese core. Plus, it's a musical starring cannibals :-)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, PDXKaraokeGuy! I'm not sure if they've done it or not - I think they did Eegah, which is another hub I did. After I wrote that one, I learned it (Eegah) is #2 on the all-time worst movie list. I am so honored that I got to see it for real, and I met the lead character! Fiend is great - it scared me silly as a little kid, and when I see clips now, i crack up at the plastic brains and spinal cords. Oops - was that a spoiler?

    Thanks for your comment! Let me know if you see either movie, and what you think of them!

  • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

    Justin W Price 5 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

    they don't make 'em like they used too. I will get this movie right now.

    Do you watch Mystery Science Theatre 3000? I wonder if they've done this movie yet. Sounds perfect for them.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    I truly hope you find it and get to see it, alocsin! I'm not sure about Netflix, but it's available other places. It's hilarious. I liked the review the guy from Camp Cult did. Thanks for your comments!

  • alocsin profile image

    alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

    This looks like a funny movie -- especially with all the plastic brain. Going to see if it's available on Netflix. Thanks for the heads-up. Voting this Up and Interesting.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    I know what you mean about some of the classics being genuine thrillers, pmmcray. Several years ago, I caught a really old werewolf movie on TV. It had gypsies, and a terrifying scene in a cave-like mausoleum, where the gypsy werewolf 'turned' while chasing someone through the creepy hallways

    It was one of the best examples of subtlety and suggestion I've ever seen. The gypsy was evident through jangling necklaces and the click of high heels echoing in the dim hallway. Then the heels clicked faster, with a shot of the shoes, then the sound turned into the scratching of toenails on the stone floor, and we see a shot of the wolf's feet running to catch the man. It scares me now, even thinking about it. There were no scenes of facial features growing hair and no blood or gore, just the power of sound and suggestion, with an economy of visuals to help move it forward.

    Thanks for reading, and thanks for your comments!

  • pmccray profile image

    pmccray 5 years ago from Utah

    This and many others were favorites of mine back in the day. Enjoyed on Friday drive-in or scary movie nights shared with my parents. I now laugh out loud while watching these silly venues, with exeception of Dracula, circa 1932, Bela lugosi. I had nightmares for a week and still cover my eyes when he first enters the room of the distressed damsel. Loved this hub . . brought back some good family times. Voted up, marked interesting.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, teaches - I like your grading system - I'll go for the D rating, too, especially if it was supposed to be taken seriously. If it was intended to be campy to begin with (or whatever they called camp back then), it would get an A, though! Let me know if you ever watch it, and if it scares you for real! Thanks so much for commenting!

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

    It actually seems scary to me! I would rate it a D movie. We watched Anaconda the other night on the movie channel: this would equate to the same rating for us. I think the best thing for you was that you got to spend time with your dad. I would have loved that, not matter what was playing. Enjoyed the review.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Whew! I am glad you told me it wasn't the review, Tams! And you're not a wuss, by any means. I think it's very smart to know what we're comfortable seeing, and what we'd rather avoid. I went through the kids' fad of wanting to see every scary movie I could, but I don't do that now. I'd rather pick and choose how I lose my sleep, these days!

  • Tams R profile image

    Tams R 5 years ago from Missouri

    Marcy, The review didn't scare me but it definitely gave me the "eebie jeebies" thinking of the remote possibility things you could not see killing you.

    I know it was just a review and for a "scary" movie it would not be right if it were written any other way. I'm just a wuss. :)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Vinaya - for the nice compliment and for reading and commenting here! I think I prefer the old (and funny) sci-fi classics to the overly done special effects in recent years. I can only take so much of the morphed graphic animation stuff!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Tams - I sure hope this review didn't scare you; that wasn't my intention! Now, when I see pieces of the movie, I laugh hysterically. The 'invisible' part is so transparently staged (no pun intended), and when they finally become visible, we're looking at a bunch of plastic models. The acting is very overdone, too. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

    Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

    I'm not a great fan of si-fi movies, however, I like to watch these movies once in a while.

    PS: Congrats, you have reached 100 hub score.

  • Tams R profile image

    Tams R 5 years ago from Missouri

    I'm an adult and the idea of something that kills me and I cannot see it scares the snot out of me. Great write-up for a movie I've never heard about. I think I know enough I do not need to see it. Thank Goodness. :)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Flora - I plan to look for it on the channels I get through Roku - it sounds very hub-worthy!

  • FloraBreenRobison profile image

    FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

    It was made the man called the worst director of all time, Ed Wood. I'm not sure he serves that title if his films can be enjoyed, even for the wrong reasons. It was also the final film of Bela Lugosi.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Flora - I need to watch Plan 9 From Outer Spacd - I've heard of it, but didn't know anything about it. Based on your recommendation, I think I need to see it!

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • FloraBreenRobison profile image

    FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

    I have never heard of this film nor do I recognize any of the actors. My favourite so bad it's good film in science Fiction (not a main genre for me in the first place) is Plan 9 From Outer Space. The first take was always the one used. Always.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Oh, I can't believe you've seen this movie! Usually, when I tell people about it, they've never heard of it! It's so wretchedly, wonderfully bad. Thanks for your comment, Steve!

  • Steve Lensman profile image

    Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England

    Thanks for the review Marcy. I watched this film many times when I was young, a guilty pleasure. I loved the leaping brains climax! :)

    Voted Up.

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