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Fiend Without a Face: 1950s Sci-fi movie so bad it's good
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
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.
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
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?
It shimmies, it shakes! It crawls on its belly like a snake!
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!
More Drive-in Movie Memories
- Drive-in Movie Memories: Eegah! The all-time dumbest movie I've ever seen
What's the dumbest movie you've ever seen? Eegah!, a cult movie from the drive-in theater era, might win the Grand Prize. This writer shares memory of her days going to drive-in movies.